The history of Officine Panerai began in 1860, when Giovanni Panerai opened a watchmaker’s shop and school on Ponte alle Grazie in Florence. Their beginnings were intertwined with creating high precision instruments for the Royal Italian Navy, something that they continued for decades, and it is through this partnership that ‘radiomir’ was imagined. A radium-based compound that could be turned into a paste and paint, radiomir works exceptionally well in the water and gives luminosity to the dials of sighting instruments and devices.
This clever concoction was, of course, integrated and used in Panerai’s timepieces, and the first prototype of the watch named ‘Radiomir’ also was created for the frogman commandos of the First Submarine Group Command of the Royal Italian Navy. The timepiece featured a large, cushion-shaped steel case (47mm), luminescent numerals and indices, wire lugs welded to the case, a hand-wound mechanical movement, and a water-resistant strap long enough to be worn over a diving suit. Features that are still seen in today’s models.
Pull quote – Radiomir, the first watch created by Panerai.
The Radiomir we know today takes its’ visual cues from its predecessor and incorporates technical content that is consistent with contemporary watchmaking. It is a great example of Officine Panerai’s ability to transcend decades. The P.6000 calibre is hand-wound and has a power reserve of three days. For greater precision when adjusting the time, the calibre also has a device that stops the balance when the winding crown is pulled out. The craftsmanship is exquisite both on the outer and inner of the timepiece, and the mechanism within is just as impressive. This is a striking watch that is loved by watch connoisseurs and new collectors alike for its distinct aesthetic and historical throwback.
In 1949, Officine Panerai pushed boundaries further and evolved the idea of the radiomir substance they created. A new self-luminous substance, named ‘Luminor’ made from tritium was released and a patent was filed. Following on from the creation of substance to timepiece, the brand then started working on a watch that was also to be named ‘Luminor’.
By 1950, the development of the Luminor was finished. The timepiece was characterised by the crown-protecting bridge, with reinforced wire lugs created from the same block of steel as the case, the cushion-shaped case as in the Radiomir and a flat, wider bezel. Presently, models with this case are known as Luminor 1950.
For the next few decades, the company continued to supply the Italian Navy with instruments and creations that were both innovative and forward-thinking, The company also had a change in management and went from a family business owned by the Panerais, to a company under the leadership of engineer Dino Zei. This change set Panerai on a new course, and in 1993, the company presented a collection of three series of limited editions watches to the public: the Luminor, the Luminor Marina and the Mare Nostrum, which draw inspiration from the historical models created for Second World War commandos, and which immediately become highly sought after items for many collectors and enthusiasts.
The Luminor Marina
The Luminor Marina is one of the most recognisable and popular Panerai models. It is loved for many reasons. One being the intricate detailing that lies within the styles. A P.9010 automatic movement, with a power reserve of three days as well as subtly redesigned proportions that have reduced the thickness and weight of these watches. Another reason is the styling of the watch. It is a fantastic everyday watch that reinterprets classic proportions in a contemporary manner preserving all the characteristics which have made this watch an icon of luxury watchmaking. It includes an interchangeable strap system- meaning you can easily change the strap and thereby change the look of the watch.. The small seconds indicator at nine o’clock is an unmistakable element of many of Officine Panerai’s watches but in particular the Luminor Marina.
The Luminor Due
The Luminor Due also originates from a redesign of the Panerai’s archive and has many of the Luminor features combined but has become so popular, it now stands as its own collection. It also has the luxury of being slightly smaller than the Marina, and amalgamates the sporting elements with the ability to be worn for more formal occasions. This collection includes some larger case sizes as is Panerai’s DNA, however, the movements inside are thinner to keep the overall thickness much sleeker and more contemporary. There is also a smaller case size of 38mm for those that want something more subtle.
A new direction.
In 2000, Angelo Bonati joined Panerai as it’s new CEO, and is credited with firmly putting the brand on the map within the horology world. His passion and intent to manufacture, create and ultimately sell the Panerai watches paid off, and he elevated the brand to what we know today. From introducing them to trade shows, and helping to open a new manufacturing site in Neuchatel, Bonati stayed at the helm until April 2018 when current CEO Jean-March Pontroue took over from his predecessor. Pontroue continued to run with the pace that Bonati had set. With the rise in popularity of the company came a rise in interest, and many celebrities sport Panerai timepieces. Dwayne Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger are but a few names who have been seen wearing Panerai watches, and there have been Panerai timepieces featured in films throughout the last few decades. It has truly elevated the brand with influential and notable people wearing iconic models in such a modern and contemporary way.
You can listen to the Calibre podcast episode where we sit down with CEO Jean-Marc Pontroue about his vision for Panerai here.
The Panerai Submersible is another popular choice with watch collectors due to its unique and distinctive appearance. Solid and strong, with unrivalled visibility even at great depths, these are also the first choice for professional divers.
In the last few years, Officine Panerai has launched their Carbotech™ Submersibles. The structure of Carbotech™ is designed to enhance both the aesthetics, and the performance of the timepiece, plus the cut of the material is unique every time. To form the plates of Carbotech from which the components are made, sheets of carbon fibres are compressed, making a strong and durable substance that is used as a coating for the case, crown-protecting device and unidirectional rotating bezel within the timepieces.