Walter Shillington is an avid collector of mechanical watches. His reviews focus on inexpensive but often intriguing Chinese timepieces.
The History of Panerai
In 1860, Giovanni Panerai opened a watchmaker’s shop in Florence, Italy and, by the end of the nineteenth century, had established ties with many leaders from the Swiss horology heartland.
Panerai morphed into a research and development orientated company, specializing in component fabrication, instrument design, and mechanical engineering. They won many contracts with the Italian Navy and developed a radium based paint for use with navigational equipment and watches.
During the 1920s, Panerai began to work with Rolex, modifying the Swiss manufacturer’s waterproof Oyster case for use in military diver’s watches. These timepieces were very popular during the second world war.
In 1956 Panerai and Rolex ended their cooperative venture, and the company’s instrument line entered a period of decline. By 1972 Panerai had discontinued its watchmaking activities, concentrating on the development of dive tools, aerospace components, and radio equipment.
Panerai changed direction in 1993, offering a selection of consumer watches. The luxury market, however, is extremely difficult to enter and, with their lack of a distribution base, the Panerai brand appeared destined for failure.
Luckily, Sylvester Stallone discovered the brand while shooting the action film “Daylight” in Rome. Stallone liked Panerai so much, he placed a succession of mass orders for custom “Slytech” branded Luminors. These watches were soon seen wrapped around the wrists of many of Sylvester Stallone’s friends—including Arnold Schwarzenegger. And a watch worn by both Rocky Balboa and The Terminator is macho enough for any man.
By 1997, Panerai’s fortunes were improving, and a strong market had developed for large diving watches. At this point, the Vendome Group—now Richemont, S.A.—decided to purchase Panerai. Officine Panerai joined the larger company and, in doing so, gained access to significant marketing, product development, and distribution resources. Richemont International S.A. was incorporated in 1972 and is based in Villars-sur-Glane, Switzerland. It operates as a subsidiary of Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA.
The popularity of Panerai timepieces has increased significantly over the years. Between 1993 and 1997, they sold an estimated two thousand watches. In 2013, they sold over 70,000 units.
The watch under review today is a replica. Most internet stores avoid selling replicas because these watches are produced without regard to copyright laws. The factories that manufacture them steal both the originating company’s design and their branding information. These timepieces are generally of lower quality than the original and, when they fail, the company whose name is featured on the watch is the one whose reputation will suffer.
I ordered the replica Panerai as a Christmas present for my brother-in-law. Since this type of timepiece often includes a woefully inaccurate mechanical movement, I chose a quartz-powered unit.
Specialized replica websites sell the Panerai Luminor Marina for about $150.00 which, sadly, is out of my price range. At the time, DHgate offered them for ninety dollars. I checked out Wish.com and discovered they stocked the same watch and had priced them at fifteen dollars. I immediately submitted an order.
The watch arrived, well protected in a Styrofoam. It looked so good, I returned to Wish.com and purchased a second timepiece for myself.
These replicas consist of a quartz movement fitted inside a black-painted metal case. White numbers and indicators are clearly visible against the matt-black dial. Luminous paint is utilized, but it is not particularly effective.
Both watches include a date display. One timepiece featured a second-hand subdial.
Thick PU leather straps and a version of Panerai’s signature crown protector are fitted to each of these replicas.
Brand: Panerai Luminor Marina (Replica)
Model number: Firenze 1860 Diver’s Professional (Replica)
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Place of origin: China
Movement: Chinese manufactured quartz
Features: Crown protector
Functions: Date display
Band material: PU leather
Band width: 24mm
Dial color: Black
Dial window material: Glass
Case material: Metal alloy
Case diameter: 52mm including crown
Case thickness: 14.5mm
Weight: 79 grams (2.8 ounces)
Water resistance: Splash resistant only
This is one example of where the actual watch outshines the photographs used to advertise it.
It looks great on my wrist—I like large watches—and I found the strap fit comfortably. Time can be easily determined due to the contrast between the black dial and the white indicators. The date window is smaller than I prefer, but this is a common quirk among luxury watches.
I was impressed by the straps, which were quite thick and conveyed the impression that they were composed of real leather.
My test replica worked great for about two weeks. Then tiny blotches of gray appeared on the watch strap as the brown leather-look covering began to flake away. While the strap is durable, most owners will quickly replace it for cosmetic reasons. I swapped mine with a heavy-duty leather band from HENGRC.
The case also began to exhibit traces of wear and tear. Minor bangs and scrapes—I am not considered well-coordinated—produced scratches through which the dull metal case could be seen.
When Panerai began to build diver’s watches for the Italian Navy, they discovered that screw-down crowns suffered from cross-threading and would sometimes leak. To alleviate this problem, they developed a crown protector that surrounded the crown and fitted it with a lever that would secure the crown snugly against a rubber gasket.
These replicas are equipped with a similar device. I’m a knob twister/ button pusher type of fellow and, over the first couple of weeks, I played with the lever of my test watch quite a bit. Eventually, I wore a layer of metal from the lever at the point where it pushes against the crown. Once this happened, the lever began to flip back and forth whenever I moved my arm.
After two months of wear, the test watch began to lose time. The second hand worked well, but the minute and hour hands faltered and eventually stopped turning. I pulled off the case-back and examined the interior of the timepiece. The movement is large, and most of the moving parts are composed of plastic. This movement was not designed to last more than a few months.
For fifteen dollars, I purchased a fun little watch that I expected would quickly die. The problem with replicas is that they all look very much identical to the timepiece they have copied. That $150.00 replica Panerai sold in a specialized store could be far better than the one I tested… or it could be exactly the same watch. You don’t know.
This replica Panerai Luminor Marina is a great looking but poorly manufactured timepiece. If you are interested in purchasing a genuine Panerai and want to check out the look and feel before spending your money, a cheap replica might be a worthwhile investment. But this watch won’t last, so don’t pay more than twenty dollars.
© 2017 Walter Shillington