The first time I ever saw a Panerai, I was dumbstruck by it’s beauty. It was a billboard advertisement in the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas and the simplicity and elegance stopped me cold. Being relatively new to high end watches, I’d never heard of the brand and snapped a photo with my phone for a reminder to Google more information when I got home. When the Panerai Boutique opened a month later, I had small pangs of regret that my expensive wristwatch was a “lowly” TAG Heuer and had so much brand awareness. The appeal of a watch that was lesser-known somehow made it seem that much more exclusive and prestigious.
As did the fact that the model I loved was about 50% more expensive than my TAG.
The Panerai Luminor 1950 3 Days GMT Automatic (PAM00320) just grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let go. I love that little clasp over the crown. I always thought that was such a cool touch watching it close during the montage during the opening of Eraser. I wanted a watch like that and at the time had no clue what it was. After becoming obsessed with them and knowing that Sly Stallone is a big fan, spotting a Panerai on the wrist of Terry Crews in a fraction of a second during Expendables 2 was easy. And Hodinkee got me looking at other models like the PAM0233, further fueling my passion.
Unfortunately, not everything is rosy in the world of Officine Panerai and in the eyes of several horology aficionados the brand is considered somewhat gauche these days.
- First are the accusations that the brand has never really contributed all the much in the way of new developments, or has much place of note in the annals of horological history.
- Second, and perhaps worse, is that hardcore watch folks enjoy being a bit of an esoteric circle and celebrity attention like Stallone’s bring these brands to the public eye. The actual brand may become more valued as more people seek it out, but the feeling of knowing about something special gets taken away. Part of me wonders if Panerai’s acquisition by Richemont in 1997 had the watch otaku declaring Panerai’s best days were past. (Similar to Heuers from the pre-TAG era still being well regarded, and the ads featuring celebrities scorned.)
- Third. Any Top Gear fan, Jalopnik reader or fan of F1 racing knows that Ferrari is a bit of a whore when it comes to licensing their logo and willing to slather it on anything for sales. General rule for a person of good taste is to run away from anything bearing a Ferrari logo short of a vehicle actually developed by Maranello. And guess who’s logo adorned a Panerai line for five years? Yup. They didn’t sell well and were often found deeply discounted. The license was not renewed.
- Fourth, and probably worst offense was the 318 scandal. If you type “Panerai 318” into Google, auto-complete offers “scandal” to finish you up. The one thing you should really be getting if you’re spending this kind of money on a boutique watch is an “in-house movement”. The watchmaker should actually be producing the motor of your timepiece. The 318 shipped with a closed back- no glass window to look through and see the pretty innards. It got even uglier when the truth about that watch’s movement got out into the open.
Reading about Panerai’s bad rap really bummed me out. I mean, there are some Rolex owners saying those guys are elitists! I was suddenly afraid these watches I loved were standard issue to tasteless knuckleheads like the cast of Jersey Shore, or those Russian guys that think velvet track suits and gold jewelry are acceptable formal wear. /shudder
And then, what was probably said in jest or mocking of Panerai over the 318 made all the sense in the world to me (paraphrased):
If they’re not even going to do an in-house movement, why buy the real thing? What makes it any better than a replica?
My jaw hit the floor. For the past year I’ve been doing research on various brands, learning where to get the real deal and how to avoid knock offs and forgeries while still saving money. I learned about grey market dealers, and warranty support, and how to get a bargain but ensure the purchase is the genuine article. Never had it occurred to me, this wild and silly idea, to intentionally seek out a knock-off!
And why shouldn’t I? Aside from being one of Van Damme’s more eyebrow raising career choices (I really hope he doesn’t wonder how his career went straight-to-video), some of these knock offs are really close in their approximation. To the point that we call them “replicas” now. (Insert my bemused laughter here.) But it’s a really good point. Why pay $9,000 for a watch from a brand that isn’t thought of particularly well? I already have my genuine TAG for an heirloom watch, and these Chinese replicas are just as handsome and still a mechanical movement.
And then the deciding factor hit me. I’m going to buy a replica Panerai on purpose. I don’t care about owning the genuine article because really, I just want it as a fashion piece. And I’m going to buy this knock off PAM 320 (Heehee! Spaces instead of the double zeroes!) with the same confidence and for the same reasons I select my cigars, motorcycles, pens… or even write this blog. I’m going to buy it because I like it, and don’t care about anybody else’s opinion on the subject. I know what’s real and what’s not, and I’ve decided that this suits my taste and the price is appropriate for what it actually is.
It’s funny, because I loathe Japanese V-twin motorcycles as a false representation of what the bike is. I love the CB750 because it’s genuine. It’s not an American V-twin and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s true to the culture that created it**, and wonderful because it’s different. And now I want to buy the Honda Shadow of wristwatches. It’s an odd feeling, but then I tell myself: what if Harley had been busted using somebody else’s engine? Obviously Harley never pulled that kind of garbage. But Panerai did. And suddenly my guilt and fretting over wearing a copy simply melts away.
*Coca-Cola Classic advertised “Can’t Beat the Real Thing” from 1991-1993 in the US.
** I suppose my counter argument could be that the far east has a rich and storied culture of creating counterfeits and rip-offs. Haha!