Angus Davies discusses the history of Panerai, the Swiss-Italian manufacturer of premium watches, and asks what’s next for this historical brand?
Whilst, Panerai timepeices have adorned the wrist of stars and celebrities the world over, these watches are not a fad or a transient fashion but have a provenance dating back to 1860, when founder Giovanni Panerai opened the first watchmaker’s shop in Florence. The rest as they say is history ….
1890 – 1900 – Guido Panerai took the business in a new direction, specialising in manufacture of high precision equipment for the Royal Italian Navy.
1900 – the company moves to a new shop in Piazza San Giovani in Florence, where the Florence Boutique can be found today. Moreover, the company starts supplying precision optical and mechanical instruments to the Ministry of Defence.
1910 – the company experiments with luminous materials for instrument dials and sighting and telescopic devices. The luminescence is achieved by combining zinc sulphide with radium bromide, hence the formation of the brand name Radiomir.
1934 – Guido Panerai’s children, Giuseppe and Maria, continue to develop the business. Maria focusses on the retail premises in Florence, while Giuseppe concentrates on the company’s trading relationship with the Royal Italian Navy. At this time the company supplied the Royal Italian Navy with underwater instruments, torches, wrist compasses and wrist depth gauges. It is Guido who must take credit for the the creation of the famous Radiomir and Luminor watches.
1936 – Panerai supplies the Royal Italian Navy with a Radiomir prototype capable of withstanding extreme conditions and its watch passes all the tests. A recreation of this watch was launched in recent times, PAM 249 and supplies were quickly snapped up by Panerai enthusiasts from around the world.
1938 – Production of the Radiomir commences and has changed little over the years, testament to the wonderful original design. Many of the features of the watch will be familiar to the Panerai customer of today with a 47mm diameter (a size often replicated on special edition watches), cushion-shaped case, wire loop strap attachments and luminous dial.
1943 – The first prototype chronograph, the Mare Nostrum is presented. A faithful interpretation of the model was launched as a special edition in 2010 to pay homage to the original, PAM 300. The PAM 300 has a huge case of 52mm and I would dearly love to own one.
1949 – The patent is granted for Luminor, the luminous substance based on tritium, which replaced the previous Radiomir mix and has become a name familiar to Panerai collectors around the globe who have grown to love this watch with its unique crown protection device.
1956 – After a request from the Egyptian Navy, Panerai creates a large Radiomir watch with an Angelus movement with 8-day power reserve. The dial carried the words “8 Giorni Brevettato” arranged in a circular form at 3 o’ clock. In 2009, created a wonderful special edition of 500 pieces, Radiomir Egiziano, PAM 341.
1972 – On the death of Giuseppe Panerai, the running of the company is handed over to engineer Dino Zei and the family firm becomes Officine Panerai. The company continues to supply the Italian Navy with watches, instruments and sophisticated devices.
1993 – Officine Panerai creates a numbered series of limited edition models for the civilian market; Luminor, Luminor Marina and an edition of the Mare Nostrum chronograph.
1997 – The Vendôme Group, now RICHEMONT, takes over Officine Panerai.
1998 – The first Panerai watches with automatic movements are presented to the public.
1999 – At SIHH, Geneva, Panerai presents a new range of Contemporary watches with numerous innovative features including the wonderful watch bracelets made of titanium and steel links combined (This type of bracelet was featured on a Special Edition launched in 2000, the PAM 060.
2000 – Panerai creates the Luminor Submersible 1000 metres able to withstand a depth of 1000 metres.
2001 – The Panerai Boutique is inaugurated in Florence at the historical site in Piazza San Giovanni in Florence. The Boutique provides a meeting point for enthusiasts and collectors of the brand to view the current collection, special editions, limited production runs exclusively for its boutiques as well as a selection of historical items created by Panerai over the years.
2004 – The Radiomir collection is enhanced by the 8 Days model. The original hand wound 8 day movement in the 1940’s, contained the Angelus movement, however the new watch contained a Jaeger-LeCoultre base (a sister company of the RICHEMONT organisation). (A wonderful special edition contining an Angelus movement was launched in 2005, the PAM 203).
2005 – Panerai present their first in-house movement; the Calibre P.2002.
2007 – Further in-house movements are launched; P.2003, P. 2004 and P.2005.
2009 – Launch of the new P.9000 movement within the Manifattura Collection.
2010 – Launch of the P.999 calibre
2011 – Launch of the P.3000 calibre and of the first watch in bronze; Bronzo PAM 382.
Panerai – my love for the brand
I currently own a PAM 183, foolishly sold a PAM 091 in a rash moment, and regretted it ever since, and currently crave a PAM 359. I am a Panerai fanatic!
I admire how Panerai embraces new technology but never fails to remember its history and celebrates the past with wonderful interpretations of its historic models. New materials have been introduced in recent years for example the PAM 292 is presented in a matt ceramic, yet is still recognisable as a Radiomir.
Aesthetically Panerai is stylishly Italian but never at the expense of function, it is the maritime DNA which is evident in every detail of the models with a wonderful luminescence known to every collector of this fabulous brand.
2012 – an interesting year?
I am genuinely excited at the thought of SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horologerie Genève), a prestigious exhibition for the watch indsutry where some of the finest watches are revealed to an expectant audience.
The Bronzo launched in 2011 was an instant success with everyone who was fortunate enough to see it.
What does 2012 hold for the Panerai collector? I don’t know but I have little doubt I will covet their latest creations.