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Panerai: Behind the brand

Italian designed but Swiss-made, we take a closer look at the over-sized watch brand with a cult following.

Panerai fans (or Paneristi) have been known to buy a new watch from a three-digit code alone; such is the desire to own the latest model. A combination of Italian design and Swiss watchmaking expertise gives this brand a unique angle. “When a Panerai is on your wrist, you become part of an elite club,” according to watch specialist Peter Szymaniak.


Panerai is quite rightly very proud of its Italian roots. The brand was founded in Florence in the mid 1800’s, home to the Italian Renaissance many centuries earlier and renowned as a leader in art, literature, architecture, music, philosophy and science. It was a centre for innovation and also where the Panerai family were based, opening a shop and watchmaking workshop.

In the early 1900’s, Panerai started supplying the Royal Italian navy and it is here where its true design DNA was established. The first Radiomir was developed using a radium-based powder, giving a luminous effect on the dial for increased visibility. A prototype was then created in the 1930’s with a large, cushion-shaped steel case, luminescent numerals/indices and an onion crown. Panerai went on to develop a number of top secret models for war time navy submarine divers and deck officers.

In the 1950’s a crown-protecting bridge was added, arguably the most famous design feature of a Panerai watch and the Luminor model was first created.

“For the first 60 years, Panerai was a military state secret. You can see the watches from their archives and some even have the word ‘Panerai’ scratched out. It’s a fascinating thing to imagine the individual stories of the people that were given these watches.”

Peter Szymaniak, Assistant Manager at The Watch Gallery Westfield


Panerai has only really been available to the public for the last 20 years; prior to this it was a military-only brand. After the state secret was lifted, Panerai started to create watches in very small batches and this is when it began to make a name for itself as a niche, cult brand.

“When Panerai first re-launched back in the 1990’s, they were very much ahead of their time. They designed big, bold, simple watches with large water resistant watch cases, which at the time no one else was doing. It’s sticking to this strong design ethos, which has given them so much success.”

The Watch Gallery Sales & Product Manager, Tim Pavy

Panerai’s new 2017 releases, revealed at watch fair SIHH in January, show a combination of innovation combined with this strong design aesthetic; technically advanced but with a distinct nod to its historic past.

The launch of the new Lab:id model this year is an example of real innovation from Panerai. A reference to the historical influence of Florence, showcasing technical ability and the scientific practice to watchmaking, it has also been made from a new carbon based material which is extremely light. The dial material is so black, it completely absorbs the light and the watch doesn’t use any lubricant in the movement. This means there will be very little friction and damage over time, so Panerai has guaranteed the piece for 50 years.

Also announced at SIHH, the Radiomir 3 Days Acciaio comes in two new editions based on vintage designs. The Pam685 model features a black dial and the Pam687 comes with a faux tropical dial. The faux tropical dial took inspiration from a rare watch rediscovered in Panerai’s archives, which had been affected by sunlight. It has a fade colour, which is darker on the outside and brighter in the middle. A vintage 1930/40’s style but with all the components of a new watch, it will be a highly sought after piece.


Panerai watches are highly collectable, in particular limited editions or novelty pieces. Even with the most high production watches, there will only be around 1000 or 2000 worldwide. With such low quantities, Panerai fans are able to own something that not many other people have.

“The brand uses a process where they divide the watch and make 50 pieces of that watch, each represented by a letter. Customers can then track what year their watch was made and how many pieces, so build their own story around it. Most people who have one Panerai rarely stop at one.”

The Watch Gallery Sales & Product Manager, Tim Pavy

Panerai always stay true to their history and the new Panerai Luminor 1950 Submersible models are a great example of this. Originally made for the Egyptian Royal navy as a specialist dive watch in the 1950’s, the new smaller, 42mm models launched this year are much more wearable for every day. This is a completely new size for the Submersible and also the first time a Submersible has been made using rose gold.

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