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People notice when you’re wearing a Panerai. In fact, the world notices when stars like Jason Statham, John Mayer, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger show up to events with Panerai designs on their wrists. The signature oversized look of the Panerai face means that nobody is going to confuse this status-setting watch for another brand. Lido Watch Club is celebrating the long history of Panerai by taking a look at the fascinating legacy of a brand that has been worn by everyone from naval officers to rock stars throughout the decades.

Panerai represents the best of Swiss watch design with the undeniable mark of Italian craftsmanship. The world knows Panerai for its oversized design, super craftsmanship and complex simplicity. Panerai designs are considered to be some of the best timepieces on the market today. There’s no denying that Panerai is the go-to brand for oversized watch faces among elite timepiece buyers. Of course, there’s quite a tale behind how Panerai came to be a favorite of high-profile gentlemen after coming from humble origins in a storefront in Florence more than a century ago.

The Making of a Stellar Timepiece

The Panerai brand that is worn in cities around the world today has its origins in Italy. Panerai was founded as Officine Panerai in Italy in 1860. Giovanni Panerai initially sold his handmade watches at a storefront in bustling Florence during the second half of the 1800s. The Panerai brand remained a gem of Italy for close to a century before rising to become a leading luxury brand around the world. However, the brand’s signature stamp was imprinted on countless watchmakers after Panerai established Florence’s first watchmaking school. There is no telling how many watch brands in existence today were formed and influenced with help from Panerai’s techniques and philosophies.

The Panerai legacy didn’t end with Giovanni Panerai. The iconic watchmaker put his business-savvy grandson, Guido Panerai in charge of the watch company in 1890. It was Guido who made the decision to relocate the Panerai store to Florence’s Piazza San Giovanni. The Panerai watch company is still located at Piazza San Giovanni to this day! Guido was able to take the brand’s watchmaking to the next level by integrating a mechanical workshop into the picture. The new venture was called Panerai e Figlio. Panerai e Figlio soon became an official supplier to the Royal Italian Navy.

A story of craftsmanship quickly became a story of innovation. Guido Panerai wasn’t satisfied with simply making the best watches in Italy. He invented a custom luminant that made it possible for Panerai products to be used in conditions with low light. This invention would eventually allow Panerai to produce products that could be used underwater by divers. However, that day didn’t arrive for another 20 years. The year was 1936 when Panerai delivered a special timepiece called the Radiomir to the Italian Navy. The Radiomir notably offered water resistance and nighttime visibility. Panerai devotees are aware of the fact that many of the characteristics of that groundbreaking, industry-changing Radiomir model are still visible in the brand’s current collections. One notable feature of the Radiomir was something called the sandwich dial. This was the first time that the world had ever seen the sandwich dial. However, it was far from the last time!

What is so special about Panerai’s sandwich dial? This feature is something that watchmakers still use to this day. The design is intrepid because it forms a dial using two layers to create extra luminosity. Being able to increase luminosity easily using a very functional mechanism was highly important for the Italian Royal Navy.

The Panerai brand only became more unstoppable as the years went on. The watch brand was able to master quality and excellence all on its own. However, partnerships with other renowned brands helped to propel the Panerai label to the next level as the years continued. Panerai’s collection was eventually manufactured by Rolex SA. In addition, industry-leading Cortébert eventually took on the duty of fitting Panerai designs with pocket-watch movements. It’s no surprise that luxury watch aficionados pursue vintage Panerai designs today.

The Panerai brand’s obsession with breaking boundaries through the use of luminant paints did not die down as the world entered the 20th century. A patent was filed by Panerai on the cusp of 1950 for a tritium-based luminant called Luminor. This patent was significant because it enabled Panerai to roll out its historic Luminor collection that same year. The impressive features that Panerai added to its collection in 1950 included shock-resistant performance and a crown-protecting bridge. These are two features that have become staples within the watchmaking industry. However, they were innovative and completely unknown in the mainstream when Panerai introduced them to the public for the first time in the 1950s.

Guido Panerai guided the Panerai brand to the highest echelons of innovation and prestige all throughout the 20th century. The titan of the watch world passed away in 1972. The passing of Panerai left the Panerai brand in the hands of Dino Zei. The Zei era marked an interesting shift for the Panerai brand. While Zei did maintain a close relationship with the Italian Royal Navy, many changes came regarding the general direction of the Panerai brand. The strategy from this point was highly focused on producing cutting-edge diving instruments. In fact, the watchmaking that the Panerai brand had been so famous for up until this point was nearly abandoned under Dino Zei’s instruction. Panerai was now deeply focused on compasses, gauges, underwater flashlights and other innovative features. Of course, these “wilderness” years would only serve to make Panerai an even more innovative force once it returned its focus to the commercial watch market in just a few more decades.

Panerai Meets the Modern Day

The 1990s marked the return of Panerai as a true watch brand at its core. In fact, 1993 was a particularly exciting year for Panerai. The brand launched three models in 1993 that gave big nods to Panerai’s vintage designs. The 1993 collection was highly inspired by the designs that were released by Panerai during the era of World War II. The three models released by Panerai as part of the 1993 collection were the Luminor, the Luminor Marina and the Mare Nostrum. The world was very quick to embrace Panerai with the introduction of these exquisite models that showed a true return to form. In fact, all three are still highly prized among watch collectors today.

Panerai made such a splash in the 1990s that Vendome made a move to purchase the brand. This was a decision that would help to finally shift Panerai from an Italian phenomenon to a worldwide sensation. It was in 1998 that well-known Richemont then took over Vendôme Luxury Group. This change would play a pivotal role in turning Panerai into what it is today. Richemont took a very strong interest in making sure the world would be introduced to Panerai. In fact, repositioning Panerai as a worldwide luxury brand was on the top of Richemont’s list of priorities.

Panerai had a big year in 2001. In fact, this was the year that many mainstream watch admirers first took notice of the brand. What was especially exciting about 2001 was that this was the year that Panerai simultaneously went worldwide and returned to its roots. A fully renovated Panerai boutique opened its doors at Florence’s Piazza San Giovanni in 2001. Luxury shoppers were now able to shop in the same space where Guido Panerai had dreamed up big plans for Panerai so many years ago! The next decade would see Panerai reach a status that was truly beyond anyone’s wildest dreams!

Panerai was able to distinguish itself from other brands by turning production inward at a time when so many brands were seeking to cut costs through outsourcing. This helped to ensure control over design, production and quality at all levels. Panerai set up a full-scale production plant in Neuchatel in 2002. This meant that customers were getting true Swiss-made watches when purchasing Panerai watches.

Why the World Continues to Love Panerai Watches

Panerai is a brand that has outlasted competitors precisely because it doesn’t really have competitors. Few brands can match the quality and precision offered by Panerai. The brand’s long history of supplying the Italian Royal Navy gives it both the prestige and practical significance needed to deliver world-class timepieces. The engineering and performance that drive Panerai watches really speak for themselves. However, the fact that Panerai has been able to turn its highly practical watch faces into a fashion statement is truly interesting. The oversized faces that Panerai is famous for were actually designed based on the practical needs of naval officers. However, that oversized look has become a true fashion statement in recent years. Many brands have tried to recreate the look of the large Panerai watch face. Those efforts have fallen flat due to the fact that no other brand has the decades of meticulous designing and engineering behind it to back up the looks that are created.

A Watch That Works

Panerai doesn’t need frills to stay relevant. This is exactly why Panerai models are among the most collectable in the world of luxury timepieces. Collectors and enthusiasts seek Panerai models from all collections through Lido Watch Club daily. Panerai’s entire catalogue of watches is impressive. However, two models stand out among the rest. Those models are the Radiomir and Luminor from the Panerai 1950 collection. These watches simply brought about a huge sea change in the way the consumer looked at watches. No designs like these had ever been seen before.

The impact of the Radiomir is still echoing throughout the watch world today. That oversized face and groundbreaking sandwich dial make this hour-and-minute watch a true marvel. It makes sense that a watch that was so beyond its time would still be so highly pursued by collectors of rare timepieces today. Collectors swoon at the hand-wound movements and smooth Arabic numerals that make this watch so fascinating and reliable. As a contemporary of the Radiomir, the Luminor shares many of the qualities that helped to transform “commercial” watches.

Popular Panerai Models

Given the brand’s growing popularity and increasing brand equity over the past 25 years, Panerai watches tend to appreciate in value, granting collectors promising returns on their respective collections.

Panerai Model Ref # Specifications
Radiomir Black Seal PAM00380 Small second, stainless steel (45mm) case, manual-wind
Luminor Marina PAM01005 Small seconds, stainless steel (44mm) case, manual-wind
Luminor Submersible Automatic PAM00024 Automatic, small seconds, date, rotatable bezel
Luminor 1950 3 Days PAM00372 Hours, minute, 3-day power reserve
Luminor Titanium 47MM PAM617 Titanium 47mm Limited Edition
Radiomir Titanio 8 Days PAM735 Titanium with polished bezel
Luminor 1950 “Equation of Time” PAM601 Luminor 1950 8 Days “Equation of Time”
Luminor Black Seal PAM786 Stainless steel (44mm) PVD coated with smooth bezel
Luminor Bronzo PAM671 Bronze (47mm) with unidirectional rotatable bezel
Luminor Oro Rosso 8 Days PAM717 Limited Edition 50 Pieces

The Obsession Continues

Many watch enthusiasts and timepiece collectors are simply obsessed with Panerai watches. In fact, collectors have so much affection that some are known as the “Paneristi” in the watch world. The Panerai brand showed its loyalty to watch lovers by releasing a special-edition model that was built based on specifications requested by members of the “Paneristi” in 2010. This was quite a strong gesture to be made in a world where luxury brands have such a strong reputation for being “cold” to consumers.

The Enduring Relevance of Panerai

Panerai’s recent partnerships highlight the enduring relevance of this watch brand. Panerai was asked to create a series of limited designs for the 35th America’s Cup in 2017. Panerai designed five special timepieces in ceramic, steel and titanium to celebrate the games. All are considered to be highly prized among eager watch enthusiasts.

While Panerai is beloved by celebrities, the brand doesn’t actually seek out the attention. Panerai is actually far more content to collaborate with those who embody excellence in the athletic world. Panerai’s high-profile brand ambassadors include Mike Horn, Guillaume Nery and Jimmy Chin.

Which Panerai Model Is the One to Buy?

Many people seek the help of Lido Watch Club when deciding which Panerai models to bring into their collections or give as gifts. It really takes diving into the full Panerai catalogue to discover the watch that speaks to you. The Submersible collection and the Luminor Due collection are both exceptional places to start. The Submersible collection is a favorite among those seeking a sporty, dive-capable design that feels limitless. The Luminor Due collection is a natural choice for those looking for a dress-focused watch design. Of course, those looking to claim their own piece of Panerai history will be drawn to the Radiomir and Luminor. The Lido Watch Club is proud to offer exquisite Panerai pieces to watch enthusiasts and collectors from around the world. Explore your options with the Lido Watch Club.

– By Mark Fotohabadi