Officine Panerai’s remarkable L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 at this year’s SIHH was probably only overshadowed by one thing: the underlying sadness at the Italian watchmaker’s booth, as the reality of the impending departure of the man who had become as iconic as the brand starts to sink in. 

Although official announcements are yet to come, after two decades at the helm, CEO Angelo Bonati is expected to step down in mid-2018 and hand over the reins to incumbent Roger Dubuis CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué.

“I cannot say, ‘see you next year’ any more because I don’t know if I will be attending the fair,” Bonati tells me, not without a tinge of melancholy, adding that Panerai was more than “just a job”. “It was my life; it is still my life. To cut something after 20 years is very hard.”

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In the two decades, Bonati has taken Panerai from one watch and no designs to a brand with more than 150 novelties in its collection; literally to the moon and back. So it seems apt that he should be ending his career with the brand’s first moon phase, the L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time  
GMT (50mm).

The L’Astronomo Tourbillon Moon Phase follows in the steps of its predecessor introduced in 2010, and features the brand’s patented tourbillon regulator, a GMT function, and a new date display at 3 o’clock that uses polarised crystals and is being patented. In a departure from the regular, the moon phase is located on the back of the movement and is visible only on the caseback.

We wanted a moon phase but we knew we wanted something different and totally unique. It’s technical, easy to use for sure, and reliable and strong
Frédéric Dreyer, research and development director, Officine Panerai

The new L’Astronomo is powered by the skeletonised P.2005/GLS movement dedicated to Galileo Galilei, and has a day/night indicator which clearly displays the phases of the moon with two superimposed discs which rotate in combination. The upper disc displays the 24 hours of the day, showing the sun during the hours of daylight and the stars of the sky at night. 

A little round window at the centre reveals the lower disc which shows a 3D representation of the moon which evolves about 6.1 inches a day. The moon phase display is accurate for 122 years. The new L’Astronomo will only be made to order so that the coordinates can be customised to buyers’ locations and takes into account the differences in the northern and southern hemispheres.

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“We wanted a moon phase, but we knew we wanted something different and totally unique,” says research and development director Frédéric Dreyer, who has developed more than 10 in-house movements for the manufacture. “It’s technical, easy to use for sure, and reliable and strong.”

Another technical achievement from the manufacture is the new Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 GMT Titanio, which is an animation of the superlight titanium tourbillon unveiled at SIHH 2016. Advances in 3D printing have allowed Panerai to reduce the original 140g weight by 30 per cent to 98g.

Always known for its sturdy build, Panerai marked another first at SIHH with four novelties in 38mm. The Luminor Due 3 Days Automatic Acciaio comes in two stainless steel models – one with a black dial and the other with white – and a date indicator at 3 o’clock and the second hand subdial at 9 o’clock. 

Similarly Luminor Due 3 Days Automatic Oro Rosso also comes in two models with black and white dials. 

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PAM 908, with the black dial, also comes with a special engraving of the Chinese word “fu” (prosperity) on the caseback. There are also interpretations of the Due in 42mm and the Luminor Due 3 Days GMT Power Reserve Automatic Acciaio in 45mm.

The smaller and thinner 38mm models come with coloured straps, making them an appealing choice for women who have found the Luminor Marina too wide for delicate wrists. Bonati, however, is convinced that it will not be a watch just for women.

“Yes, it is small compared to the 45mm and the 47mm, but we are forgetting other brands have smaller watches and many people are wearing them,” he says. “I am convinced that this is also a watch for me, it was not specifically made for women.”

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The idea started five years ago when he observed that other brands were using smaller movements. “Now we have a balance. [Masculine] brands like Audemars Piguet also have big watches, but they also have relatively smaller watches. This is not a small size, just smaller compared to the 47mm.”

If this year’s Panerai products seem dedicated to the Luminor Marina, it may not be just a whim. It’s a collection that Bonati is extremely proud of and one of the legacies he leaves behind. “We have gone from nothing to this,” he says. “Nobody had such a watch. Now, it is such an iconic piece; anyone who sees it can recognise immediately that it is Panerai.”

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