Officine Panerai’s traces its history back to 1869 in Florence, Italy. The watch manufacturer began as a specialist producer of precision nautical instruments for the Italian Navy. Panerai was the first company to use the luminous material Radiomir, which made watch dials readable in the dark. The Radiomir and Luminor are the brand’s most famous watch models. Both timepieces were initially made exclusively for military special forces; it wasn’t until 1993 that they were made available to the public in limited numbers. Since 2004, Panerai has been producing their own top-notch movements at a production facility in Switzerland.
Giovanni Panerai and the Foundations of the Brand
In 1869, Giovanni Panerai established himself as a watchmaker in Florence. He founded “Guido Panerai & Figlio”, a watch workshop and business with links to the first watchmaking school in the Italian city. These steps laid the foundation for what would become Officine Panerai. In 1890, Guido Panerai, the founder’s great-grandson, took over the family business. The manufacturer initially focused on the production of precise nautical instruments, but they soon entered the world of watchmaking. The brand has been producing highly precise instruments for the Italian Navy since 1913.
Tell Time Underwater with Radiomir
In 1915, Guido Panerai made an important innovation for the watch industry: the fluorescent material Radiomir. This luminous substance contains a zinc compound and radium bromide, which together glow in the dark. Radiomir was subsequently used on clock dials, making them readable in complete darkness, even underwater. The substance was patented in 1916 in France. In 1936, Panerai developed early prototypes for the watch that would later be known as the Radiomir. The Radiomir diving watch was initially developed for Italian combat divers, who required a watch that could be used underwater.
Many of the prototype’s characteristics remain unchanged to this day, including the 47-mm, cushion-shaped steel case, fluorescent indices and numerals, welded lugs, and robust mechanical movement. Historic military documents report that no more than ten prototypes were produced in 1936. A few changes were made to the prototype model before Officine Panerai began true production of the Radiomir watch in 1938. Alterations included improved brightness and readability as well as enhanced robustness. The Radiomir and subsequent Luminor timepieces remained military secrets for many decades and were exclusively worn by tactical forces.
Officine Panerai Grows into a Popular International Watch Manufacturer
In 1972, shifts started taking place within the traditional watch manufacturer. Following the death of Guido Panerai’s son, engineer Dino Zei moved into the leadership position and the brand was renamed Officine Panerai. Starting in 1993, Officine Panerai watches were produced for and made available to the public for the first time. The company released limited runs of the Luminor, Luminor Marina, and Mare Nostrum. Watch collectors and fans alike were immediately taken with these historically oriented collections. Officine Panerai was taken over by the Vedôme Group (now Richemont) in 1997, which led to the development of a sophisticated distribution network within Italy and a stronger presence on the global market. The collections were released in limited numbers, which only increased interest in the Italian sport watches.
Sylvester Stallone: Avowed Panerai Fan
American actor Sylvester Stallone made a significant contribution to the popularity of Panerai. He personally requested to wear one of the Italian brand’s watches in the 1996 film Daylight. The watch of choice was the Luminor Logo, a timepiece from the era of Vendôme ownership.
Stallone ignited a fire for Panerai watches, especially in Hollywood circles. The timepieces made appearances in several films soon after, including Transporter, Eraser, and San Andreas, where Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson sported a Panerai. The brand has since become one of the most well-known and coveted luxury watch manufacturers worldwide.
The Development of First-Class In-House Movements
Panerai opened their own production facility in Neuchâtel, Switzerland in 2002, providing the company with a site for research and development. Within three years, the brand released their first in-house movement, the P.2002, named in honor of the facility’s opening year. This manual caliber features a GMT function and power reserve of eight days.
Two years later, the brand introduced three more in-house movements, the P.2003, P.2004, and P.2005. The P.2005 boasts a tourbillon, making it the most complicated caliber of the group. In 2008, Panerai launched the P.2006, as well as the P.9000 with a 72-hour power reserve.
Five years after that, the manufacturer introduced three additional movements, including their first automatic caliber with a flyback function, the P.9100. In 2014, Paneral opened a new production facility in Pierre-à-Bot, which in turn lead to more innovation, including the automatic P.9010 movement that powers the Panerai Luminor Marina 1950 3 Days Automatic watch (as well as the 2019 BMG-TECH models). The new facility also gave way to the 2018 manual P.6000 with a power reserve of three days and a frequency of 21,600 alternations per hour. Six new models were introduced alongside the new movement, each of which was powered by the P.6000.
SIHH 2019 and the Luminor Submersible 1950 Carbotech
At the SIHH 2019, Panerai focused less on new movements and more on their Submersible models and case materials. The BMG-TECH and Carbotech were the stars of the trade show. So-called “bulk metallic glass,” BMG for short, was first introduced at the SIHH 2017. This amorphous metal is comprised of titanium, nickel, zirconium, copper, and aluminum. Carbotech is a durable material containing carbon fibers, which perfectly suits Panerai’s image of producing tool watches for tough dudes.