Panerai and its nautical heritage

Pam519_Cat_Front_D copia-1100Panerai was founded in Florence in 1860, and became a supplier of timepieces to the Royal Italian Navy, watches that had certain characteristics resulting from practical necessities. For example, large size, made more comfortable by a rounded cushion-shaped case; good water resistance; straps long and tough enough to enable them to be worn over a diver’s protective suit; markings that glowed in the dark or underwater, painted using the brand’s proprietary Radiomir and later Luminor; a crown protector; and more. Today, Panerai utilizes this heritage along with contemporary watchmaking innovation in its watches that are superbly crafted, are often limited editions, and in any case made in relatively small numbers, and that sell out in an incredibly short period of time.

The watch shown here, the Radiomir 1940 Chronograph Oro Rosso, incorporates a lot of the Panerai legend. The dial has an unusual layout with Roman numerals at the top and Arabic numerals below, an arrangement now known as the California dial (apparently because some companies in California, such as Kirk Rich, specializing in restoring dials provided this arrangement in the 1970s). In actual fact the pattern is vintage Panerai, and runs back to 1936 when the brand were negotiating a commission from the Italian Navy, and decided to present them two alternative dial designs, one with Roman numerals, one with Arabic. For some reason, for the presentation they incorporated both designs into a single dial, perhaps to save time and money, perhaps to make comparison easier. What actually happened during the meeting is unclear, but at the end, the officer concerned didn’t make a choice, but simply approved the dial that had been presented, and so Panerai obediently made their first delivery of watches, the 1936 Radiomir, following this unusual, illogical, irresistible design.

Pam519_Cat_Dett01-1100This watch, reference PAM00519, is a hand-wound chronograph, with the Panerai OP XXV calibre providing 55 hours power reserve. The case is large, 55 mm across, in polished red gold. The dial is brown, with luminous Arabic and Roman numerals and hour markers (the luminous paint is of course SuperLuminova, luminescent and not radioactive). Chronograph seconds are recorded with the centre-sweep seconds hand; chronograph minutes on the subdial at 3 o’clock, and continuous small seconds at 9 o’clock. There is a tachymetric scale around the edge of the dial. Unusually the watchglass is in Plexiglas, another reference to the brand’s history. A spare watchglass is supplied with the watch. The caseback is in transparent sapphire to reveal the movement with its Côtes de Genève decoration on the bridges. The watch is made in a limited edition of 100 units.

The Radiomir 1940 Chronograph is made in two other versions, in platinum (PAM00518, limited edition of 50) and in white gold (PAM00520, limited edition of 100). The platinum version has a beautiful ivory dial, and the white gold version has a black dial. All three use the same OP XXV movement, an in-house movement based on the 13-22 calibre movement by Minerva. In the 1930s, Panerai, still based in Florence, assembled its watches using movements made in Switzerland, buying products not only from Minerva but also from Rolex (Rolex has never made watches for any other brand, with the exception of Panerai: possibly Rolex were involved in the production of the 1936 Radiomir, and in the 1940s the brand produced models of its own featuring the so-called California dial).

The Radiomir 1940 Chronograph, from left in platinum (PAM00518), red gold (PAM00519) and in white gold (PAM00520).

The Radiomir 1940 Chronograph, from left in platinum (PAM00518), red gold (PAM00519) and in white gold (PAM00520).

These three chronographs, just part of the new products presented by Panerai at SIHH in 2014, are a very attractive combination of tradition, history, and contemporary watchmaking brilliance. Today the watches are made at the Officine Panerai manufacture in Neuchâtel, Switzerland; the brand still has strong links to Italy, with offices in Milan for communications and product development management.
The prices of the three watches are (Swiss francs, bought in Switzerland):
Radiomir 1940 Chronograph in platinum, PAM00518, CHF 67,600
Radiomir 1940 Chronograph in red gold, PAM00519, CHF 50,800
Radiomir 1940 Chronograph in white gold, PAM00520, CHF 52,900

Find Panerai boutiques and dealers at

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