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Panerai PAM 249 "I" Series Panerai PAM 249 "I" Series US 2010 $11,000

Panerai: The Cult Brand from Italy

Distinctive military watches featuring crown-protecting bridges are synonymous with the name Panerai. Their size and consistent design make these watches real eye-catchers, and they are valued for their functionality, precision, and sturdiness.

Whoever wears a Panerai on their wrist calls attention to themselves thanks to the watches' unique designs. These impressive watches range from 42 mm to 48 mm in diameter and are descendants of models from the 1930s and 1950s. During this time, Panerai supplied the Italian marines with their diving instruments. The crown protection on the Luminor models is particularly striking. When closed, the frame around the crown presses down against it, securing it against the case and making it water resistant. Actor Sylvester Stallone ordered a Slytech, a special Luminor series, while he was shooting the film Daylight. Arnold Schwarzenegger, action hero and the Terminator, wore a Luminor Marina in the film Eraser.
The Radiomir comes without crown protection. The watch was Panerai's first, and it has been a part of their product palette since 1936. Officine Panerai - the company's full name - originally developed the watch for the Italian military. The 47 mm case calls the Rolex Oyster to mind, as it was based on this watch. Today, Panerai divides their watches into four collections: Radiomir, Radiomir 1940, Luminor, and Luminor 1950. The 1940 and 1950 series feature retro designs and are reminiscent of watches from these time periods. The manufacturer also offers chronographs, watches with three hands and a second time zone, manual and automatic calibers, and tourbillons. Richemont took over Panerai in 1997, and the company has been located in the Swiss town of Neuchâtel since 2002.

The Classic Panerai Design

The designs of the Radiomir and Luminor haven't changed much over the last 70 years. This consistency has undoubtedly contributed to the company's present-day success and large fan base. Fans, nicknamed Paneristi, swear by these sturdy stainless steel watches with easy-to-read dials. The circular-shaped cases have changed as little as the round, Arabic numerals. The diving watches are designed with functionality at the forefront - a necessity, as they had to meet the demands of Italian combat divers from the 30s through the 50s. Today, the watches still benefit from their pragmatic origins. The black dials, especially bright numbers and hands, as well as the striking crown-protecting bridge, all relate to the needs of the military. In the meantime, these characteristics have become defining features of Panerai timepieces.

In-House Calibers from Panerai

Since 2005, Panerai has belonged to a select group of Swiss watch manufacturers that produce their own calibers. They had previously used calibers from other companies for their watches. Most were from the manufacturer ETA, which belongs to the Swatch Group. However, Panerai also sourced calibers from specialists such as Zenith and Jaeger-LeCoultre. The caliber Valjoux 7750, which doesn't feature a chronograph function, and the manual caliber Unitas 6497 were also frequently used.
The manual caliber P.2002, the first caliber produced in-house by Panerai, marked a new era with its introduction in 2005. It contains 247 individual components and has a diameter of 31 mm and a thickness of 6.6 mm. The power reserve lasts eight days thanks to its three spring barrels in series, and the caliber features a linear power reserve indicator on the dial. The P.2002 has a balance frequency of 4 Hz, or 28,800 alternations per hour (A/h). It also features a seconds reset device. When setting the time, the small seconds at the nine o'clock position is reset to zero. This enables the wearer to synchronize the seconds exactly with the correct time. Additionally, the caliber has a GMT function with a 24-hour display and the local time can be adjusted quickly. The date display is located at the three o'clock position.
The P.2003 caliber is the automatic version of the P.2002 with a power reserve of ten days. The movement consists of 296 pieces and is 8 mm thick and 31 mm wide. This caliber is 1.4 mm taller than the P.2002 due to its centrally positioned rotor with Officine Panerai written on it. An oscillating weight winds the barrels' springs as it rotates in both directions.
The P.2004 is meant for use in manual chronographs. Comprised of 321 individual pieces, it has a thickness of 8.2 mm. A single push-piece at the eight o'clock position controls a three step process of starting, stopping, and resetting to zero. Like the P.2002, this manual caliber has a power reserve of eight days. It's the first chronograph caliber produced by Panerai and includes additional features such as a GMT function and date display.

Tourbillon Caliber P.2005

Panerai's mechanical, manual caliber P.2005 is a crowning achievement in watchmaking. The tourbillon is this 239-piece movement's distinctive characteristic. Tourbillons were originally created in order to minimize deviations from the precise time. Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the mechanism at the beginning of the 19th century. He built the swing and escapement systems in a cage which revolves around itself once per minute. The constant rotation of the balance wheel and the escapement counteracts the negative effects of gravity. What makes the P.2005 unique, however, is that the cage rotates on a single axis perpendicular to the balance wheel's axis, where they are normally parallel. Furthermore, the cage requires only 30 seconds to make a complete rotation as opposed to the usual full minute. This construction, along with the increased speed, improves the compensation for deviations from the correct time. The power reserve lasts six days and is visible on the back side of the movement along with the tourbillon. This placement is unusual, as these complications are normally featured on the front side of movements.

Tradition Since 1860

Panerai's history began in 1860, when Giovanni Panerai opened a small watchmaker's workshop and school. With his shop, Panerai wanted to revive the watchmaking art of Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei. However, because all original documents from this time were destroyed in a flood in 1966, it's difficult to reconstruct the company's exact history. What is known for sure, however, is the company's sign bore the words Orologeria Svizzera (Swiss watchmaking) at the beginning of the 20th century. Beginning in 1920, Panerai's son, Leon Francesco, took over the business, joined later by his son, Guido. Initially, the company imported Swiss watches. In order to keep import taxes as low as possible, the watches were delivered as individual pieces. Once the components reached a workshop, they were reassembled and adjusted by professionals who had trained at Panerai's watchmaking school.
Orologeria Svizzera was the top watchmaker in Florence in the early 20th century. In addition to selling high-quality timepieces by manufacturers such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin, and Rolex, the family business emerged as a wholesaler of watches and accessories. The second branch of the business focused on goldsmiths and other watchmakers. Panerai's customers included prominent, rich Florentines, as well as the Italian royal family.

Working Together with the Italian Marines

The Italian military has belonged to Panerai's clientele since 1910. A letter from Giuseppe Panerai to the then-admiral of the defense forces confirms the starting year of their cooperation. Panerai initially delivered pocket chronographs. Between 1910 and 1914, Panerai worked on developing fluorescent devices together with Lieutenant Carlo Ronconi. Since the new luminous material was radium-based, it also glowed in the dark. The material withstood diverse tests by the marines, and it was soon in demand. The term Radiomir first appeared in 1916 in a French patent. The word is a combination of the Italian words radio (radium) and mira (sight). In the years following, Panerai delivered compasses, barometers, bathometers, underwater lamps, and other instruments to the Italian military.
In 1939, three years before the beginning of World War II, Panerai developed the first Radiomir prototype. After the Italian special commandos performed a series of tests on different underwater watches from various manufacturers and determined them to be unfit, they decided on the Panerai Radiomir. The watch proved its superior day and night performance. Even back then, the watch's case measured in at a conspicuous diameter of 47 mm. The dial featured a combination of Arabic and Roman numerals and a triangle was at the 12-hour mark. Only ten of these watches with a water-resistant leather strap were produced.
Starting in 1938, the Radiomir became the robust companion of combat divers from the so-called Gamma group. The serial model exhibited a few improvements. The dial now had Arabic numerals at the three, six, nine, and twelve o'clock positions. The dial's build was also innovative. Like a sandwich, it was composed of two layers instead of the usual single metal disk. The lower disk was treated with Radiomir. The upper disk featured punched-out hour markers and numerals. The illuminating power of the watch was so strong that the divers had to regularly cover them for their own protection; they could have been discovered otherwise. Panerai reworked the case in the 1940s: They optimized the lugs so that they could better withstand excessive strain underwater, and instead of a conical crown, they used a cylindrical crown. The Cortébert caliber 620 powered the timepiece.
Over the course of the 1940s, Panerai developed an unmistakable sign of their brand that remains so today: the crown-protecting bridge. This bridge prevents water from penetrating the watch by pressing the crown tightly against the case. Furthermore, the bridge effectively protects against jolts and damages. This distinctive type of crown protection is still featured today on Luminor models, which are powered by the manual caliber Cortébert. The luminous material Luminor, made from tritium, was brand new at the end of the 1940s. It replaced the radioactive material Radiomir.

Panerai's Success

Large and distinctive timepieces define the luxury watch manufacturer Panerai. A consistent design and their crown-protecting bridge create a steadfast image that every watch enthusiast recognizes at first glance. The watches impress with their functionality and easy-to-read dials. They were inspired by the demands of the military, and more recently, action stars such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have helped the watches achieve cult status. In 1997, the company received new financial resources after being adopted by the Richemont Group. With the help of these funds, the doors were opened to new marketing and development possibilities that have led to their first calibers produced in-house. Today, the Radiomir and Luminor models are no longer pure military watches: They're beloved by city dwellers, creative minds, star cooks, and managers of all kinds.
You can find more information here: www.panerai.com