Panerai tells some great stories (read the top ten Panerai stories here). The Radiomir 1940 PAM00622 looks like a simple two-hand watch with a chocolate brown dial matching a vintage-look leather strap, with a lovely hand-wound 3 Hertz movement visible through the sapphire caseback. And that’s what it is, but it is also a tribute to an unfamiliar episode in the brand’s history.
Back in 1916, Guido Panerai, then still working in Florence where Giovanni Panerai had founded the brand in 1860, invented Radiomir, a mixture of radium and zinc sulphide that produced prodigious luminosity at all times of day and night, ideal for use underwater on its watches made for the Italian navy. Up until the early 1940s, no-one was particularly bothered about the negative effects of radium on human health, but these concerns prompted Panerai to do some more research and in 1949 they patented Luminor, a new luminous paint based on tritium, 20 times less radioactive than radium. One of Panerai’s naval clients, the Egyptian Navy, commissioned some watches made using the more luminous Radiomir rather than Luminor, and so Panerai supplied a small series of watches with Radiomir paint – about 40 – now known by collectors as the Egiziano Piccolo. This is the watch on which the new PAM00662 is based.
The chocolate colour of the dial comes from the effect that the radioactive Radiomir had on the dials of Panerai’s early watches. The radiation gradually turned the black dials brown. The case size of 47 mm is that of the original Egiziano Piccolo, but the design of the case has some modern features, such as the material, AISI 316L stainless steel with polished finish, a sharp midline edge on the caseband, lugs that are made from the same block of steel as the case, and the case number (OP reference) engraved between the lower set of lugs.
The watchglass is in Plexiglas, a feature of the historic watch (in that piece it was in PMA, polymethylacrylate), used for its toughness. Plexiglas scratches more easily than sapphire glass and Panerai supply a spare watchglass with each watch, inside the wood presentation box. It can be replaced free of charge in any Panerai boutique.
P.3000 hand-wound movement
The in-house hand-wound P.3000 calibre is a lovely feature of this watch, visible through the sapphire caseback. The four brush-finished bridges are enlivened by the pink rubies, and the large balance can be seen towards the bottom, running at 21,600 vibrations per hour (3 Hertz). The cylindrical crown is used to wind the watch and set the time, and in one of the crown positions, the hour hand can be adjusted forwards or backwards without affecting the minute hand. A useful feature for frequent flyers, when changing time zone. Power reserve is 3 days (72 hours), attained by means of two mainspring barrels.
Ponte Vecchio strap
The strap gives the watch a vintage look, in brown calfskin leather with contrasting beige stitching, heat-embossed OP logo and steel tongue buckle.
Price and reference
The Panerai Radiomir 1940 3 Days Acciaio 47mm is reference PAM00662. The watch is a limited edition of 1,000 pieces. It costs €9,500, and it will be available in boutiques from July 2016.