Officine Panerai, the watch making company founded by Giovanni Panerai in 1860 in Florence, Italy, has a long history of crafting fine timepieces. The watchmakers became official watch suppliers to the Royal Italian Navy while Officine Panerai was managed by the founder’s grandson. In addition to supplying watches to the navy, Panerai also provided sophisticated precision instruments for measuring purposes. The maritime background of Panerai watches has given them a sporty and rugged aesthetic. When the timepiece manufacturers ceased to be suppliers to the navy, the company branched out into crafting collections for civilian lovers of luxury wristwatches. Since then, the company has released many limited series, including a line of watches created in partnership with legendary car manufacturer Ferrari.
When Officine Panerai opened on Ponte delle Grazie in Florence, the intimate space served as both shop and workshop. This was the first establishment in Florence to offer training in watch making. In the early 20th century, the company filed a patent for a powder derived from radium - Radiomir - which has a natural luminosity that gives the dials of Panerai watches high visibility, even in low-light conditions. It was in 1936 that the watchmakers introduced the prototype of what was to become the standard watch for the highest-ranking members of the Royal Italian Navy. This was the ‘Radiomir.' Later reproductions retain similar aesthetics and features to the earlier design, including a large steel case, a hand-wound precision movement, and a strap that is water-resistant.
Panerai currently offers several watch collections, including the Contemporary, Historic, Specialties and Special Editions series. Panerai watches are popular with wristwatch collectors because of the limited number that are produced in each style – only a few thousand (and sometimes a few hundred or less) units are released for each new design, and the watches are engraved with an issue number on the back of their cases.
The Historic Collection is Panerai’s celebration of the company’s heritage. These timepieces make use of hand-wound mechanical movements manufactured in-house by Panerai. Popular styles in this collection include the Radiomir. The water resistance of the watch and its masculine aesthetic are two elements which recall its maritime origins. Like the Radiomir, the Panerai Luminor features a large dial connected to the strap using metal loop attachments. The gold Radiomir 1940 is the recreation of the model released in 1940 and features gold metal casing. The lugs and casing of the Radiomir 1940 are crafted from the same piece of metal lending the design an especially durable construction.
The Contemporary collection is the most extensive line of watches in the Panerai catalog. From designs such as the Luminor Submersible, which features a brushed steel bezel and is water resistant to a depth of three-hundred meters, to the Luminor 1950 3 Days Chrono Flyback which has luxury red gold casing, this collection has an eclectic range of designs. Many timepieces in the Contemporary collection feature automatic movements. In addition to the larger Panerai watches that have cases measuring 44mm, there are also smaller 40mm designs such as the rare Radiomir White Gold produced between 2000 and 2003.
Collectors who desire high-end watches crafted out of premium materials such as titanium could easily find a suitable design in the Specialties collection from Panerai. These high-end timepieces are not special editions and most are still in production. The Luminor 8 Days GMT Chrono Monopulsante is a typical design from this range first released in 2007. This design has a manual winding movement with an eight-hour power reserve as well as a day/night indicator. The design also features the smart crown protector which Panerai has included in a number of its watches. This protects the adjustment wheel from being damaged through wear and tear.
Many collectors purchase Panerai timepieces from the Special Editions series as soon as they are released as these watches are produced in very limited numbers and fetch high resale prices for this reason. Some designs, such as the Radiomir Chrono Split-Seconds, are exceedingly rare. Panerai only released thirty-five pieces of this design. The watch has an exhibition back which shows the complexity of the fine Venus Calibre 185 movement.
Sylvester Stallone sparked interest among watch connoisseurs when he was spotted wearing the largest watch in the Panerai catalog, the 60mm Panerai Egiziano, in 2009. Stallone, with his Italian roots, is not the only celebrity to have a love for the Italian design and Swiss mechanics of Panerai timepieces. Former president of the USA, Bill Clinton, has been spotted wearing a Panerai Luminor watch and actors Josh Hartnett and Orlando Bloom have also been photographed wearing timepieces from the Panerai Luminor range.