The great Italian watch company Panerai has a long association with submersible time-pieces. They were responsible for one of the earliest diving watches ever made some 100 years ago, but who’s counting? The company was established by one of the very few Italian watchmakers, Giovanni Panerai, in 1860. He not only had a store and a workshop, but also established a watchmak-ing school bearing the name Orologeria Svizzera, which eventually found favour with the Royal Italian Navy to whom he started supplying measuring instruments of various sorts.
Dangerous and exciting times
Then came the First World War. Europe was in chaos, alliances were formed and sides were switched. In these uncertain times, Panerai was commissioned by the Italian Navy to create a watch that would be suitable for diving. In 1916, Panerai created their first timepiece, the Radiomir. The watch met military requirements and its markers were made with a radium-based substance that glowed in the dark.
In 1939, the world was thrown into crisis once again. During the Second World War, the commandos of the Italian First Submarine Group were equipped with the prototype Radiomir watch. Two years later, it went into production with its iconic cushion-shaped case and wire loops for the strap. Eventually, the latter was replaced with stronger, chunkier lugs, which formed part of a massive case milled from a block of steel, made so as to withstand the tough conditions.
Soon after the war ended, it was discovered that radium was actually dangerously radioactive and Panerai were forced to find a substitute. In the late-’40s, they finally found one, and the watch was renamed Luminor in 1950. Panerai carried on working with the Italian Navy long after the great wars were over, and eventually added the Egyptian Navy to their list of clients in the ’50s.
The new age
For a long time, Panerai remained largely un-known to the non-military world, as their watches were never meant for civilian use. It was not until 1993 that Officine Panerai (as it was called then) was made available to the public, but only in limited quantities. In 1997, the Vendôme Group (now known as Richemont Group) acquired Officine Panerai and made it available globally. The unique designs made Panerai an icon, and today, it continues to be one of the most desirable watch brands among enthusiasts.
In 2002, Panerai made a decisive move and opened their first manufacture in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. The research and development de-partment went straight into the high gear and produced their very first in-house designed and developed movement. In 2005, they unveiled the Calibre P2002, a classic hand-wound with GMT function and an eight-day power reserve inspired by a ’40s Angelus movement. Since then, Panerai have produced a further four calibres, all in-house designed and manufactured.
A celebration of the Panerai Submersible
To honour their fantastic and iconic watches that made the company great, Panerai held the “Legend and History” exhibition in Singapore a few months ago. It provided a better understanding of the company’s rich history in diving watches. The exhibition’s theme colour was appropriately ocean blue, which complemented the Perspex display stands and cases. Historical pieces from the company museum were flown in for the occasion.
THE NEW COLLECTION OF 2015
Luminor 1950 10 Days GMT Automatic PAM00533
(Left) Polished stainless steel case. Black dial with Super-LumiNova Arabic numerals, indexes and hands. Brushed steel crown protector. In-house designed and developed manufacture Calibre P2003 with three barrels and 10 days of power reserve.
Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Ceramic PAM00528
Black zirconium oxide ceramic case and bezel. Black ceramic crown protector. Open dial with blackened bridge. Super-LumiNova Arabic numerals, indexes and hands. Tourbillon between 10 and 11 o’clock. In-house designed and developed manufacture Calibre P2005/S hand-wound mechanical movement with three barrels and six days of power reserve.
Luminor Marina 8 Days AcciaioPAM00590
Polished stainless steel case with crown protector. Black dial with Super-LumiNova Arabic numerals, indexes and hands. Power reserve indicator at three o’clock and small seconds at nine o’clock. In-house Calibre P5000 hand-wound mechanical movement with two barrels and eight days of power reserve.
First published in Esquire Singapore's December 2015 issue.