Panerai Movement Scandal?

Panerai movement scandal - Luminor gold

“The new P.9200 caliber used in Panerai’s recently introduced chronograph family is a basic ETA 2892-A2 with Dubois Dépraz chronograph module,” pereszcope.com reports, kicking off the Panerai movement scandal. The problem? By giving the movement an “in house” Panerai designation, the Swiss-not-Italian watchmaker stands accused of misrepresenting a garden variety movement – and charging through the nose for it. For example . . .

Luminor Chrono white dial

the Panerai Luminor Chrono Goldtech™ Blu Notte at the top of the post runs $26,700. At the lower end of the range, the new steel cased Luminor Chronos (PAM01109, PAM01110, PAM01218 and PAM01303) go for as “little” as $9.4k.

ETA sells the movement powering the watch to manufacturers for $585 (or less) per piece. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the well-established “workhorse” movement, and the Dubois Dépraz chronograph module isn’t cheap. But the base movement is nothing special.

Chopard ETA movement

You can buy an ETA 2892-A2 in any number of timepieces by Longines, Bell & Ross, Hamilton, Breitling, IWC, OMEGA, Tudor and more. The recently introduced $5,900 Mille Miglia Classic Chronograph Raticosa is so powered.

Luminor Chrono Luna Rossa

“Having such a movement in a $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,” Mr. Perezstroika writes, ignoring the fact that plenty of watches in the $10k price range use the same movement.

This Panerai movement “scandal” treads familiar ground. I examined the debate over modified (ébauche) vs. in-house calibers in my post In-House Movement – What’s Up With That? Setting aside Panerai’s pricing and marketing considerations, we’re left with a simple question: is a modified ébauche like the P.9200 an in-house movement?

In the field of watchmaking, this is one of the most whiny arguments ever heard, especially as those who discuss it usually have little to no knowledge of watchmaking history. So before we examine Panerai’s potential perfidy, let’s make another small excursion into this mechanical minefield.

Switzerland and the établissage

Vintage Royal Oak ad

First, it’s necessary to understand what is meant by the term “établissage.” It refers to a practice Swiss watchmakers have been relying on for generations: assembling watches from stock parts (or movements) produced by other specialized manufacturers. A watchmaker that uses this production method is called an établisseur.

All Swiss watchmakers – and I do mean all – have relied on this practice. The first Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak mounted a movement made by Jaeger LeCoultre. The first Reverso of the JLC Grande Maison mounted a movement made by Tavannes. Those who speak of in-house or “manufacture” movements should remember this before speaking.

Secondly, both “manufacturier” (in-house) and “établisseur” watchmakers have a long, noble and ongoing history of buying parts from specialized manufacturers. The best watch cases were made by Borgel. The best dials from Stern. Bottom line: what you see on your wrist and think is an in-house manufactured watch is largely an assemblage produced with parts from all over the world (cough, including China, cough).

What really matters is how these pieces are put together.

Tissot Heritage Visodate - Panerai Movement Scandal

Virtually no house, save the worst assemblers, has ever cased a movement without even looking at it. The Swiss may have a thousand faults, but this isn’t one of them. Even the cheapest movement is normally inspected, tested and personalized in some way by the etablisseur, if only by printing their name on it.

True story. Many manufacturers make purely cosmetic modifications, usually decorating the movement to add to its visual appeal (a practice that exploded with the introduction of exhibition casebacks). But in some cases they get deep into the movement’s substance, such as adding modules for complications (as Panerai did) or swapping out parts.

Frankly, it takes an expert to figure out exactly how a company modified a
workhorse movement, such as the ETA 2824 used by Sinn. Other than relying on the manufacturer’s information – normally a closely guarded secret – there’s only one surefire way to tell what’s been done: dissect both modified and unmodified movements and compare them to each other.

Is a manufacture movement better?

NOMOS swing system

The unspoken assumption surrounding the Panerai in-house movement scandal: an in-house movement is better – worth more money – than a modified movement. This ignores the fact that most movements on the market today are derived from each other. From an engineering standpoint, the vast majority of “in-house” movements are variations on a common theme. History is our guide . . .

Once upon a time, calibers weren’t designed on a computer. Gauges were drawn by hand with a square and compass. Rather than designing something new, watchmakers tended to modify existing designs – precisely because the manufacturers of the different parts needed to complete the caliber had a catalog of standard pieces.

When the Quartz Crisis hit in the 70’s, the companies producing watch parts fell from 1600 to 600 in ten years, with the consequent technical impoverishment of the entire watch and movement supply chain. ETA, which gathered dozens of manufacturers within it, cut the number of calibers produced with a scythe, dropping by more than three quarters, laying the foundations for its current hegemony of the movement sector.

Grand Seiko's new 9SA5 movement - Panerai movement scandal

Current day watchmakers have less of a parts palette from which to build a “new” movement. Some manufacturers (e.g., Rolex and Grand Seiko) produce all their parts in-house and work assiduously to improve and innovate on their movements’ basic designs. And that’s worth something. But so is a properly modified ETA movement.

How much is “in-house” worth relative to ébauche? Panerai knew the answer to that question: more! Hence the Panerai movement scandal: the company chose to obscure its new chronographs’ movements’ derivation while promoting it as an in-house movement, increasing the watch’s desirability and thus Panerai’s potential profit.

Panerai movement scandal spec sheet

Wrong answer. In a world where the Internet is the ultimate bush telegraph, Panerai should’ve known it couldn’t pull the proverbial wool over consumers’ eyes. Claiming that the movements are in-house – when photos clearly show they are not – is not only wrong, it’s stupid.

A company working in the luxury sector cannot afford to be stupid. A large (the largest?) part of an upmarket watch brand’s appeal/sales comes down to the consumers’ perception of exclusivity. If an exclusive watchmaker is caught selling “cheap” goods for a premium price, the damage to their reputation is both large and long-lasting. As we shall see.

9 comments

  1. I don’t have Panerai money, and I’ve been priced out of Seiko, but this post does pose an interesting question. I love Seiko, especially their current and vintage dive watches. I could afford some of the Seiko Recraft watches for sale on Amazon, and I know that Orient is considered the “new Seiko” for my price point. However, I bought a Willard homage (for about the same amount of money as an entry level Orient dive watch or a cheaper Seiko Recraft model) on eBay from a vendor based in China. The movement was manufactured by Seiko and for all I know the Chinese vendor could have been the OEM for the cases (as well as the dial, crown, hands, etc) that Seiko used in their “updated” Willard, so for all practical intents and purposes, the “homage” is a Seiko with a sterile dial.

  2. If it isn’t something to be ashamed of, how come companies like Panerai act like it’s something to be ashamed of? They bring this on themselves. Crazy ass exotic car makers have no compunctions about using tuned mainstream engines, nor do buyers.

  3. This is Panerai being Panerai which is to say being dishonest AF. This is a company whose very origin story is based on a lie and is riddled with doozies from Stallone’s phony Daylight fairytale to BrooklynBridgeGate to this and loads inbetween. They’re so slimy they even darkened the caseback photos on their website to obscure the ETA ref. numbers. Not that any of the watch site/shills will complain. I’m not saying watch companies don’t lie- they do. But Pan goes the extra mile. Why are there so many Paneristis out there staying loyal to this dying brand? They all have excuses but their reasoning is more cracked than a Panerai ceramic case.

    1. If there’s something to count on in the world of horology is that Panerai knows how to draw attention on itself – and not for the best reasons, sometimes

  4. When watch nerds complain about brands using outside movements what I believe they are really complaining about is seeing another un-improved ETA 2824, 2892, 75xx or clone of those in an expensive watch. Even Swatch Group, the company for which ETA is in-house, does not use those movements in anything nicer than a Longines. And the Longines watches using those movements improve them with things like column wheels and silicon balance springs.

    The Rolex Daytonas using Zenith El Primero movements are highly sought after (and the earlier ones using Valjoux 72 movements go for really crazy money). Nobody faults Tudor for using a Breitling chronograph movement improved with a silicon balance spring.

    But a 2892 with a double-D module is pretty much the bottom of the barrel for chronographs. It is not integrated. It does not use a column wheel. Steinhart chronographs costing less than $1,000 use Dubois Dépraz chronograph modules. The 75xx is a step above because at least it is integrated.

    This is of course not surprising for Richemont and Panerai. Someone above mentioned the Panerai Brooklyn Bridge, which is definitely worth a Google.

    1. I’m eagerly awaiting some action on JobWatch soon (fyi, it is the Swiss recruiting portal specialized in watch-related jobs)

  5. I mentioned in an earlier comment that “they’re so slimy they even darkened the caseback photos on their website to obscure the ETA ref. numbers.” Perezcope has a followup article as to why they did this. The pics on Hoodwinkee aren’t of the actual watch. The real caseback is completely opaque to obscure the ETA movement but the photo-shopped pics on the website are only slightly tinted so they can use the catalogue picture as evidence that they weren’t hiding the movement from the buyer. They obviously know that there could be potential litigation by customers. On the solid gold model they make the sapphire between the waves completely opaque instead of solid to not only hide the ETA but as a double FU to the customer- to save a few grams of gold. The boutiques were told explicitly to tell (lie) to prospective buyers that the P.9200 was in-house. So much effort was put into selling this from the CEO on down. Perez also shed some light on IWC’s 32110 caliber and how Hoodwinkee is shoveling the corporate excrement on their pilots’ as well. As an enthusiast it feels like were all trapped in a horological Casablanca nightclub.

  6. Have you guys taken a look at the performance of Richemont shares lately? I suggest you to 😉

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