Unless you are buying from an authorized dealer, you are running the risk of purchasing a counterfeit replica Swiss watch. This goes for all major brands: Panerai, Rolex, Tag Heuer, IWC, Omega. You name the brand, and there is probably a replica out there. These rep watches, as they are known, come mostly from China, although there are some rogue watchmakers from various countries that have put out their own versions of popular Swiss brands.
The list of design flaws on counterfeit Panerais varies per model. You'll find that pretty much all of the genuine models are made as replicas. For this article, we will use the Panerai 029 (or Pam 029, as it is also known) as an example.
The first possible way to spot a fake Panerai would be price. Most counterfeit dealers trying to pass a watch on auction sites will sell for around $1,000 to $2,000. An actual Panerai watch retails, depending on model, from $6,000 to $10,000. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The first noticeable flaw in a replica Panerai is the crown (used to wind the watch). On a replica, it is usually smaller than the genuine and often not put on straight so that it tilts to one side or the other. Also, the crown guard that is distinctive on Panerai watches is often wobbly, and the crown-guard pin that keeps the crown locked will often come loose because it is the wrong size.
Another noticeable flaw is the color of the watch dial. The Pam 029 is a deep black with off-white lettering. Replicas often have a purple hue with "too white" lettering of the words Panerai and Luminor GMT. Also, the "Swiss made" at the bottom of the watch dial is often placed lower on the replicas.
The luminosity of the watch dial is another item to carefully consider. Panerai watches, after light exposure, glow brilliantly for hours in dim light. Replicas do not use the best materials for this process, and it shows in the dimmer glow.
Something less noticeable is the date font under the magnified Cyclops; it is thinner than the real watch and the magnification is weaker. The magnifier on the fake is glued onto the watch crystal; the genuine has it built in. Another hard-to-spot flaw would be that the minute hand and the GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) hand are slightly longer on the fakes than the real watch.
Finally, the last giveaway will be the strap itself. All Panerai watches come with a quality Italian leather or crocodile strap plus a rubber dive strap and a tool to switch them. The replica rubber may be passable, but the leather straps are usually poor quality or even fake leather.