Very few will know the fact of Panerai Radiomir hidden history. Panerai Radiomir has started it’s career around the Italian watch brand. At the beginning Panerai Radiomir was exclusively made for Italian navy divers. Only after it was made available to the public and later on got it’s world wide popularity.
Panerai Radiomir has celebrated it’s 80th anniversary of it’s famous model. This is good reason to visit some of the Panerai Radiomir hidden history and take a deep dive – just like the first Italian diver. Take a moment to find out what are these 5 well kept secrets that only hardcore Panerai fans know.
- The original models were very toxic and are still dangerousMany people know that Panerai was the watch manufacturer that invented luminous markings for the Italian navy. This is, of course for the underwater visibility. What not so many people know is that the first version of lumious marking was based on Radium, which is one of the most radioactive chemical elements that has been found until today.At the beginning of it’s development, no one knew that Radium was radioactive. Unlike the luminous materials that are used nowadays, it does not save the energy of incoming light and releases it slowly. It is glowing because the emitted radiation is so strong that it interacts with some materials when they’re mixed with radium (yes, like in comics!). In the Radiomir paint, zinc sulfide was used.Today we know the hazardous effects of radioactivity, but in the beginning no one understood how dangerous it was.Radium was even considered healthy and used as a drug against cancer and other illnesses – believe it or not!. Because of that, the Radium used on watch dials and other instruments was applied by hand with fine brushes. This work was mostly reserved for factory women, who often licked their brushes and sometimes painted their fingernails with luminous mass.
The perception of radium started to change when many of these “radium girls” in the US started to develop cancer and other radiation-related diseases, quite often with deadly outcomes. No one knows for sure how much damage the radium has done, but this is certainly one of the saddest watch-related stories that has ever been told.Today, the original Radiomirs that used radium are not glowing in the dark anymore. The zinc sulfide in the paint is worn out. However, that doesn’t mean that the radium has stopped to emit radiation! Since its half-life is more than 1600 years, not much of it has been depleted since the watches were build. Ironically, the affected timepieces still sell for hundreds of thousands because they are so rare and there’s a number of avid Panerai collectors.
- The first Panerai Watches for divers were probably existing Rolex Models that were rebrandedYou might have heard that the first Panerai Radiomir watches were featuring Rolex movements and cases — the legendary diving watch rose from a fruitful cooperation of the small Italian watch shop and the legendary Swiss manufacturer. However, recent findings suggest that there was more to this liaison that what is commonly known today. When browsing through a Rolex Catalogue from 1935, watch enthusiasts found this mysterious model that looks too much like modern Panerai watches.
The design is not that much different. This has been confirmed by the Rolex historian James Dowlich,. It is basically an Oyster pocket watch with lugs and a flat bezel. However, the really mysterious thing is that there is not a single known example of this model! So, how could it end up at Panerai?There’s a funny theory that explains enigma pretty well. We well know that already before the second world war, Rolex was using many modern marketing techniques before they even had a name. Lean product iterations seems to be one of them.What probably happened is that Rolex made a few test versions of this timepiece and tried to sell them to the public, but soon took them out of their portfolio again. It would be no surprise if these watches didn’t sell at all back then, as they were insanely huge and clumsy by the standards of their time!When Panerai needed big watches that could be read undersea, Rolex seized the opportunity and offered them their shelf warmers that were still in stock. However, keep in mind that those are only assumptions. We might never know for sure, because Rolex is extremely secretive about its history and keeps its archive locked for the public.
- Panerai Radiomir watches were not only deployed by the Italian Navy, but also by German Military DiversThese Panerai watches were only produced in small numbers and are super rare today, but you can still find them: Radiomirs without the Panerai-branding that and were dubbed as “Kampfschwimmer” and worn by German military divers during WW II.No one knows for sure anymore how they got them . Whether did they approach Panerai directly, or were the watches handed over by the Italian Navy? Like many mysteries surrounding early Radiomir models, this one might stay unsolved forever.
- Panerai Radiomir watches were among the first watches that used plexiglass. Plexiglass is not something that goes together with high end watch-making. Well known for its wide usage in cheap watches today, plexiglass would be in a luxury watch what polyester would be in an Armani Sweater.However, when creating the Radiomir in the 1930s, Panerai didn’t do it for the same reasons it has been doing these days – not for keeping the costs down. Plexiglass was a revolutionary technology in the 30s that was implemented for various functins. Traditional glass crystals shattered easily, making them unsuitable for dangerous underwater missions. In contrast, plexiglass was easier to scratch, but much harder to break — a much better choice for the divers, whose lives depended on the functionality of their watches.Don’t worry if you are considering buying a Panerai watch now — those days are over. Modern Radiomirs feature sapphire crystals like most other luxury watches.
- Panerai Radiomir is not only for men – there are also nice Panerai watches for ladiesPanerai has a quite masculine brand image . This is not strange having in mind Panerai diving heritage and the fact that our favourite action heroes made it famous! It might still be a small niche manufacturer if Sylvester Stallone didn’t back them up and spread some models amongst his friends.
However, did you know that the Radiomir watches are actually not that big and masculine to be worn by women? If you want a proof, look at Panerai’s female brand ambassadors! Top model Heidi Klum owns several watches from them, including a Panerai Radiomir.Another proud Panerai wearer is Stana Katic, who featured in series like Emergency Room, CSI and Castle. So, if you’re looking for a Valentine’s present, look no further. Remember that the world of wristwatches offers more than Rolex, Cartier and TAG Heuer!
Panerai Radiomir hidden history
I hope that I have managed to give you a taste of what makes the Panerai brand so exciting and why it is really nice being a Panerai collector. Rich history of Panerai brand that is full of amazing stories and mysteries that are still waiting to be solved! If you feel like browsing through Panerai’s models now, take a look at our Top 8 Panerai watches.