I have been interested in this brand for a few years now, actually since 1999. I have learnt a lot about the brand and their watches. I thought I share some of the things that I have learnt.
First a bit about Panerai:
Panerai was founded in 1890 in Florence, Italy. Officine Panerai originally specialized in making precision instruments for marine use. It was granted many patents in the field of timekeeping and optics. It had set up a workshop for the repair and modification of timepieces and it took the style of Guido Panerai & Figlio, specialist in optical and mechanical engineering.
Throughout the years, the company developed its collaboration with the Italian Navy, producing precision instruments and for their underwater bomb specialists, the famous Radiomir watch. These watches remain a military secret and were exclusive to members of the Italian Navy until 1993.
In 1993, The Grimoldi Watch Company found drawings for the watch and a limited edition of the Luminor and Mare Nostrum models were created and was made available to watch aficionados. This limited run was offered in Italy and was sold within a month.
After the acquisition by the Richemont Group (then Vendome Luxury Group) in 1997, the watches were restructured and redesigned to meet the strict requirements of the group and the public. A strictly controlled production and distribution policy were developed and the first Luminor Marina models were offered in limited run to the general public in Italy and America. Again the watches were sold out. In 1998, Richemont launched the line on the international market. And with that, the rest is history.
On to the numbering system.
Typical case back marking:
The first row, OP65XX indicates the case number. Different models will carry different case number. For that matter, the case number case change for the same model but from different year of production.
The second row, BB97XXXX is the serial number of the watch. It starts with BB970001 and grows over the years.
The third row, the first alphabet indicates the year of production. Refer below. This is followed by the production number of the watch and the number of that particular model was produced in that year (millesimation).
Millesimation: To meet strict quality, reliability and long-term reliability, Panerai has strict production criteria which do not allow their watches in large numbers. It is for this reason, that all Panerai watches are individually numbered and the total number of watches produced in the year is declared.
No alphabet: 1997
Watch was produced in 1998 and it is watch number 123 of 1,200 of that model produced in 1998 regardless of dial design, dial colour and type of strap installed.
And there you have, the Panerai numbering system in a nut shell.