Luxury Watch Spotlight: Panerai

by: Ben Tseytlin - on Vintage & Luxury Watches

It has only been about 22 years since Panerai watches and straps became accessible to the general public, but during that time the brand has had spectacular success, unseating other watchmakers that have been in business longer. Today these watches are worn by both A-listers and royalty, and below are some reasons why.

Origins of Panerai

The Panerai workshop was first established by Giovanni Panerai in 1860. Its original purpose was to build instruments for the Royal Italian Navy, which at the time had just been formed. The two maintain a successful partnership that lasted through World Wars 1 and 2. Panerai supplied everything from mechanical calculators to chronometers and sextants. By the 1930s the company expanded into compass production along with depth gauges which were employed by Royal Italian Navy commandos, who were known as Decima Flottiglia MAS. Its first watch was introduced in 1936; a diving model designed for the same commandos which were considered revolutionary. This model eventually became the Radiomir, which would function as Panerai’s first wristwatch.

The next major watch which was introduced by the company was the Luminor, which was released in 1950. This watch incorporated the now famous crown protection bridge, and utilized architecture which today has become iconic. Its success prompted Panerai to follow up with a slimmer, lighter version, dubbed the Luminor Due. However, despite these successes, the company remained largely unknown until they caught the eye of actor Sylvester Stallone in 1995 during filming of his movie Daylight in Italy. He requested a watch which was limited edition and then gave Arnold Schwarzenegger one as a gift. Given the huge popularity that both action stars had at the time, it wasn’t long before the rest of the watch world took notice.

Panerai Design Characteristics

Like other great watchmakers, Panerai has established its own distinct flair. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, they’ve refined it. Their models are known for their exquisite chronograph and ceramics, and they are famous for their understanding of haute horlogerie, including the Tourbillon GMT pocket watch. Another key ingredient to Panerai’s success is that they’ve merge Italian design with Swiss engineering in a way that few of their rivals can.

There is a tendency among watchmakers to get stuck in their ways, especially among established houses that have been around for more than a century. But Panerai understands the necessity of innovation. They’ve forged partnerships with designers, engineers, and architects, and have invested substantial sums of money into development and research. Historically, they’ve prioritized the design of their dials and cases, but in the future they plan to experiment with a variety of materials. The company has developed a proprietary material which is referred to as Carbotech, which is a type of composite which has never previously existed in the watch world. This combined with endorsement from the likes of movie stars, singers and athlete’s means that Panerai has made all the right moves.