In my most recent Instagram post, I uncovered a well-guarded secret. The new P.9200 caliber used in Panerai’s recently introduced chronograph family is a basic ETA 2892-A2 with Dubois Dépraz chronograph module. This unsettling episode opened a veritable can of worms.
Panerai’s new chronographs were presented at Watches and Wonders in April 2021. Today the line consists of a total of five models, four in stainless steel and one in 18k gold. On steel models (PAM01109, PAM01110, PAM01218 and PAM01303 Luna Rossa), the movement is concealed behind a solid caseback. The gold version (PAM01111) has a “display” caseback but the movement is barely visible behind a tinted sapphire crystal decorated with an awkward wave pattern. If I were to guess, I would say the sole reason why Panerai equipped the gold version with a “see-through” caseback was to save precious gold material.
Given the name P.9200, all mainstream watch media outlets assumed the new movement was in-house as Panerai traditionally used the prefix OP to identify externally sourced calibers. A good example from recent history would be the OP XXXIV which powered a number of Luminor Due and Submersible models. The OP XXXIV was made by Manufacture Horlogère ValFleurier, Richemont’s very own movement manufacturer. Richemont is a luxury group that owns Panerai and several other watch brands such as Cartier, Jaeger LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, etc.
It is said, Manufacture Horlogère ValFleurier, together with a bunch of Richemont experts, developed the aforementioned caliber for Richemont’s entry-level brand Baume & Mercier where it was marketed as Baumatic BM12-1975A. The interesting thing about its variant OP XXXIV is that Panerai dropped the name just recently. Today, and this is important, the very same movement goes by the name of P.900 and is showcased in Panerai’s in-house movement section.
Coming back to Watches and Wonders, Panerai never disclosed the P.9200 chronograph movement was an ETA caliber and neither did the company mention it was externally sourced. As a result, almost all of the major watch blogs mistakenly reported the P.9200 was a new in-house or manufacture movement. At this point, any serious company would have reached out to the blogs to set the record straight but for some reason, Panerai did not.
Fast forward to a few days ago, I stumbled upon an interesting comment on Panerai’s official Instagram account. Someone had asked if the new P.9200 was an in-house movement. Panerai confirmed. I had heard of issues related to the latest iteration of the P.9010 which no longer has hacking seconds, a feature that stops the second hand when the crown is pulled. What started with cheap snap-on casebacks and spring bars, appears to have evolved into a neverending downward spiral of downgrades so I thought it would be interesting to give the P.9200 a closer look.
Update August 23, 2021
According to a reliable brand insider, the Panerai boutiques were instructed from the very beginning to refer to the P.9200 as in-house movement. This directive came from the very top. There are several confirmed cases in which the boutiques told buyers of the new chronographs the P.9200 is a “manufacture” or “in-house” movement.
Read more: Revisting Panerai’s PAM Of Worms
Through Google I came across a picture of the back of the 18k gold PAM01111 published on Hodinkee where the movement was relatively well visible through an awkwardly decorated display caseback. Are those lines waves or worms? To my total surprise, the caliber was clearly a badly finished ETA or Selitta (Swiss ETA clone). How could this have escaped the Hodinkees? Klick the picture below to take a closer look at the finish.
Subsequently, I opened Panerai’s website and found a picture of the back but the see-through crystal was extremely darkened (below on the left), unlike the Hodinkee picture.
After adjusting the brightness in Photoshop, I could clearly see ETA 2892-A2 stamps. An in-house movement, huh?
The ETA 2892-A2 on its own is not a chronograph movement. To become one it requires a Dubois Dépraz chronograph module. Connecting the two is a standard modification. Top grade (Élaboré) ETA 2892 movements with DD module can be bought on ebay for US$ 585. The P.9200 has no Élaboré decoration such as Côtes de Genève or Perlage, the surface is merely sandblasted. I imagine if bought in bulk directly from the manufacturers, the set price for these is considerably less than US$ 585, probably somewhere around US$ 300. Having such a movement in a US$ 10k or 27k watch could be compared to opening the engine hood of your Porsche 911 only to find out it has a Peugeot 3-cylinder engine.
The next picture shows a comparsion between a Tudor Heritage Chronograph 70330 which costs around US$ 3k and the PAM01111 with a price tag of US$ 27k. Both watches feature the very same ETA 2892-A2 with Dubois Dépraz chronograph module. But while the Tudor has a high grade Élaboré version of the ETA 2892-A2, the movement in the PAM01111 exhibits a basic finish that reminds of the PAM318 scandal (a mind-blowing story, google it).
Keep in mind Tudor is basically Rolex but with a inexpensive movement. Panerai, on the other hand, is a watch brand that exists only since 1997. The famous vintage watches used by the Italian Navy between 1935 and 1968 were actually Rolex Oyster watches. That’s right, Rolex did not just supply movements as often claimed, Rolex supplied complete watches (see picture below). The history put forth by Richemont Panerai is mostly fiction. Oh snap, I just realized I must sound like a broken record.
Before we continue, I would like to come back to the heavily darkened display caseback found on the Panerai website. The picture below is from ABlogtoWatch and as you see the crystal is slightly tinted but not as strong as on Panerai’s own picture show above.
Following my Instagram exposé on the true nature of the P.9200, aBlogtoWatch immediately updated their articles on the new chronographs. The other major watch media outlets did not amend their articles with the newly available information. One could easily get the impression they concern themselves more with protecting the interests of the industry than with diligently informing their readers. Under normal circumstances, a story like this would have been quite a scandal but in a media landscape which appears to be controlled by big luxury conglomerates, the outrage was relatively small.
After calling Hodinkee out – not once but twice within 72 hours of the revelation, they finally added the crucial ETA movement details. Revolution removed the word “in-house” from Wei Koh’s write-up but so far refrained from specifying the exact movement. Horobox, a watch blog from Turkey that boasts itself as “Turkish Watch Authority”, had described the P.9200 as “designed and produced in-house”. Horobox and Panerai are very close friends since 2015. After reaching out to Horobox founder Serdar Oal, he quickly removed that erroneous statement but refused to mention the ETA movement. “Panerai calls it P.9200. I believe it’s ok”, Serdar said. No, in my opinion it is not ok. People have a right to know what they are getting for their hard-earned money but the sad truth is, these outlets have zero sense of responsibility towards their readers. Their sole focus is to please the industry.
Panerai In-House Movements
While real in-house movements are described as “executed entirely by Panerai”, the P.9200 description lacked anything in this regard. However, there was also no mentioning that the movement is an externally sourced ETA. This critical fact was omitted from the very beginning and no attempt was made to correct the widespread misconception. Not disclosing such an important fact could be considered “lying by ommision”. Wikipedia states:
Lying by omission, also known as a continuing misrepresentation or quote mining, occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes the failure to correct pre-existing misconceptions.
As mentioned earlier, externally sourced calibers used to carry the prefix OP followed by the caliber number in Roman numbers (e.g. OP XI = ETA 6497-2). In-house movements, on the other hand, could always be identified by the prefix P. followed by the caliber number (e.g. P.2002). The OP XXXIV made by Manufacture Horlogère ValFleurier was Panerai’s last non-in-house movement and accordingly the last to feature the OP prefix. Interestingly, Panerai renamed the OP XXXIV just recently. Today it known as P.900 and listed as in-house movement. Since it is the exact same movement as before, one cannot help but wonder how it suddenly met the criteria to be considered “in-house”.
A deep dive into this particular ValFleurier caliber brought something very interesting to light. Originally developed as Baumatic BM12-1975A for Richemont’s entry-level brand Baume & Mercier, the hightech movement featuring silicon technology had a stuning power reserve of five full days (120 hours). Besides silicon escapement and balance wheel, the movement also featured a silicon hair spring. The latter was soon subject of a patent infringement complaint by a consortium consisting of Rolex, Patek Philippe and the Swatch Group which had developed the silicon hairspring technology in conjunction with the Swiss research institute CSEM. As a result, Baume & Mercier’s silicon hairspring could no longer be used which led to an iteration of the movement known as Baumatic BM13-1975A.
The Baumatic beats not only in a number of Panerai models but also in IWC Pilot watches. IWC is another famous Richemont “Maison”. Interestingly, both the Panerai and IWC version of the Baumatic have an autonomy of only 3 days. Both, Panerai and IWC claim the movement is “in-house”. IWC states on their website:
“With the 32000-calibre family, IWC expands its range of automatic in-house movements.”
The Baumatic BM12-1975A was not developed from scratch. It is based on Cartier’s 1847 MC caliber which was introduced in 2014. The 1847 MC has a smaller main plate (25.6 mm vs. 28.2 mm), a smaller barrel (less power reserve) and a different set of bridges. This movement was developed by ValFleurier as well. On their website, Cartier states:
“This mechanical self-winding movement was entirely created and developed by Cartier watchmakers and engineers.”
A dial side comparison between the 1847 MC and the BM12-1975A shows they are basically the same caliber.
As you can see, the term “in-house” is being used in a very loose, almost inflationary way within the Richemont group. “In-house” implies a movement was designed, produced and assembled by a watch brand to nearly 100% in their own factory but as we can see with this particular caliber, “in-house” is just a buzzword. What we have here are “in-group” calibers, basically an ETA equivalent but from Richemont. But where ETA is a historically important brand dating back to 1856, which thanks to their affordable movements kept much of the Swiss watch industry on life support for several decades following the devastating 1970s Quartz Crisis, ValFleurier – just like Richemont Panerai – is an artificial construct, created from scratch for the sole purpose of producing profit-optimized movements for a luxury conglomerate.
Other ValFleurier calibers are shared as well. For instance Cartier’s 1904-SP MC, which beats as MB 29.22 in Montblanc watches, as 1100P in timepieces from Piaget and as 1326 in certain Vacheron Constantin references. Using the term “in-house” for all of these movements is misleading to say the least.
If we go deeper down the rabbit hole, one could easily get the impression Panerai did not develop any of their in-house movements. Panerai’s first so-called own movement was the P.2002 from 2005. The 8-days unit was designed and produced by what soon would become the Manufacture Horlogère ValFleurier. Yes, the movement was exclusive to Panerai but not made in-house as Panerai had zero expertise in this field. All movements after the P.2002 came from the very same place – ValFleurier. The “in-house” fanfare was smoke and mirrors from the very beginning.
Angelo Bonati, the former CEO of Richemont Panerai, loved boasting about how Panerai was the only brand to have created so many in-house calibers within a short period of time:
“Few other watchmakers have succeeded in developing and making eight of its own calibers fully operational and available in just seven years.”
It is easy to develop your “own” calibers when the work is outsourced to a highly specialized company; and you have the financial backing of a leading investment group. As a famous Paneristi once put it, “All this manufacture thing is an industrial lie!” According to information received, internal Panerai documents instructed employees to never ever respond to journalists in detail about “in-house” movements and the possibility that they were not really in-house.
Most Panerai in-house movements feature interesting codes like VML, VNK, VOL or VXJ on their main plates, letters which interestingly can also be found on movements from other Richemont brands like Baume & Mercier, IWC, Vacheron Constantin, Piaget and Cartier. These codes are ValFleurier date stamps.
They can also be found on computer renderings published by Panerai. VML, as seen in the picture below, stands for the following: V for ValFleurier – M for 2007 – L for December.
Of course, all of these movements were developed and produced by Manufacture Horlogère ValFleurier. The picture below shows a recent Panerai model from 2019 featuring the ValFleurier date stamp VXJ (Oct. 2019). Entirely executed by Panerai, huh?
When ValFleurier expanded their production more and more to other Richemont brands, Panerai received their own production line at ValFleurier. Seven of the 25 stations were fully automated and operated around the clock, the rest in two shifts. From this moment onwards, movements made on this particular production line featured date stamps starting with a P, for instance POL (Dec. 2009). In the meantime, parts like main plates and bridges may be produced at the new manufacture in Neuchâtel but calling the movements “executed entirely by Panerai” is a stretch. Watch movements consist of hundreds of parts. Springs, barrels, wheels, levers, etc. Plates are the easy part, especially when the CNC machine programming is done by ValFleurier specialists. The reason all of these companies are so secretive is obvious – the reality is so much different than what their marketing wants us to believe.
Several attentive visitors of the Panerai Manufacture in Neuchâtel reported independently from each other that the building in Neuchâtel is too small and too meagrely populated for a yearly production of around 70,000 watches as claimed by Panerai. There are a number of machines but everything appears to be rather for show than for anything else. For instance, nobody has seen any cases being produced there. Of course not, cases are made by specialized Richemont factories like Donzé-Baume. In a YouTube video published by the WatchAdvisor, however, said outlet worked hand-in-hand with Panerai to create the illusion of an in-house case production.
The first part of this video, where they show how the cases are made, was not recorded at the Panerai Manufacture in Neuchâtel but at Donzé-Baume in Les Breuleux.
Note the lower ceiling, the narrow windows in the back and of course that “small” window with a single panel convector radiator underneath (left). Compare that to the real Panerai Manufacture in Neuchâtel (right) where all windows on each floor are very tall, reaching from ceiling to floor, without exception.
Not convinced? Check out the following scene were the cases are pressure tested to 37.5 bar. See the highlighted area on that list in the background? That is the old Donzé-Baume logo.
The picture below shows the water resistance testing machine at the Panerai Manufacture in Neuchâtel. Panerai has a different version of the Roxer Aquapress used by Donzé-Baume.
Watch the video: Panerai – Making Of A Design Icon, Part 3 (YouTube)
Donzé-Baume has a long history as a case and bracelet maker which goes back to 1868. For many years, they produced cases for Omega. In 2007, Donzé-Baume was taken over by Richemont. Today, the company produces cases for all Richemont brands. By the way, the biggest give-away was actually that none of the guys were wearing a Panerai coat with dark blue neck.
What about dials, hands, crowns, crystals, etc? Each of these parts is made by specialized companies of the Richemont group. All of these factories are part of Richemont Industrial Management Solutions (RIMS). The picture below shows the logos of some of these companies.
As you can see, when it comes to Panerai, there is lots of “out-of-house” but very little “in-house”.
Panerai likes to portray itself as a “Manifattura Di Alta Orologeria”, a manufacture of Haute Horlogerie. The words look great in a lobby but do they reflect reality?
Not really, as we have learned. Neuchâtel is merely a high-gloss assembly line with all important bits and pieces coming from highly specialized companies belonging to the Richemont group. In-house, entirely executed by Panerai… these are just empty words. Also, what is this perpetual downgrading all about? Reduced water resistance, snap-on casebacks, spring bars, missing hacking seconds, undisclosed ETA movements. Isn’t Haute Horlogerie supposed to be luxury? Luxury as in excess, abundance? Where is the excess in leaving out a small lever that stops the balance wheel from oscillating? Where is the abundance in creating modular movements that share the very same components throughout all calibers, all brands? This reminds me of the Aston Martin DB7 with its Mazda 323 F tail lights and the many Ford Scorpio switches. A sad development.
Thank you for your interest.
Read more: Revisiting Panerai’s PAM Of Worms