Two weeks have passed since my article on Panerai’s so-called “in-house” movements spread like wildfire through the international watch community. Except for Turkmenistan, Chad, Burkina Faso and the remote Norwegian archipelago Svalbard, the article was read all over the world. As a matter of fact, Panerai In-House Movements – A PAM Of Worms was my most-read article to date. Thank you so much! A lot has transpired eversince so instead of just updating the original article, I will revisit the issue here.
As so often with this kind of stories, the truth is worse than one thought. Some Panerai fans came out in defense of their beloved brand stating the “in-house” claim was just an error made by an ill-informed employee on social media and that Panerai never claimed the P.9200 was an in-house movement. I hate to break it to them but there are reports that the Panerai boutiques themselves told prospective buyers the P.9200 was a “manufacture” caliber. According to a reliable brand insider, the boutiques were instructed to tell their customers the P.9200 is an in-house movement, a directive that came from the very top. Here is a public example from Italy:
“Devo confermarvi che anche a me è stato detto che il calibro P9200 è “di manifattura”, questo durante l’acquisto del chrono 1109…”
Translation: “I have to confirm that I too was told the P.9200 is “in-house”, this during the purchase of the chrono 1109 (PAM01109)…”
Following my initial Instagram post on July 24, Jory Goodman aka The Time Teller chatted via Panerai website with sales associates in the United States and received the following answer on whether the P.9200 is an in-house movement (starts at 5:22):
“The movement within the PAM01111 is in fact in-house.”
Boutique personnel, sales associates, social media managers, all ill-informed you say? Right!
When the story first broke on July 24, 2021, a concerned Panerai collector from the Middle East reached out to Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué to propose a strategy on how to deal with this situation. As you can see in the screenshot below from the collector’s Instagram story, Pontroué commited to make amendments to the website.
Today, after almost one month, no modifications have been “implemented”. There were no official statements from the company. Panerai has simply burried their head in the sand and is waiting for the storm to pass. As I have been made aware, several Panerai employees are extremely upset with what has occured and are considering leaving the company for good.
The USD 27k PAM01111 Serial Watch
A few days ago, a member of the Paneristi community visited a Panerai boutique in Italy where he was presented an actual example of the ETA-powered PAM01111 Gold Chronograph with a price tag of USD 27k. As you can see in the picture he shared, the “display” caseback is actually opaque, meaning there is zero transparency. The movement cannot be seen.
This is super awkward. The watch presented by Hodinkee in April 2021 had a display caseback where the movement could be easily be seen. The picture published by Panerai on their own website has a heavily tinted display caseback but the movement is nevertheless slightly visible.
The next picture shows the actual PAM01111 from a different perspective. The caseback is indeed completely opaque.
Obviously Panerai does not want their customers to study the wonderful d-ETA-ils of their exquisite P.9200 “in-house” movement while at the same time being too stingy to simply equip the watch with a solid caseback. My guess is the overall cost of a printed sapphire crystal is around 1/5 of the cost of the saved amount of gold. Do the math.
The picture below was published on Mr. Porter and confirms that the final version of the “display” caseback is completely opaque.
See details: Panerai PAM01111 (Mr. Porter)
Word on the street is, the picture on the Panerai website with the heavily tinted crystal but slightly visible movement may have been done for legal purposes in case a buyer would discover the ETA movement and sue them. In such event, Panerai could refer to the catalogue picture and say it was never a secret the movement was an ETA. Remember, pictures are always part of the description.
quality Of Panerai Movements
An experienced Swiss watchmaker who serviced a number of “in-house” Panerai movements made by ValFleurier pointed out the industrially produced movements lack in quality. A good example is the pallet fork bridge which is a punched and press-formed metal sheet (left) instead of a properly machined and adorned part (right, Rolex 3136).
Certain details of Panerai’s manufacture calibers reminded the watchmaker of mass produced calibers made in the Soviet Union, but even those had better pallet fork bridges according to him. Another example is the P.5000 with its cheap pillar construction known from unrefined table clock movements. The P.5000 has the very same pallet fork bridge as the P.9000.
From what I understand, most components used in ValFleurier calibers are modular, meaning they are shared throughout most of the movements made by the company.
Rolex Oyster Heritage
Following my last article in which I briefly mentioned the Rolex past, a number of Panerai enthusiasts reached out to me as they had never heard of this. It surprises me to this day how many people are still unaware of Panerai’s true history. For the past 20 years, Richemont’s mighty marketing machine did a thorough job at obscuring the truth.
The watches Panerai has become famous for were originally designed by Rolex and were in fact Rolex Oyster watches. As a matter of fact, Giuseppe Panerai himself referred to them as Rolex watches in service invoices, etc.
After the acquisition of the Officine Panerai name in 1997, Richemont quickly created a clever smoke screen to conceal these facts by claiming that in the past, Rolex had supplied only the movements and everything else had been produced by Panerai in Florence. This was done to deflect from the fact that Richemont Panerai was effectively producing replicas of vintage Rolex watches. The collage below shows the caseback stamps of all references used by the Italian Navy between 1935 and 1955 (Ref. 2533 same as early 3646).
Oyster Watch Co. was a Rolex sub label used for many Rolex Oyster models until 1945.
The cushion cases, the big crowns, the screwed casebacks, those are typical Rolex features. Heck, Rolex even marked the cases with “Registered Design – Modèle Déposé”.
Since 1997, Richemont Panerai has adorned itself with borrowed plumes. In a recent interview with Revolution, Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué said:
“I like to think of Panerai as one of the most authentic brands around.”
Autosuggestion can be a powerful tool. What about Panerai dials? Take the Error-Proof aka California dial for instance, a design patented by Rolex in 1941 (CH221643). What about the intricate sandwich dial with open 6 and 9? Patented by Stern Frères in 1935 (CH182122), long before Panerai started making them. What about the famous Radiomir compound? Radiomir was nothing but regular radium lume (radium + zinc sulfide) which was invented in 1903 by an American named Dr. George F. Kunz. The Italian patent from 1914 which the modern company loves to wave around did not protect a specific radium compound as often claimed, the patent referred to gun sights made visible at night by a regular radium/zinc sulfide mixture. The name Radiomir, which is a combination of the two Italian words Radio (radium) and Mire (sights), tells the whole story.
This invention relates to sighting devices of the kind which are rendered luminous by the use of radium … so that these weapons can be fired at night with a greater degree of accuracy than heretofore.British “Radiomir” Patent No. 12,270, filed on August 25, 1915
The only thing Panerai truly contributed to “watchmaking” is the half-moon shaped crown-protecting device from 1956.
In essence, Panerai was a crown guard attached to a Rolex watch. That is all it ever was and out of this thin air – this horological nothing – Richemont created a fantasy brand which today has boutiques all over the world.
After having studied Panerai extensively for almost a decade, I came to the conclusion that – with so little substance in horology – the modern Panerai brand has hardly any right to exist. As much as I love the real and absolutely fascinating story involving Panerai and the underwater units of the Italian Navy but one has to be realistic.
Following my exposé, some argued it was unfair to point the finger solely at Panerai when other brands are doing the exact same thing. Well, en passant, the article talked about other brands as well but yes – it was focussed on Panerai but so is Perezcope. However, this is indeed a very interesting topic and worth having a much closer look. If you know of similar stories from other brands please let me know.
Hodinkee just published an article in which they compared pilot watches from Hamilton and IWC. The IWC features a 32110 caliber which, as was established in my last article, is without a doubt a ValFleurier movement that is also used by Cartier, Baume & Mercier and Panerai. Hodinkee, of course, continues to refer to this movement as “in-house” even though they should know better by now. But we know who they work for, do we not?
Speaking of IWC, look at this Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII. It features a more or less raw Selitta SW-300. Except for the rotor, there is no finishing at all. According to IWC’s website, the movement should have perlage finish but this is what you get instead, which in my opinion is simply disgraceful.
When brands buy these movements in bulk, the average price is somewhere around USD 75 per unit. IWC sells the Mark XVIII for around USD 5k.
This is it for now. Thank you for your interest.