For all of you Paneristi who are not familiar with Panerai History, this is a brief overview of company’s long and rich history.
- 1860 – Giovanni Panerai opened his first Panerai shop on Ponte alle Grazie in Florence, Italy, selling Swiss pocket watches in the shop. The Panerai shop became later the first watchmaking school in the Florence.
- 1864 – The company “Guido Panerai & Figlio” was established by Giovanni’s grandson, Guido, to design, develop & produce high quality diving equipment. By the end of the nineteenth century Panerai were supplying the Royal Italian navy with precision instruments. Read more about colaboration with Royal Italian navy in our blog post – Panerai hidden history.
- 1900 – At the end of the century, the shop is moved to the San Giovanni square in Florence, where you can still find the shop and the name “Orologeria Svizzera” is still visible at the door. This is to keep and emphasise the traditional connection to their Swiss heritage. It is this time that firs precise optical and mechanical instruments have been delivered to the Ministry of Defence.
- 1910 – First experiments with Loumious materials have started in order to make the instruments more visible. This is accomplished by mixing zinc sulphite and radium bromide. This mix have been later on called Radiomir and applied for patents by Guido Panerai in Italy and other countries.
- 1915 – 1918 – The Royal Italian Navy uses instruments supplied by Panerai during the First World War. The products included luminous devices for sighting naval guns at night, timing mechanisms, depth gauges and mechanical calculators to launch torpedoes from MAS, high speed motor torpedo boats.
- 1916 – Panerai files the patent for “Radiomir” – a luminous powder based on Radium (an element recently discovered by Marie Curie) that would, when painted on a watch dial and hands, allow the diving instruments made by Panerai to be read easily underwater.
- 1934 – Guido Panerai dies and his son Giuseppe and daughter Maria take over. Maria concerns herself with running the shop with Giuseppe overseeing the military equipment division. The following year Panerai design and manufacture a series of underwater instruments for the commandos and divers of the Italian navy.
- 1936 – the first Radiomir prototype watch is made, which after some slight modifications (concerned mainly with the dial) goes into production in 1938. The watches were actually produced by Rolex for Panerai, but using dials made by Panerai. They comprised of a 47mm Rolex Oyster pocket watch case housing a Cortebert manual wind movement. The Oyster case had steel wire lugs soldered on to it at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock so a strap could be used to allow the watch to be worn on the wrist.
- 1938 – First Radiomir watches have been produced for Italian Royal navy with big cushion case (47mm in diameter), louminous dial and manual wind movement made by Rolex. Wide leather strap has been made out of lubricated leather and with it’s longer strap, divers were able to wear it over diving suits.
- 1940 – the Radiomirs characteristic wire lugs are changed due to more stringent requirements from the Italian Navy. The lugs are re-inforced and built from the same block of steel as the case.
- 1943 – Officine Panerai has introduced their first Panerai chronograph watch prototype caled Mare nostrum, designed for ship commanders. Because of the World War Two, Mare Nostrum has never been mass produced, but it remained as a prototype. You can read more about Panerai during World War Two in our other blog article. In late 1940’s, crown protecting system has been added to Radiomir watches in order to protect the crown and keep it in place. This system will enable Panerai watches to dive up to 200m which was incredible at the time.
- 1949 – Luminor patent has been approved based on tritium which has replaced previously researched Radiomir between 1910 and 1915 (which was poisonous by the way). Radiomir and Luminor watches got their names after those lumious substances.
- 1950 – the “Luminor” watch replaces the Radiomir. The luminous compound is no longer Radium but Tritium, and the watch now has a crown-protecting bridge. This D-shaped crown protector remains a major feature of all Panerai Luminor to this day.
- 1954 – the last 30 Rolex cased Panerai watches are produced. From this time onwards Panerai continued to produce watches for naval use, but they were no longer made by Rolex.
- 1956 – Panerai apply for and are granted a patent in Italy for the device protecting the winding crown, which was introduced in 1950. As requested by Egyptian navy, Panerai has created big Radiomir with Angelus movement, power reserve of 8 days and special rotary mechanism working in 5 minutes interval to calculate diving time. This watch is know as “Egiziano”. For all other navies, Panerai has created several limited series of around 30 watches for each navy.
- 1972 – After Giuseppe Panerai’s death, engineer Dino Zei takes control of the company. He changes the company name from “G.Panerai & Figlio” to “Officine Panerai S.r.L”, and concentrates on making divers equipment – depth gauges, compasses & torches – which he continues to supply to the Italian navy.
- 1980 – Panerai has developed a watch capable of withstanding pressure equivalent of 1000 meters. The only prototype made had titanium case, automatic mechanic movement, rubber strap and luminous dial made with small tritium tubes.
- 1993 – Panerai decide for the first time to sell watches to the general public. In truth this was probably forced upon the company due to the fact that they were no longer supplying the Italian Navy (because it was no longer cost effective to do so). Three watches were produced in very small numbers for the civilian market – the Luminor, the Luminor Marina, and the Mare Nostrum.
- 1995 – Slytech watches have been created after famous Sylvester Stallone who is big fan of Panerai watches. He has requested that special edition is made called Submersible so he can use it on the movie “Daylight”. Stallone has requested white dial version (called Daylight) and watch from Mare Nostrum edition. All watches from this edition have engraved signature of Sylvester Stallone on the back.
- 1997 – Panerai is sold to the Richemont Group (then the Vendome Group). Production of the watches is moved to Switzerland and a distribution network is set up in Italy. The following year the first Richemont Panerai watches go on sale
- 2002 – Panerai open the Panerai Manufacture in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and begin a project to design and build their first completely in-house watch movement.
- 2005 – First in-house movement has been released – P.2002. This is manual wind movement with latest concept that has up to 8 days power reserve and it has 245 parts (191 different ones).
- 2006 – the Panerai PAM233 is launched, a new watch powered by the first in-house Panerai movement – the 8 day manual wind calibre P.2002.
- 2009 – New P.9000 movement has been released.
Panerai calibre P.2002 is really important part of Panerai history as it is first in house manual wind movement with an 8 day power reserve. In addition to simply telling the time however it has a date, a GMT function that works on a 12 hour scale with a day/night indicator (the current PAM233 watches have an AM/PM indicator on the sub-dial, but on the early watches there is a circle behind which a disc rotates to show whether day or night time) and a power reserve indicator. The power reserve is displayed by way of a horizontal slot in the dial above the “6” with a protruding “fang” showing how much of the 8 day power remains. Not everyone likes the fang, and in truth I don’t think it’s the most elegant way of displaying the power reserve, but I prefer it to an off-centre display such as seen on the PAM90. The Pam233 has a display back too, although I wonder if this is absolutely necessary as most of the movement is hidden behind bridges, plates etc. It winds smoothly, although nowhere near as smooth as the JLC movement found in PAM190.
I have to be honest that I have always preferred the solid lugs of a Panerai Luminor to the wire lugs of a Panerai Radiomir. Over the years, I have been using both, but I think that the Panerai Luminor cases are easier to wear, maybe because they seem more utilitarian. At 44mm diameter, the PAM233 is not a small watch, but the fact that it is a manual wind movement means it is not as tall as many large watches and is therefore better balanced on the wrist, and I find it very comfortable to wear. It retains the characteristic D-shaped crown guard that is one of the most distinctive features of a Panerai Luminor, but in a “1950” case with softer lines than the standard Luminor watches.
One of the features of this Panerai Pam233 that I absolutely love is the high dome sapphire crystal. This is a feature that makes the watch particularly difficult to photograph, but gives the watch something of a classic look tipping its hat to vintage dive watches of years gone by. On a taller watch this could be something of an issue, but the shallow case of the PAM233 carries it well.
At the end, the Panerai PAM233 is one of my favourite Panerai watches. It has everything I need in a watch – a decent power reserve, a date, and a GMT function, all presented in an elegant case. While there is no doubt that this is a truly modern watch, built in relatively large numbers in Switzerland by a large corporation, I feel that it holds true to its heritage and is well connected to the rich Panerai history. It’s easy enough to get into a lengthy discussion about whether this is a “true” Panerai, and many traditionalists would argue that it has almost nothing in common with the early Panera Luminors, but I feel that what Richemont did when they launched the Panerai Pam233 was to update Panerai itself. I’m not sure what Giovanni Panerai would make of it, but I for one love this watch.