© 2005 by Maurits Bollen and Paneristi.com
Web page prepared by Jay Pulli
Nearly everyone on the forum is well acquainted with the A-series 44 millimeter Officine Panerai hand wound watches. Presented at the SIHH in Geneva in 1998, we all have come to love these fine time pieces because of their sheer size, simplicity and the strong graphic design features of their -by now- patinaed Tritium dials. And, it is not just die-hard Paneristi that have started collecting these watches in a serious manner. More and more traditional watch collectors have recognised the uniqueness of neo-vintage Officine Panerai.
[ picture #01: The absolute quintessential post-vintage Panerai – a pre-Vendome 5218-201/A Logo from 1993. My absolute queen and daily wearer. ]
Genuine vintage Officine Panerai watches (built from the 1930's through the 1950's) have reached a price level unobtainable for ordinary enthusiasts like you and me. Pre-Vendome or Replica Officine Panerai (1992-1997) is steadily going in the same direction. Of course, the company that produced these watches does not exist anymore. No doubt this, and the rumours surrounding a –yet to be published- book on vintage, pre-Vendome and all Tritium dialed Richemont watches by a well known Italian scribe of Rolex-book fame and high profile watch professional, has helped giving the A- and some of the B-series 44 millimeter Officine Panerai the hot status the brand currently has obtained in the watch world. Prices are going through the roof. Any Tritium dialed Officine Panerai is a watch to get now, or forever be sorry!
Few collectors realise, however, that before the A- and B-series PAM's 001 (Luminor Marina), 002 (Luminor), 003 (white dial Luminor Marina), 004 (PVD Luminor Marina), 009 (PVD Luminor) and 010 (white dial Luminor), Officine Panerai issued three (some would say four) small series of watches to test the waters and generate media attention before real production was on its way. I believe most of these watches were destined to be primarily sold on the Italian, Swiss and German markets. Officine Panerai did so in 1997 and 1998. These, largely unknown, series are now called "pre-A" series. Simply because they pre-date the 1998 A-series Luminor Base series of a 1000 pieces, AXXXX/1000 OP 6502 and 1500 Luminor Marinas AXXXX/1500 OP 6502. The latter two are, of course, the "real" A-series as we all know them.
[ picture #02: Two lovely PVD pre-A's, PAM 004 and PAM 009. ]
On most pre-A Luminors (or Bases) and Luminor Marinas you will find pre-Vendome style or T-SWISS-T dials (note the hyphens), solid brass dials with a black satin finish and wider and deeper tritium indices than the later style T SWISS T dials (no hyphens). The old style, bold dial lay-out of these watches is what really sets them apart from later models and is THE reason for their collectability.
Dial-wise, it doesn't matter whether a pre-A is housed in an OP6500 or OP6502 reference case. From OP 6500 BB 970001 right through OP 6502 BB 971700 (less 400 Mare Nostrums, of course, and less the white dialed Luminors and Luminor Marinas), as a rule, all pre-A Luminors and Luminor Marinas came with a pre-Vendome style T-SWISS-T dial. Only a few have T SWISS T dials, either when Officine Panerai tried the new dial style shortly in early 1998 in the old pre-A series (bad luck), or because of a later re-dial when having been serviced (a severe case of bad luck).
Strange things sometimes happen at Officine Panerai Service Centers. A fellow Dutchman I know pretty well told me with a very, very happy face that a Cartier employee/friend of his had helped him getting a Luminova dial in his A-series Power Reserve because it no longer lit up in the dark. And yes, he also took great care that the stupid, non luminous little arrow hand was replaced. Who needs enemies with friends like that?
All pre-Vendome and T-SWISS-T indices have exactly the same shape; these sport the "crooked" numbers that give them their special "fatto a mano" look. Compared to regular A-series, look for the differences between the "6", the "9" and the "2" in "12". The "6" and the "9" are less open and not at all rounded. The stem of the "2" does not go up first and then to the right, but immediately starts-off in a diagonal direction. If asked, I would say the numerals to me look "pinched".
Once you have seen the difference, you will not forget.
[ picture #03: T-SWISS-T next to T SWISS T. Picture by Hiro-san. ]
Here, in this fantastic picture by William Loi, is a good example of what it is all about. On the left you will see a pre-Vendome 5218-202/A PVD Luminor Marina Militare. One of the most valuable and sought-after pre-Vendome Officine Panerai watches, made in a series of 90 watches in 1993 and a further 50 watches in 1994. On the right you will see a pre-A PVD PAM 009 Luminor from 1997/1998. There is no difference in the shape of the indices. Compared to the older dials, I dare say that the pre-A dial is even more balanced and cut to the bone. Less is more.
[ picture #04: 5218-202/A next to pre-A PAM 009 by William Loi. ]
And less costs less! Of course there are differences between these watches you cannot see in this picture. The dial finish is different (more of that later). The pre-Vendome watch comes in a different box and has a larger, brush finished crown protector. It was supplied with two 24 millimeter non-tapered straps with the PVD perlé logo big buckle and a two-screw strap fixing arrangement. The case back is different, featuring the logo and the movement is even more basic than in Pre-A watches. But my point is: the pre-A PAM 009 can be picked-up for less than half the price of the Marina Militare and is probably just as rare! To christen it the "Poor Man's Marina Militare" is grossly underestimating this fine watch, yet superbly sums-up what you get when buying into this package. Talking about value for money.
Another fine example: a 5218-201/A Luminor Logo from 1993 on the left, next to a Pre-A PAM 002 Luminor. Here the difference in value is less dramatic (though again about fifty percent). But still, you get almost full pre-Vendome looks for al lot less money (can you tell by now I am Dutch?).
[ picture #05: Logo without a logo, 5218-201/A next to pre-A PAM 002 by Joel Pirela. ]
I combined two pictures by Hiro-san to show the similarities in the dials of a pre-Vendome 2518-203/A PVD Luminor Marina and a pre-A PVD PAM 004. Again, the pre-A can be found for less than half.
[ picture #06: 5218-203/A next to pre-A PAM 004 by Hiro-san. ]
When Officine Panerai, as a new Vendome subsidiary and sister brand of Cartier (the Vendome group was later acquired by Richemont) re-entered the watch market in 1997, they took-off with a small series of Historical-only watches. All were Luminor Marinas and Luminors. To begin with, a series of together 1000 OP 6500 PAM 001, 002, 003, 004, 009 and 010 was planned. This series of watches started with serial number BB 970001. BB probably is a discriminatory letter code that otherwise has no meaning to me. 97 is a denominator for the year of birth of the new Officine Panerai company, but looses its year-related meaning afterwards, when the number 98 was reached. It is now an integral part of the serial number. The remaining four digits are a sequential production number.
The oldest example I have seen is a 1997 PVD pre-A PAM 009 numbered BB 970007 – 0007/1000, fondly known as the Bond Panerai. It is only the seventh Vendome Panerai ever produced.
[ picture #07: Example of an OP 6500 case back. Picture by Vanni Chiozzi. ]
It is fairly easy to identify a pre-A watch of the first series. For OP 6500 pre-A's, the last four digits of the BB-number or serial number should equal the four digits of the millesimation number. The relationship between serial number (BB) and millesimation number (0XXX/1000) is always consistent and logical. This last principle holds true for all pre-A's.
EG: OP 6500 – BB970001 = 0001/1000 or OP 6500 – BB970499 = 0499/1000.
I am not sure what the real difference is between the OP 6500 case reference and the later OP 6502 case reference. There is a rather cryptic comment by Angelo Bonati, CEO of Officine Panerai, dated September 2003: "The Luminor were sold in the Italian market. Concerning Luminor 400 cases were a part of stock of old OP and 600 were produced by our factory. In fact old Panerai cases show a little lack." Maybe OP 6500's are those 400 old stock cases, and the 600 OP 6502? It is possible because the last pre-Vendome watches, 5218-209 and 5218-210 had one long screw to hold each strap-end. The same configuration as the pre-A and regular A-watches. However, more than those 400 cases were used for OP 6500. At least, that would have been necessary to reach the production number of 500+ OP 6500 items.
In any event, at the time when Cartier initiated the purchase of the watch division from the old Officine Panerai company, Panerai had scheduled a second run of 500 Luminors and Luminor Marinas. These watches were code numbered 5218-209 (150) and 5218-210 (350). Only twelve Luminors (with polished bridges) and a mere two Luminor Marinas were produced. "The completion of the supply was subsequently prevented by the sale of the watch division", states Col. Ing. Zei in his 2003 book "La Panerai di Firenze". According to Yves Odier "Coro, [ … ] the Florentine company under Pre-Vendome officially only produced a little amount of watch-cases 5218-209 & 5218-210 and I believe that they may have also produced some watch-cases for "Vendome" in the very early moment of the take over." Maybe the cases (or the contract) for the 500 never produced pre-Vendomes eventually found their way to the customer in an OP 6500 guise? If that holds true, maybe the same principle is valid for the T-SWISS-T dials?
The agreement between the old Officine Panerai SpA. and Cartier led, among others, to a transfer of all things related to the watch division; workshop drawings, quality control documents, trade marks (among which the right to use the name "Officine Panerai" from then on, the old company was renamed Panerai Systemi SpA.) and patents and of the stock of watches. It was also agreed that the old Panerai was to advise on the design of new watch models for about two years. If you ever have the chance to visit Dirk in his beautiful home near Antwerp, in between the classy wines he pours, ask him to show you a 1995 business plan for the Slytech brand. Although this plan came to no avail because of the dubious nature of its initiator, there is a lot in there that resembles the introduction of the new Officine Panerai in 1997. Submersibles, GMT's, a PAM 021-ish watch, it is all there.
As said, the straps were fixed to pre-A cases with one long screw, like it is done in today's Panerai watches. All strap screws and tubes were made of stainless steel. For PVD pre-A's, however, the screw-heads were blackened, not PVD treated. The rest of each screw was left untreated. The strap tubes appear to have the same blackened finish. All other outwardly visible screws were PVD treated, while the pin that holds the lever was in stainless steel. The case back was largely finished in machine polished stainless steel. Besides the case reference, serial number, and matriculation number, case backs were stamped "OFFICINE PANERAI", "FIRENZE 1860", two dots, "STAINLESS STEEL", a fish symbol to denote underwater use and a maximum depth rating of "30 ATM". Real divers know of course that 30 atmospheres is the equivalent of a depth of only 290 meters, rather than 300 meters. At sea level, ambient pressure already is 1 atmosphere. For OP 6502 PVD pre-A's from the later series, the same configurations as above apply.
[ picture #08: Pre-A screws and tubes. ]
[ picture #09: Empty case. ]
For a long time it was thought that no white dialed T SWISS MADE T OP 6500 pre-A's had been made, but then an OP 6500 pre-A PAM 003 surfaced in California in late 2004. Because these are so rare, when this watch emerged, it was thought that it was a prototype. Or a test watch, even though it had no shadow case. Thus far I have not seen an OP 6500 PAM 010 Luminor, a watch that given the above find, logically should exist too.
Of all pre-A watches, those with white T SWISS MADE T dials command the lowest prices. Surely not having a T-SWISS-T dial is the main cause of that. Not having this pre-Vendome style dial, there are no directly visible differences between a pre-A PAM 003 and a regular A or B-series T SWISS MADE T dialed PAM 003. That said, the pre-A straps and sewn-in buckles -all in good condition- are collectors' items in their own right. So that is a premium over a regular A- or B-series white dialed watch. You can further add some extra value for the old style boxes and for the joy and exclusivity of having a real pre-A.
[ picture #10: White dial pre-A next to a pre-Vendome Daylight – different dial lay-out. Picture by Hiro-san and Markus Tschopp.]
Somewhere in between those 1000 watches came a little less than 400 OP 6501 42 millimeter PAM 006, 007 and 008 Mare Nostrum chronograph watches. When Vendome took-over, 398 Mare Nostrum had been lying unsold in the vaults of the old company. These were altered and re-sold as the Vendome Mare Nostrum and were given a new dial, a new bezel, a new case back and a new strap and buckle. They came, however, in the original pre-Vendome mahogany, and later burl wood box.
I believe Mare Nostrums should be considered pre-A too which, by the way, makes life a lot easier. Like its pre-A Luminor and Luminor Marina sisters, the Vendome Mare Nostrum has a T-SWISS-T dial. Unlike the 44 pre-A's, however, this specific dial does not at all resemble the pre-Vendome 5218-301/A Mare Nostrum dial. The Vendome dial lay-out is completely different from the older, slate blue design and came in three colours. The blue dialed PAM 006, the white dialed PAM 007 and the black dialed PAM 008, produced only in 1997.
[ picture #11: Vendome Mare Nostrum T-SWISS-T next to pre-Vendome 5218-301/A. Picture by William Loi. ]
[ picture #12: Close-up of T-SWISS-T. Picture by Nick. ]
For the Mare Nostrum the adventure stopped after these 398 watches. My guess is that they were hard to sell. As late as 2003 it was still possible to find a new in box pre-Vendome Mare Nostrum at the Bottega d'Arte Panerai Boutique in Firenze. Even though hard to sell at the time, there are persistent rumours that a Mare Nostrum style chronograph is about to re-appear in the coming years. The fact that a pre-Vendome 5218-302/A Slytech Mare Nostrum is pictured prominently in Officine Panerai's 2005 catalogue may well be a precursor of its upcoming rebirth, though it might just as well be that is was put forward to create a historical back-drop for the new Slytech-series of large chronographs. No matter what will happen, there has been a steady rise in the popularity of both the pre-Vendome and Vendome Mare Nostrum these days.
After the last Vendome Mare Nostrum, the millesimation numbering of the first series of 1000 Luminors and Luminor Marinas was picked-up again where it was left-off. But this time with the OP 6502 case reference. For this reason it should be considered the third series of pre-A watches. Even though the numbering within the series is a continuation of the first pre-A batch.
It is as yet unclear where the exact cut-off points caused by the insertion of the Mare Nostrums are located. Most Vendome Mare Nostrums are somewhere in between serial numbers BB 970550 and BB 970950. For 44 millimeter watches, the highest OP 6500 pre-A I have seen, the unique white dialed PAM 003, is numbered BB 970509. The oldest OP 6502 pre-A I know of is a PAM 002 numbered BB 970950.
[ picture #13: Example of an OP 6502 case back. ]
For OP 6502 pre-A watches of the second batch of the first series, the last four digits of the BB-number or serial number minus 400 (for the Mare Nostrums), should equal the four digits of the millesimation number. Format: BB 97XXXX – 400 = YYYY/1000.
EG: OP 6502 – BB971000 = 0600/1000 or OP 6502 – BB971294 = 0894/1000.
Again, the relationship between serial number and millesimation number is always consistent and logical. It is extremely funny seeing watch dealers in their ads blanking-out the millesimation but omitting to do so for the serial number. Do the math and send them an email saying: "I see that 0600/1000 is for sale" and most of the time they reply back: "Ah, obviously you know my watch. Can you tell me some of its history?"
Immediately after the 1000 Historical collection Luminors and Luminor Marinas, and well after the 400 numbers reserved for the Mare Nostrums, around serial number BB 971400, a second series of Luminors and Luminor Marinas saw the light of day. Again, in total, 1000 OP 6502 PAM 001, 002, 003, 004, 009 and 010 were planned, but this time only about 300 watches were actually made.
Further production was probably stopped because the regular A-series Historical line, with the new T SWISS T dial lay-out, was ripe for distribution. Or maybe Officine Panerai laid-off the pre-A series because the old-style dial was almost finished and they wanted to keep some T-SWISS-T's as spares, one never knows with Italian companies? Even today, if you are really lucky, an Officine Panerai Service Center might on request install a T-SWISS-T dial in your PAM 040, or in an old PAM 004 or 009. I have seen it happen several times.
Dirk Grandry, the well known Belgian Officine Panerai historian/Guru, observed in March of 2003: "You need to know that in real production, there's no real time gap between the productions of watches with different suffixes. When they reached 1000, Angelo probably opened a bottle of spumante at the production plant, chatting with the workers for half an hour or so. After that pause, they added the A-suffix and continued production. They probably forgot to ask Angelo how many he was planning to sell of the Marinas. It's also possible that the spumante had blurred their minds, taking a wrong "Luminor" case back. It's also possible that Angelo didn't have the time to talk with Franco Cologni regarding product & marketing strategies at that particular moment in time...."
The second series of a 1000 watches (or to be more specific 300) is known as the pre-A series WITH prefix "A". Is this contradictory? Not at all, see the above comments by Dirk Grandry. While these watches do have prefix "A", they definitely are pre-A models. They can easily be distinguished from regular A-series models by their serial number. Again, there is a consistent logic between the BB-number and the millesimation number.
For all Luminor Marinas within this batch (PAM 001, 003 and 004) it is even easier to tell. The millesimation format for pre-A here is A0XXX/1000, where for A-series Luminor Marinas the format should read AXXXX/1500. This is the reason why it is possible to have a PAM 001 Luminor Marina with an A-prefixed millesimation of a 1000 pieces. In the regular A-series ONLY Luminors (bases) have a millesimation limited to 1000, while of the Luminor Marina A-series, 1500 were made. Likewise, an "A" prefixed Luminor with a matriculation number higher than 300 cannot be a pre-A watch.
[ picture #14: Example of an OP 6502 case back with prefix "A". ]
For pre-A OP 6502 watches with prefix "A", the last four digits of the BB-number or serial number minus 1400, should equal the four digits of the millesimation number. Format: BB 97XXXX – 1400 = A0YYY/1000.
EG: OP 6502 – BB971401 = A0001/1000 or OP 6502 – BB971621 = A0221/1000.
All in all, there are two ways of checking whether a watch is genuine pre-A.
1) The relationship between serial number (BB) and millesimation number (/1000) should be consistent and logical.
For OP 6500
last 4 digits of the BB-number or serial number should equal the 4
the millesimation number.
OP 6501 watches are always considered pre-A.
For OP 6502 pre-A watches of the second batch of the first series, the last 4 digits of the BB-number or serial number minus 400, should equal the 4 digits of the millesimation number.
For OP 6502 pre-A watches with prefix "A", the last 4 digits of the BB-number or serial number minus 1400, should equal the 4 digits of the millesimation number.
2) Assuming that no more than 1300 pre-A Luminor and Luminor Marinas were made, ANY Officine Panerai watch with a serial number lower than BB 971700 is a pre-A watch.
1000 total OP
and Luminor Marina (PAM 001, 002, 003, 004, 009 and 010) 0XXX/1000 and
(PAM 001, 002, 003, 004, 009 and 010) AXXXX/1000, and
400 total OP 6501 Mare Nostrum (PAM 006, 007 and 008), and
less than 300 total OP 6502 Luminor and Luminor Marina (PAM 001, 002, 003, 004, 009 and 010) A0XXX/1000
Total: 1000 + 400 + max. 300 = max. 1700 pre-A watches including the Mare Nostrum.
How many of each? Luminor, Luminor Marina, PVD, white dial? No one really knows…
I have seen several PAM 040 Titanium Luminor Marinas with T-SWISS-T dials installed, probably this was done at the factory during the original production run. However, I have also seen a few PAM 040's that had their T SWISS T dials, or even an L SWISS L dial replaced by a T-SWISS-T dial when at an Officine Panerai Service Center. I have seen the same thing happening to some PAM 004's and PAM 001's from the regular A-series.
As long as this was done by Officine Panerai, I see no problem in this. But we must not forget that these watches are not pre-A. I also learned that for some watches (like the first half of the production run of PAM 040), the Officine Panerai spare part code for a replacement dial could either mean T-SWISS-T or T SWISS T. No distinction is made in the stock list.
[ picture #15: PAM 040 T-SWISS-T. Picture by Gary Dees. ]
There are even a few B-series watches known to exist with T-SWISS-T dials. On Piero Lapiana's Club Panerai site, a B-series Luminor Marina is registered (#395) with a T-SWISS-T dial that has a black small seconds hand and the pre-A style Geneva striped movement. A purist's mess for sure, but an intriguing one.
In November of 2003, at PDay#2 in Cologne, Angelo Bonati presented an orange dialed T-SWISST-T Luminor that was housed in a pre-Vendome 5218-210 PVD case. This older prototype suddenly emerged from his inside pocket, at the same time when he presented the factory drawings for PAM 195 for the first time on the European mainland.
[ picture #16: T-SWISS-T orange dialed 5218-210 prototype. Picture by Volker Wiegmann. ]
In 2003, in Bergamo in Italy, an OP 6500 pre-A was sold that had a 5218-201/A Logo dial. When asked, the owner stated that this watch was sold to him as is. He even offered a prospective buyer to join him on a trip to Milan where the watch was bought. The jeweller who originally sold the watch was prepared to testify in writing that he got this watch from the factory with the Logo dial.
[ picture #17: OP 6500 pre-A with a Logo dial. ]
A friend of mine (or rather several friends, each in turns) has owned a Titanium shadow OP 6535 cased (probably) pre-C series PAM 055 with an almost matte brown coloured T-SWISS-T Base dial installed. This watch was bought directly from a very senior Dutch Richemont employee who got it from someone at the factory in Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The story goes that this specific watch was a prototype for the C-series brown dialed Titanium PAM's. The dial appears to have a wafer thin layer superimposed upon a black T-SWISS-T dial. All paperwork is original and stamped Officine Panerai Milano. This watch still lives in The Netherlands and as soon as I can take pictures of it, I will add these here.
From the Otto Frei website: [A…] 16.5 ligne pocket watch movement, 17 jewels, Incabloc shock protection, subsidiary seconds and at 6 o'clock. Hand sizes are 115/200/28. Because of its size, this is a comfortable movement for the beginning watchmaker (and for copycats! [MB]). Pocket watches have the crown at 12 and small seconds at 6. Wrist watches have the crown at 3, so all you do is turn the dial location 1/4 and wow! You now have a large wristwatch with small seconds at 9. ETA owns the Unitas name and have made the Unitas movements for almost thirty years. All Unitas movements these days are being stamped ETA 6498.
The booklet that comes with a pre-A Luminor Marina shows a picture of the ETA 6497 movement with Rhodium-plated 'soigné'-finish and the text: "All movements used in the Luminor Marina model produced from November 1997 have the Chronometer Certificate by the Controle Suisse des Chronomètres".
The pre-Vendome Officine Panerai movements run at the standard ETA 6497's 18,800 beats. It is unclear whether pre-A movements were already beefed-up to 21,600 beats. In one of his many sleep deprived moments, Dirk held a pre-Vendome 5218-203/A to one ear, and the pre-A PAM 001 to the other. The PAM 001 appeared to tick faster –his guess was that these were already 21,600 beat movements. The pre-A booklet further states that there is a 40-hour power reserve.
The red numbers in the picture below indicate the main differences between the movements:
Pre-A movements are personalised "Officine Panerai Firenze"
Pre-A movements are indivually numbered "swiss made" was brought-over from the center of the movement to the side
jewels" written in full +/- scale for fine adjusting
Orientation of decoration is 45 degrees rather than from top to bottom
"17 jewels" and "swiss made" grouped "adjusted four positions" and "3126" (the latter probably is the general movement designation used at that time)
[ picture #18: Pre-Vendome, pre-A and other Geneva striped movements. ]
The movement used in the PAM 000 and 005 nouveau logo series is also included in the picture. Here you can see that this movement is less refined than the pre-A and pre-Vendome movements, and surely less refined than the A-, B-, C- and D-series OP I and OP II movements, or the D- through G-series OP X and XI movements. These were personalised even further and technically more improved. Hence the lower price of the PAM 000 and 005.
In the new H-series, you will see the re-introduction of the Cotes de Genève movement decoration for all Officine Panerai Historic series. I like that.
Some say that T-SWISST-T dials are recycled, left-over original unfinished pre-Vendome dials. Others say they were simply ordered from the old dial supplier because the new dial style was not yet fit for production. According to the French Officine Panerai collector Yves Odier, the T-SWISS-T dials were ordered by "Vendome... the dials "and or un-finished dials from that supplier" were modified and or re-ordered by Vendome, no T-SWISS-T dials were passed or handed over from Officine Panerai Firenze to Vendome."
[ picture #19: Naked pre-A T-SWISS-T dial. ]
For the pre-A series these pre-Vendome style dials were then printed with the new Vendome typography. A curve-legged "R" and an "E" with three horizontal lines of equal length. Officine Panerai also added T-SWISS-T below the "6", pre-Vendome watches have no text there. On almost all later watches from the Historical collection you will find the regular T SWISS T Tritium dial, or –from halfway the B-series- L SWISS L Luminova dials.
[ picture #20: Pre-Vendome dial font compared to Vendome dial font. Look at the "E's" and "R's" and the serif type letters on the pre-Vendomes ]
[ picture #21: Close-up of T-SWISS-T. ]
Pre-A Panerai with the pre-Vendome style T-SWISS-T dials can be seen on the inside pages and on the cover of the 1997 Officine Panerai book by Giampiero Negretti "Orologi da Polso", or the international version "Legendary Watches". Some good colour pictures can be seen in the 1999 Officine Panerai book "Panerai Historia: Nel Profondo del Mare" or "From the Depths of the Sea". They are pictured in the 1998, four page Officine Panerai Storici leaflets and can be found in official advertisements as late as 1999. Even in Officine Panerai's 2002 catalogue a pre-A PAM 002 can be seen, mistakenly identified as a PAM 112.
[ picture #22: Ad from Jewels and Watches 1999. ]
[ picture #23: PAM 112 in 2002 catalogue. ]
With a lot of teaching from Dirk Grandry, I have come to the conclusion that T-SWISS-T dials and pre-Vendome dials are the same, they differ only in the way they were finished.
T-SWISS-T indices most of the time look less "fat" or less wide than their pre-Vendome brethren. I believe this has two reasons. First, the recessed area of the indices on T-SWISS-T dials is not varnish filled to the level of the dial, it is filled only with Tritium (maybe there is an ever so slight layer of varnish as a finisher).
At the same time, the index cavities on T-SWISS-T dials are filled-up with Tritium to a higher level than was done in the pre-Vendome era. Pre-Vendome indices appear to be substantially deeper. Thus, the magnifying effect of the thick pre-Vendome layer of varnish is not present in a T-SWISS-T dial. This layer covers the complete dial on early pre-Vendome watches and it is what makes these dials so very special, it creates depth in the dial.
[ picture #24: Pre-Vendome 5218-201/A dial. Observe the painted vertical edges. Recesses fully filled with varnish. ]
Second, I believe on early pre-Vendomes the vertical sides of the recessed area are covered with Tritium too. On T-SWISS-T dials, only the horizontal, flat area is painted with luminous material. Albeit to a higher level. This contributes highly to the T-SWISS-T indices appearing less wide. From what I have seen, only the early pre-Vendomes have the vertical edges painted. That is why I like 5218-201/A, 202/A and 203/A more than the later Slytechs. Slytech dials are a lot more like T-SWISS-T dials. This except for prototype Slytechs like Hammer's 5218-201/A Slytech Submersible. It is likely that re-printed 5218-203/A dials were used for the prototype Slytechs. Later pre-Vendomes also miss the full layer of varnish.
[ picture #25: The T-SWISS-T dial in full glory, my (ex) pre-A PAM 009. ]
Some more pictures to illustrate the text:
[ picture #26: Pre-Vendome "12" index. The vertical edges of the index are covered in Tritium too, the whole index is varnish filled. ]
[ picture #27: Pre-A "12" index. The vertical edges are unpainted, no varnish. The Tritium is filled to a higher level, indices appear less wide. ]
[ picture #28: Pre-A "9" index. Obviously from a pre-A PAM 002 or 009. ]
On almost all later Historical watches you will find the regular T SWISS T dial, or L SWISS L. On these dials, the Tritium material filled the recesses to a much higher level, almost reaching an even plane with the dial. A thin gap between dial edge and Tritium acts as a border to visually separate dial and luminous material. This substantially differs from contemporary series A-watches like PAM 027 and 029, where the Tritium was applied onto the dial, like a sausage.
This later style of Tritium filling can nevertheless be found on some Historicals too. Dirk Grandry had a talk about this with Mr. Rössner during the Cologne meet in 2002, as he had noticed that there was a lot of variation in the dials of watches of the Historic collection. On some watches, the luminous coating was more sunken, and you can clearly see the edges of the indices. Mr. Rössner confirmed this to Dirk, and told him he always selected a watch with more sunken markers for his personal use or for his friends.
[ picture #29: Regular A-series "6". The Tritium is almost level with the dial surface, yet the edges remain visible. Picture by Hiro-san). ]
[ picture #30: Sausage-like "6" on an early Power reserve. The Tritium was applied onto a printed index on the dial rather than in a recessed cavity. Picture by Hiro-san). ]
A much heard mistake is that early (pre-Vendome, pre-A) dials are called "sandwich dials". They are NOT. Prior to PAM 127 and the 1995 Historicals and some Radiomirs for sale now, only vintage Officine Panerai had real sandwich dials, where the luminous material was applied onto a separate disk under the actual dial and visible through cut-out numerals filled with varnish.
[ picture #31: Vintage sandwich dials. Note the separate disks... Picture by Volker Wiegmann.]
[ picture #32: Pre-A 004 or 001 T-SWISS-T dial. No dual disks! Picture by Volker Wiegmann. ]
[ picture #33: Drawing of several Tritium dials, based on Volker Wiegmann's chart. ]
One of the unique characteristics of the pre-A series is that they have a strap and buckle design that no other Officine Panerai watch has, be it pre-Vendome or from later Vendome series. All pre-A's came with two straps, made by Hirsch in Austria. These straps are, design wise, generally equal to later A-series Vendome calf straps. This, however, with the restriction that the pre-A buckles were sewn-in. The underside of the pre-A strap is of a darker colour than the straps we see today and is stamped "Officine Panerai", "C" and sometimes "Made in Austria". Pre-A straps were marginally longer than today's straps, 115/85 millimeters opposed to 115/75 millimeters.
As a rule of thumb, black dialed stainless steel and PVD Luminor Marina pre-A's came with a tapered 24 millimeter tan strap and with a black rubberised calf strap. All on polished stainless steel or PVD 22 millimeter buckles. Stainless steel and PVD Luminor pre-A's, as well as most white dials, came with a black calf strap (the underside was black too) and also with the same rubberised black strap as mentioned above. The buckles were 22 millimeter PVD items or 22 millimeter polished stainless steel. The Mare Nostrum series were sold with a straight 22 millimeter crocodile strap on a brushed 22 millimeter buckle. Variations on all themes are possible, of course. Except that, at that time, no crocodile straps were made for the 44 millimeter cases.
The design of the pre-A buckle is the same for all pre-A watches. It is basically a 22 millimeter miniature version of the big 24 millimeter pre-Vendome buckle without the logo, that was either available in polished stainless steel, matte pencil-lead grey PVD or brushed stainless steel. The buckle is, however, more curved to fit the wrist than its older sister and it is stamped "PANERAI", which is offset to the right. This type of buckle was revived for PAM 127 "1950" and now too for the 2005 Historical collection (both of the screw-in type).
The problem is that, after the pre-A run, these straps and buckles were available for a very short time only. A few A-series watches can be found with pre-A straps and buckles. This may have happened, however, at the watch dealer where these watches were originally bought. After that, anyone who needed a replacement strap for a pre-A either had to have a strap custom made and the original buckle sewn-in, or revert to a strap from the regular A-series. This, of course, meant abandoning the original buckle and opt for the 22 millimeter thumbnail tang buckle. All the above are reasons why it is extremely difficult to find good pre-A straps and buckles. When included in your pre-A set, the original straps and buckles surely are worth a considerable premium.
[ picture #34: Pre-A Buckles and straps. ]
Pre-A paperwork consolidated the current Libretto di Garanzia warranty booklet and instruction manual into one booklet. This booklet has the original owners' tear-out registration card and a cut-out to hold the stamped warranty card. The booklet was kept secure in a white cardboard folder that was sealed with a sticker that had the serial number, movement number (matching to COSC certificate, if applicable) and watch description.
[ picture #35: Even though from a very early A-series T-SWISS-T watch, the paperwork is exactly like it came with pre-A's. Picture by O.J. Whatley. ]
The dark cardboard box that housed pre-A's was of a shoe box type. Unlike today's outer boxes, where the lid is of equal height as the lower box, the lid of the pre-A box is only an inch in height. I have never seen the intermediate flat and cheap looking folding box together with a pre-A. The cherry wood inner box had a darker finish and was lower in height and shallower than the current cherry wood box. It is all a matter of millimeters, but again, having the right boxes surely is worth a premium. I have no idea what the outer shipping box looked like, if at all originally present in the pre-A package.
[ picture #36: Dirk's terrace. On the right a pre-A shoe box. Is Dirk really wearing an Offshore? ]
[ picture #37: Pre-A inner box. Not accredited. ]
[ picture #38: Pre-A shoe-box. Not accredited. ]
A lot of Paneristi and friendly watch dealers have helped me over the years to gain knowledge of pre-A Officine Panerai watches. But non so as Dirk Grandry. Almost everything I know, I know either directly from Dirk, or from one of his literally hundreds of posts on the subject. Most of what is written here can be found on the (old) forum. I merely rewrote, combined, and sometimes completed the know-how that is out there on the forum. Nevertheless, a lot of it is theory and sometimes even outright speculation. I guess that is the reason why Dirk himself has not yet written an article on pre-Vendome and pre-A Officine Panerai watches. Even though I think he definitely should.
Any comments, suggestions, additions, accreditations, theories etc. etc. are welcome. If possible, I will include these in a follow-up article.
I also like to thank some fellow (ex) pre-A or T-SWISS-T owners, in some instances whom I have corresponded and spoken with endlessly. Others have provided me with valuable info on the dials and the serial numbers of their watches. Hilton Leo (Lurker), Kirk Colvin, Joel Pirela, Bas Scheepstra, Clif Watkins, Stanley Manuputty, Volker Wiegmann, Jerrel Manbodh, Yves Odier, PJ (Mr. Yellow), Pegan Teo and Jeff and Valerie Meyer.
Special thanks goes to Joel Pirela, William Loi and Hiro-san for their great photography. Sometimes their pictures are better than actually having the watch in hand. All pictures I used in here are either my own, or taken from the public domain. I have not asked permission from the owners for any use in this article. Wherever I knew the owner, pictures are accredited accordingly. Good pictures can be found on Hiro-san's Panerai Carpe Diem website, http://www.ne.jp/asahi/panerai/carpediem/index.html. Brush-up your Japanese first, though.
Many thanks to Paneristi and the current team of moderators who have weathered all storms and returned this fine site to a safe harbour where all willing to do so are welcome. Special thanks to Guy Verbist, of course.