The Blackseal is a new watch by Panerai, in their Radiomir line. It draws upon the design heritage of some famous Panerais of the past, while remaining sleek and modern in its own right. The genuine Blackseal retails for around $4,000, and was for a period in short supply.
Recently there has been a large number of high-quality Panerai fakes on the market. These watches typically cover the Historic models, meaning those watches based on the base model PAM-001 and it’s chronometer counterpart the PAM-111. These watches are all based on the OP XI movement, which has been used for years in Panerai models. The OP XI, and the OP II which it replaced in 2002, are based on the ETA 6497.
The ETA 6497 is also called the Unitas 6497 after the original firm that manufactured it beginning in the 1950s. It’s a solid movement, very easy to service (mainly because of its size) and very reliable. Panerai took this base movement and made some modifications, including changing the bridge and adding even higher quality parts.
Typically Panerai fakes have a number of common flaws that are easy to pick out. Many of the new Panerai counterfeits have benefited from experience, high-end CNC manufacturing and computer drafting to make some of the most convincing fakes readily available on the market. At the top of this pile is the Panerai Blackseal.
As far as basic flaws from the counterfeit makers, the crown guard on most Panerais has been difficult to copy. They fail to make it as well-machined as the original, resulting in poor fits and roughly moving parts.
The crown is typically too thin, resulting in something that’s easy to spot from a distance.
On the PAM-183 , or Blackseal, the counterfeiters found a model devoid of these features, and therefore easier to copy. The case design on the PAM-183is clean and simple. Unlike the rest of the historic line, the Radiomirs have a screw-down crown with no crown guard. Also, it utilizes a pillow-shaped case instead of the standard Historic-modeled case of models such as the PAM-111.
There seems to be only one core maker of counterfeit Blackseals, as there seems to be only one variation. This watch is VERY accurate from the front, in comparison to the genuine model. In the watch profile that came along with this video you’ll see comparison photographs of a genuine Blackseal next to a counterfeit example. From the front they are nearly identical, differing really only in the band color. The counterfeit Blackseal also seems to have a slightly longer crown stem, resulting in the crown being a fraction of an inch farther from the case.
The dial on the Blackseal is actually a sandwich design. It has a black dial with the hour markers and numbers cut out to reveal a second, luminescent layer beneath. This counterfeit exhibits the same dial design, but has slightly less bright illumination when viewed in the dark. This is common to replica watches in general; they tend to have a weaker glow to their luminous elements than their genuine counterparts.
If we look closely at the dial we can see that the counterfeiters have perfected the ability to make sharp-printed dials. This is an improvement over earlier fakes where they were fairly easy to distinguish because of bubbling in the printing, or poorly defined lettering when examined under a jeweler’s loupe. This particular dial is very clean, with no overprint or misspellings. The cutouts to the lower layer of the dial have sharp edges and no discernible differences from the genuine watch.
This is a large watch. It measures 45mm across, without the crown. This large size is partially because of the movement, which was originally designed for a pocket watch. Be aware that several Panerai models have been copied with the wrong sized case in order to use alternative movements. Counterfeiters have used 40mm cases instead of the 44mm and 45mm correct cases.
The case is a pillow-style case, similar to vintage Panerais of the past. It has a one-case with a screw-on case back and a display back with a sapphire crystal. This replica example has the proper case at the proper size. In reality it’s nearly impossible to tell this watch from a genuine Panerai from the front.
The crown on a PAM-183 is an onion-style crown, with the Panerai logo carved on its end. The crown stem on some replicas stands out a bit farther than the genuine. Not enough to really notice unless you’re looking for it, it’s a minor flaw and hard to quantify without having a genuine example in front of you.
The back of the watch is where the counterfeits can easily be separated from the genuine watch. Even though the counterfeits use a Unitas 6497, it does not have the upgrades that Panerai performed on the movement to make it the OP XI.
While Panerai engraved the back of the movement with their name, the fake Blackseal has a metal plate glued to the movement to simulate that engraving. If you look closely at the movement you’ll see the separation between the metal plate and the movement itself.
Contained in the engraving on the back of the watch are some additional markings in gold. In early copies of this movement the replica makers either left off these additional markings, or misspelled them horribly. Look for OFFICNE instead of OFFICINE on the back of the movement.
Also, Panerai modified the bridge of the movement. It’s called a “Swan neck” bridge and looks completely different from the base Unitas movement’s bridge. The counterfeit doesn’t attempt to simulate this bridge, making it easy to spot quickly.
Note that the PAM OP II movement, the predecessor to the OP XI does not have the modified bridge. This movement is used in some of the base model Historic lines, such as the PAM-001. This means that while this movement is readily identifiable in the PAM-183, this same replica movement in a PAM-001 is more difficult to spot. The PAM-001 has a solid case back, making identifying the movement more of a task as well.
WARNING: As of October 2005 there is a replica movement that DOES have the correct swan-neck bridge. It is rougher in finish than the genuine movement, but the lack of swan-neck bridge is no longer a reliable indicator of a watch being counterfeit.
The band on the counterfeit 183 is probably one of the highest quality leather bands I’ve seen on a replica watch to date. It’s of a high enough quality that it isn’t as easily identified as fake as on earlier Panerai clones. Still, since Paneristi change watch bands like other people change ties, the band, unless claimed to be OEM, is never a good indicator of authenticity.
The 183 is an awesome watch, and this replica is very close to the original, except from the back. If you’re in the online market for this watch I’d recommend making sure you have photographs of the actual watch for sale. Ask to have photographs of the case back to verify the movement. If you’re concerned about the pictures being of another watch, ask the seller to photograph the watch on a newspaper with the current date.