Latest range opens door to exclusive club
With a case inspired by the Italian company's military past, this is the first family of watches with movements that have been made entirely in-house
The luxury Italian watch brand Officine Panerai certainly has strong star appeal - its products have appeared in a number of movies, adorning the wrists of Hollywood big names such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pierce Brosnan, Hugh Grant and Orlando Bloom.
Officine Panerai is also a member of the exclusive club of watch companies that make their own movements in-house.
The company is famous for its Radiomir and Luminor watches. Panerai was taken over by the Swiss luxury goods group Richemont in 1997.
The company's story goes back to the 1860s, when one Guido Panerai set up a workshop in Florence to make precision mechanical instruments. Entering the 20th century, the workshops came to be called Officine Panerai. By the 1930s, the workshops were making a range of instruments to be worn on the wrists of frogmen; these included compasses, depth gauges and the like.
In 1935, Officine Panerai was commissioned by the Italian navy to construct watches for use underwater. These were intended for a special, secret navy unit then being formed in Italy. After some prototypes, the company delivered its first product - diving watches - in 1938. They were fitted with Rolex movements and Rolex crowns and casebacks.
This specialised production laid down the guidelines for the future of Panerai. The early products, intended exclusively for military use, included luminous mechanical calculators for torpedo launchers, aiming devices, depth gauges, compasses and timers for mines, and underwater charges.
Using the technology and expertise acquired in this area, Panerai created a specialist underwater watch - the first water-resistant military diver's watch.
From 1938, Panerai Radiomir watches went into permanent service with the Royal Italian Navy. At the end of the second world war, these Radiomir watches started to attract the attention of collectors. Today, those 300 units are rare collectors' treasures.
The dial of the Panerai Radiomir has exceptional luminosity. The markers and hands are treated with a special paint mixture of zinc sulphide, radium bromide and mesothorium. It was the same compound Panerai had invented and prepared for use in the firm's night-aiming and sighting devices. The powerful luminosity made it possible to use these instruments in complete darkness, without the need for auxiliary lighting.
In 1943, the company created another watch for the Italian navy, but this one was designed for deck officers. The Panerai Mare Nostrum was a chronograph with two counters in a water-resistant case, but because of wartime constraints in Italy, the watch remained in the prototype stage.
In 1993, when the Panerai brand was relaunched from Florence, the design was revived in a line that included the Luminor, the Luminor Marina and a slightly modified version of the original Mare Nostrum.
The case shape and dial of the historic watch was retained, and significant improvements were introduced.
Water resistance was increased with a special bridge on the outside of the case, with a lever pressing the winding crown against the case. An 8-day movement reduced the frequency of usage of the crown. The crown-locking device is unique to Panerai watches to this day, and it has been registered as a trademark. Another significant change is the use of a luminous compound based on tritium, making it no longer a radioactive paint.
Today, Officine Panerai is a serious player in the sports world. At last year's SIHH, the company displayed a prototype of the first movement. It was called the P.2002. The movement went into production this year, and the result is the Panerai Luminor 1950 8 Days GMT.
This is the first family of watches with movements made entirely by Panerai. The case is inspired by the company's military past, but with an updated, sharper design and clear detailing.
The watch has a diameter of 44mm, which is quite large, and the steel case is equipped with Panerai's patented bridge over the winding crown. The extended power reserve that was first required by Panerai in the 1940s is an important feature. The 8-day reserve is achieved with the use of three spring barrels. The movement is regulated by screws on the balance wheel. A conventional regulator is not used.
The power reserve shows on a graduated linear scale above the figure 6. The luminous arrow-pointed black centre hand of the second time zone is partnered by a small day/night indicator inside the seconds sub-dial, at 9 o'clock. The Luminor 1950 8 Days GMT is water resistant to 100 metres. Production will be 1,500 pieces this year. The watch comes with a leather strap with a large, personalised steel buckle, a steel screwdriver and a spare rubber strap.
The split-seconds chronograph is typical of Panerai's modern and intriguing style. This year, the company has extended its split-seconds chronograph range with the Radiomir Chrono One Eighth Second. It has a small hand on the counter at 9 o'clock that moves in steps of one-eighth of a second and completes one revolution every second. Only 300 pieces will be made. The first will be available in November.
The GMT/Alarm is being produced in a pink gold case this year, which gives it a new personality. It follows the limited series of 60 units in white gold. The new version has a sophisticated yet sporty character. For technical reasons, pink gold is said to offer an exceptionally resonant alarm. The case has a removable wire strap attachment system, patented by Panerai. The watch will be available from September this year.
The vitality of Officine Panerai is demonstrated in some of its latest models. Lines have been transformed by choice of materials, variations in sizes and breadth of range.
As well as carrying dials with a distinctive character, the new Luminor Chrono Daylight has a steel bracelet in a forceful version of the automatic chronograph with a 44mm diameter case.