Back then buying ANY Panerai was a difficult task. Inventory was low and discounts on them were essentially nonexistent. You were lucky if you were able to buy one at full retail price. The brand was really taking off and it would reach its peak in the next few years.
Fast forward to 2014 and the Panerai world has changed a lot since I first learned about the brand in 2007. Traffic on Paneristi.com has dropped dramatically and if you visit multiple watch forums daily like I do, you will know that things have changed. At some point in my WIS life I considered Panerai to be my favorite brand. I mean, a look at that beautiful crown guard and their simplistic designs and I fall back in love with the brand (for the most part). They are quite comfortable on the wrist, the insanity that comes with changing the straps is unlike anything else, they do make quite a few attractive models, they have amazing wrist presence, etc... so what is there NOT to like about this brand? Though they are probably selling more watches overall, I believe that their desirability in the WIS community has certainly declined.
Here are the reasons why I have lost some of the love for the brand:
Terrible service reputation. Though I have not had the opportunity to deal with PASC first hand, I have read many horror stories online. I acknowledge that the number of negative posts on watch forums will undoubtedly be higher than the positive posts (people usually resort to public outlets to complain rather than to compliment), but I must also say that reading through a few of these negative posts will cast a doubt on anyone (serviced watch shipped to the wrong address, handling damage, rubber gasket sticking out from case back, and so forth). This problem seems to also be affecting other brands... I just do not get it. When you pay hundreds of dollars to service your thousands of dollars watch, you should expect nothing short of perfection. To not have an excellent final quality control before shipping the watches back to the customers is just unacceptable and ridiculous, particularly in this industry. I am totally dreading the day that I have to deal with PASC myself... with my luck, who knows what will happen to my watches.
Reissues of previous limited editions. The first Panerai with a bronze case, the PAM 382 (released in 2011), is without much debate one of the best and hottest model that Panerai has released in recent years (it also lead the way to the bronze case craze). Being limited to only 1,000 pieces, people went crazy looking for one and second hand prices were outright ludicrous. With this kind of success, it was hard to imagine that they would not release another bronze watch. And of course they did, in 2013 the PAM 507 was released... another 1,000 bronze watches. Another example is the PAM 249 (released in 2006) with the famous Cali dial. For years it was a collector's piece due to its limited edition status and unique Cali dial. Then in 2012 they released the PAM 448 as a limited edition and the PAM 424 as a regular production model. Though not "identical" to the original PAM 249 (though the PAM 448 is pretty damn close to being identical), they are just too similar. Not only does it affect the resale value of the original limited edition model, but it also raises the next question... what is the point of calling it a limited edition model if you will release an almost identical model later on? Now, just to be clear, I do not consider this the same as making a homage of a previous model like many brands do nowadays (which is usually marketed as a homage too).
Distribution of limited editions. This is perhaps my biggest issue. No transparency in their distribution of limited editions. The so called "waiting lists" are just complete BS. They basically offer the limited editions to their VIPs and friends first and if there are any leftovers then they go through the list... which is not exactly an insane practice as I understand that they are trying to take care of their VIPs first. But when your VIP customer is a notorious flipper, then it is quite annoying that the only way to obtain one of these hot pieces is by paying an absurd premium to the VIP customer. Also just as annoying, is to see the same person owning both versions of the Bronzos (or in some cases even owning two of the same limited edition watch). Just does not seem fair to me... should not all customers have an equal chance at purchasing the limited edition watches?
Too many limited editions. Everyone loves limited editions... they somehow make you feel more special. But when Panerai announces more limited editions than regular production models, it inevitably takes away from that special feeling. People in the watch community always make fun of Hublot for releasing too many limited editions, Panerai is not too far behind. Less limited editions please, more outstanding regular production models.
Infinite iterations of essentially the same watch. The so called "new" watches often have minor minor changes such as moving the crown to the left side or just adding a few more texts on the dial. Not sure that really makes them a new model... It gets old at some point.
Price. Most brands suffer from this disease as well, though some more than others. Prices increase constantly and before you know it the retail price for the entry level watch is now not so entry level anymore. Back in 2007 when I first bought my Panerai, the PAM 111 (which I consider part of their entry level group) had a retail price of $4,600. In 2014, the PAM 510 (which will replace the PAM 111) is $7,700. That is a 67% price increase. The 67% increase is quite modest (other brands like Rolex have taken price increases to a completely new level) when you consider that it has been 7 years and that the new models come with the new manufacturer 8-day movement ... but think of it this way, a watch that was more affordable to most at under $5K, is now a lot less affordable at almost $8K. At $8K I no longer consider it an entry level watch.
Today I have a love/hate relationship with Panerai. Yes, I still love the models that I currently own and many of the models currently available, but for the reasons stated above, a part of me dislikes the brand now. It is a complicated relationship... love the watch, dislike the brand sometimes. Or perhaps a more accurate word to describe my feelings towards Panerai would be "disappointment". I truly hope that Panerai will change their current direction and rise again to be the brand that converted me to a WIS. Last Monday I called the Beverly Hills Boutique to put my name on their "wait list" for the new PAM 785 that was announced on the same day in Hong Kong... fingers crossed... hoping that things have already begun to change for the better.
UPDATE (3/17/15): Still nothing to date... I guess all their available PAM 785s went to their "VIPs", again. Not impressed.
UPDATE (6/20/19): After 8 years of waiting and aggravation, I am ecstatic to share that I am finally the owner of a Bronzo - the PAM 968. This is the 4th iteration and a regular production model, but as of today, this model is still extremely difficult to find and purchase at retail. Huge thanks to my friend Panerai Central for helping me acquire this very special piece.