According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry counterfeiters are a big problem to the watch industry. The Federation states that fakes “drain brands of their substance, threaten existing jobs, harm the environment and endanger the health of consumers”. In addition, they also state that “the fake goods industry finances criminal organisations linked to drug trafficking, gambling, prostitution, extortion, money laundering and human trafficking”.
As a result, counterfeiters are being fought tooth and nail by the watch industry. Counterfeit watches are also a huge problem for potential watch buyers out there. With a marketplace potentially littered with fake watches that are increasingly difficult to distinguish from the genuine articles, one needs to tread carefully. Fortunately, there are voices in the community that try and help us navigate the marketplace.
Two such voices are Wristbusters and Perezcope (also known as Jose Pereztroika). If you are not familiar with them yet, Wristbusters and Perezcope are essentially providing the watch community with a free yet priceless service. The honourable service of arming said community with the knowledge needed to navigate the murky waters of the watch world. They are also known for being very thorough in their research and at times for being as subtle as a runaway bulldozer. As the saying goes, one can not make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. It is worth giving their accounts on Instagram a follow if not yet the case. The last thing anyone in this community wants is to unwittingly spend their hard earned money on a counterfeit watch. They might just help you avoid making such a mistake.
In this interview we talk to Wristbusters and Jose Pereztroika. In their quest for truth they recently found themselves dead center in what is best described as a Shakespearean tragedy. The one that comes to mind would be Shakespeare’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ with its immortal quote “Gracious madam, I that do bring the news made not the match” (i.e. don’t shoot the messenger).
To find out why their story has been dubbed the “Panerai Papers”, let’s head into the interview below.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview are those of Wristbusters and Perezcope and do not necessarily reflect those of Atelier DE GRIFF.
Jan: The trigger for this interview has certainly been your latest dance with Panerai. The story has unfolded almost exclusively on social media. For anyone not having spent much time on there as of late, can you summarize the event?
Jose: Beginning in October 2018, Panerai made a series of efforts to interact with the Instagram watch community by reposting pictures of Panerai watches. It was a great honor among Paneristi to be awarded the #PaneraiShotOfTheWeek or the #PaneristiWho of the week. One IG profile in particular won the awards several times. This profile posted many pictures with celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger and claimed that some of his watches were gifts from famous action stars.
Topic poster had this thing going with strap makers where he would make nice pictures of his watches featuring the straps in return for free straps and other stuff. Seeing that he knew guys like Schwarzenegger, the strap makers were all over him. In March 2020 I discovered that all of this profile’s Panerai watches, around 20 in total, were Chinese super replicas.
I reached out to Panerai to warn them but the pictures were never deleted. Then in mid August, Panerai reposted more fakes, this time from other accounts. Since reaching out again seemed futile, I decided to call them out on Instagram. As a result, Panerai was hit by a veritable shitstorm. Three days later, my instagram account was disabled without warning. That’s when Wristbusters stepped in and took the debacle to a whole new level.
Wristbusters: Even though we have been absent from social media lately (mostly due busy schedules and quite spectacular life events), this was one of those rare occasions that required us to step in and share mutual understanding about the situation. After all Jose has been fighting the same fight as we have: Trying to eliminate and expose the counterfeit industry while educating (which isn’t easy by the way and comes with a package full of butthurt lunatics). So this ‘collab’ shouldn’t come as a surprise. We did what was the right thing to do – back up one of our own.
Jan: You have reached out to Panerai in the past on this topic that has now gotten you banned. Can you shed some light on that interaction? How did they react at the time?
Jose: I spoke directly to the CEO of Panerai. When I discovered the counterfeits, my first impulse was to call them out like I’ve done many times in the past. You see, Richemont Panerai is notorious for misrepresenting the history of the original Panerai company. After giving it some thought however, I came to realize just how embarrassing it would be if this became public so I tried a different approach.
The CEO thanked me for the info and wished me a relaxing weekend. However, to my total surprise the pictures were kept online. In the days that followed the CEO’s instagram account kept liking the above-mentioned fakes. Confused about this behaviour, I reached out again and asked if he had not read my messages. There was no answer.
Note: Another Shakespeare reference seems apt here: “He was but as the cuckoo is in June, Heard, not regarded” – King Henry IV, Act 3 Scene 2.
Wristbusters: Then we reached out to our contacts and it was all downhill from there. Both CEO’s are fully aware of what’s going on and aren’t doing anything about it. The fakes are still published all over their official page.
Jan: As evidenced by the breadth of knowledge you have concerning Panerai, you clearly have an interest in the brand. I would think you’d be treated as a close ally, rather than an enemy. Are you surprised at the treatment received here and the overall reaction by Panerai?
Jose: No, not surprised at all. The modern Panerai company is an artificial construct on marketing steroids. A lot is just smoke and mirrors with little to no substance. They do not appreciate my research and findings.
Wristbusters: Nothing surprises me anymore. And just to be perfectly clear- Wristbusters share ZERO interest in the Panerai brand overall.
Jan: Where does your knowledge and interest for the brand Panerai come from?
Jose: I stumbled upon Panerai in 1998 and was immediately hooked. Here’s why. When I was a kid my mum used to work part time and I spent half-days with an Italian family. They had hundreds of Italian comics on their window sill. Some of those comics were about military frogmen commandos. I loved them. When I first heard about Panerai in 1998 and was told the watches were used by Italian navy divers during World War Two, all those memories from my childhood came flashing back. As a result, I started collecting every bit of information I could find which led to the largest and most advanced vintage Panerai database on the planet.
Jan: Luxury brands have impressive budgets for managing their social media accounts. I recall a similar situation with another luxury brand, where they acted quite differently, removing the offending images and even publishing a public apology. Did Panerai explain to you why they went the opposite way and refused to remove the pictures of fake watches on its official feed?
Jose: There was no explanation. The only discernible reaction was that my account was suddenly disabled.
Wristbusters: Not once, twice in a row. Which clearly means someone was working hard to get him suspended for good. And failed.
Jan: You have both had your accounts disabled multiple times on social media for essentially pointing out the truth. The power of social media companies to ‘curate’ what information is allowed to be posted on their platforms is often debated, today more than ever. Can you explain how exactly you got banned in the first place?
Jose: My account was disabled without any warning. All I got was a screen stating “Your account has been disabled” and asking me to identify myself via code sent to my phone. No reason was ever stated. Later I received an email that my account had been disabled by mistake. The very same message arrived after the second and third blocking.
Wristbusters: In our case Instagram got suspended for copyright violation when we reposted a public video, even though the credit was rightfully given so go figure. It was clearly deliberate as we were targeted by shady jewellers from Miami who couldn’t stand the truth being told and the aftermath of our exposure. We appealed multiple times and the case is still pending. Covid slowed things down even further. Who knows if that instagram account will ever recover. RIP 230,000 followers you’re the real mvp!
Jan: Social media are often accused of being flexible with their interpretation of right and wrong when ad-dollars are at stake. Do you think protecting ad revenue was something Instagram was concerned with in this case?
Wristbusters: Doubtful. Someone from Panerai has an Instagram plug on standby based on what happened and how it happened. Jose didn’t even get the chance to receive an email from Instagram which is standard protocol when you get suspended for violating Instagram’s guidelines. He literally just vanished without an explanation, twice! Same way he was able to retrieve it. It’s all who you know…
Jan: What are your personal reasons to maintaining your IG account as it must be a very time and effort intensive activity?
Wristbusters: No personal reasons. Started as a fun hobby, a daily entertainment, and with time it developed into a community. Many friendships were made. Many bridges burned. But overall we don’t take anything personally. Whoever appreciates it— great, whoever doesn’t – be gone. Super simple.
Jose: In September 2015, I got banned from the official Paneristi forum for reporting on a number of fake and made-up vintage watches. Their attempt to silence me led to the idea for Perezcope, an in-depth research platform that fundamentally changed the way we look at vintage Panerai today. The main purpose of my Instagram account is to share my findings with watch enthusiasts and help collectors make well-informed investment decisions.
Jan: Panerai is owned by Richemont. Richemont also owns Watchfinder. Watchfinder has a massive following on its YouTube channel where they often point out the differences between real and fake watches. That seems to be perfectly allowed and generating a pretty penny for them. How is that any different from what you are doing and getting banned for on Instagram?
Wristbusters: Good point. Tell us something we don’t know! Just because we have certain rules in our everyday modern society doesn’t mean those same rules apply to Instagram world. Even though they are trying to stand up against bullying, violence, racism etc etc we both know they don’t have the algorithm perfected just yet😂 I think this is the hardest part to grasp for many— people’s freedom of speech gets taken away with no explanation nor clarity as well as no customer service to complain to, so they get mad. Rightfully so, it’s injustice with no common sense. If we get suspended again we will reopen WB3 and rebuild it as we always do. Our followers will find us. You can take away our platform but you can’t take away the movement.
Jose: I’m not very familiar with Watchfinder but as far as I know they never looked into fake Panerais. They always compare fake Rolex watches to the originals. The video on the history of Luminor was absolutely painful to watch. It’s complete disinformation as perpetuated by the brand, not to mention the super annoying narrator. Anyway, I think the two things cannot be compared as with our exposé, Panerai – and Richemont as a whole – were put in a very embarrassing position.
Jan: Do you think this will have any impact on the brand reputation of Panerai? Or are we blowing this out of proportion, and only the enthusiasts that are active on Instagram will have taken notice?
Jose: I think Panerai lost face in front of the whole watch community. The CEO certainly did. I know for a fact that this scandal reached the highest echelons of Richemont in Geneva and certain people had to answer some questions. If a brand is not able to distinguish their product from the counterfeits and doubles down on reposting fakes, something is very wrong. Panerai posting super replicas on their official Instagram is the best advertising the Chinese replica factories could get, for free. Absolutely baffling! In my opinion this was one of the top five watch stories of 2020 but none of the mainstream watch media blogs reported on it which is no surprise since all of them are in the pockets of luxury groups – and some even partly owned by them.
Jan: Some people claim that Panerai never quite took history seriously and is rather creative with stories to serve their marketing strategy. Do you underwrite this statement and can you illustrate it with some examples?
Jose: The historical timeline put forth by the modern Panerai company is a complete fabrication. Panerai, as it exists today, is an artificial construct created from scratch in 1997 after the original Panerai company from Florence sold their name “Officine Panerai” and some remaining watch stock to Vendôme, a subsidiary of the Richemont finance group. All so-called Panerai watches made from 1935 to 1955 are in reality Rolex Oyster watches. The Florentine company just replaced the dials. The watches made between 1993 and 1996 during the so-called Pre Vendôme era were designed and produced by Guenat Montres Valgines SA in Switzerland. As a matter of fact, Panerai has no real history in watchmaking and most of the iconic design features of modern Panerai watches such as the cushion case or the Error-Proof dial aka California dial can be considered stolen intellectual property.
Jan: In the past you have also been active in warning candidate buyers for wrongfully documented watches offered by renowned auction houses. Could you tell us a bit more about those actions by way of a few examples?
Jose: In 2016, Christie’s offered a vintage Rolex Panerai 3646 which had already been sold by them in 2013 for USD 161,000. The watch in question was an important piece of WW2 history with Italian Navy markings (Xa FLOTMAS No. 048) on the caseback. Unfortunately the original plastic dial became warped and was replaced with an altered Panerai dial with fake Radiomir Panerai engravings, done by the infamous Rinaldi clan. This watch changed hands many times. One dealer failed to disclose the dial replacement and all owners after that believed the new dial was the original one. The experts at Christie’s had of course no idea.
I wrote an article in which I presented irrefutable evidence that the dial was not only altered but also not original to the watch. Christie’s went ahead with the sale and auctioned the watch without reserve. It fetched only CHF 37,500, more than 100k less than in 2013. This was the first time my work had a major impact on the value of a watch.
Another interesting case was a vintage Rolex Daytona “Solo” that was altered to make it more valuable. The “Cosmograph” print had been removed, leaving only the Rolex logo on the dial, thus “Solo” which is Italian for “Only” (Only Rolex). This particular watch had been auctioned a few years earlier in untouched condition and after the modification it fetched more than double the price at Phillips. The experts at Phillips didn’t know the watch had been altered but a simple Google search of the case number would have led to the earlier auction result. Phillips quickly reached out to the buyer and offered a refund.
I also uncovered many fake or made-up pieces at Antiquorum. Interestingly, the auction house never reacted. Instead, they sent their trolls to viciously attack me. These hostilities lasted for months, even to the extent of sharing my private address, etc. Their main purpose was to undermine my credibility and ridicule my research.
Jan: Besides all the negative experiences as a result for all the warnings and knowledge shared on IG, there must also exist some very positive ones, at least we hope so. Could you tell us a bit more about such stories?
Jose: There was massive support from the watch community and as a matter of fact, I gained thousands of new followers. After my account was disabled, I was overwelmed by hundreds of support messages. It was amazing. I would like to take the opportunity and thank everybody for the support.
Wristbusters: It’s nice to open DMs and scroll through thousands of shoutouts and ‘welcome back’ posts. Throughout all these years we helped many with their next watch purchase, legit checks and other situations; people tend to remember that. And of course it’s supposed to be an entertaining account 🐈 It brings us all into one place where we share mutual interests, hobbies and beliefs.
Jan: Do you have anything left you want to share here with Panerai should they be reading along?
Jose: There is beauty in passionately and accurately curating the heritage of a brand. You should try.
Wristbusters: Market value of your timepieces (for the most part) is garbage. Just like your reputation.
Jan: Do you have anything you wish to share to the enthusiasts reading this interview?
Wristbusters: Thanks for reading. Meow.
Jose: The real history of the original Panerai company is absolutely amazing. It’s actually stuff for a movie. Thanks for reading.
For those looking for more information and pictures related to this story make sure to give them a follow. When their accounts are not suspended you can find them on Instagram @wristbusterstwo and @perezcope
SPECIAL THANKS: This interview could not have happened without the impressive behind the scenes coordination of the one and only @WatchWalker