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'There is a history of value, a history of man and a history of hero'Angelo Bonati, President of Officine Panerai

Originally developed for the Italian Royal Navy by a waterproof diving instrument company during the Second World War, Panerai has since become a cult watchmaker with its bold sizes and distinctive styling. Ask any Panerai enthusiast – once the need for a Panerai sets in, nothing else will do.

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Panerai History

The History of Panerai Watches

When Guido Panerai, grandson of founder Giovanni Panerai, secured a contract with the Italian Navy to provide luminescent equipment, Officine Panerai moved on from being just a diving instrument manufacturer to becoming one of the most influential watch manufacturers in the world. As per the Navy's requirements, Panerai began research into a zinc sulphide and radium bromide concoction which they then patented as 'Radiomir'. The radium, a radioactive substance that releases alpha and gamma rays as it decays, reacted with the zinc sulphide in such a way that made it glow. Panerai used their radium-based luminescent paint on various devices, such as night-sights, compasses, depth gauges and calculators.

Guido's son Giuseppe took over Officine Panerai in 1934, shortly before the Navy requested that he make a watch that was as robust and readable in low light as their other instruments. As the watches were to be used underwater and at night by pilots of single man submarines, the hands and markers needed to much brighter than for use on land.

Panerai provided two solutions to this problem - the first was to layer a dial that was completely covered with a thick layer of luminescent paint with a secondary dial that had slots cut from it, and the second was to hollow out channels from a dial where the markers would be, allowing thicker quantities of luminescent paint to be used. Both of Panerai's ideas had a satisfactory result, particularly at sizes that were unconventionally large for the time.

The engine that powered Panerai's watches was a tried-and-tested Rolex movement, and was mounted in a steel oversized cushion case. Lugs were soldered to the case to allow fitment of a strap, making the watch wearable on the diver's wrist. Called the Panerai 'Radiomir,' after the radium that powered the lume, it was the birth of a design icon. It was tested in 1936 by the First Submarine Group, and was a resolute success.

Following the Second World War, the Panerai Radiomir evolved a squarer case with fixed lugs and the famous Panerai patented crown locking device, which was originally developed on a special watch created for the Egyptian Navy. The Panerai Radiomir became the Panerai Marina Militare, which, following the introduction of a less dangerous tritium-based radioactive luminescent material called 'Luminor,' became the Panerai Luminor Marina. A chronograph, the Panerai Mare Nostrum, stalled at the prototype stage.

There were no Panerai watches available for civilians until 1993, when the Panerai Luminor and the Panerai Mare Nostrum were released in limited runs. Their success attracted the interest of the Vendôme Group, now Richemont, who purchased Panerai and steered it to where it is today. The distinctive and immediately recognisable style of Panerai watches may have evolved for functional reasons, but that hasn't stopped Panerai from amassing a loyal following, showing that form following function doesn't necessarily mean something can't look good too.

Panerai Series

Panerai Ferrari

The Italian watchmaker meets the Italian supercar maker for just over half a decade of unity, and the result is the Panerai Ferrari collection... read more

Panerai Luminor 1950

The original Panerai watch was built for the Italian Navy to give their divers legible timekeeping underwater. As time passed, its shape evolved... read more

Panerai Luminor Base

With a case design by Alessandro Bettarini, based on the original Panerai Luminor, the Panerai Luminor Base pays homage to... read more

Panerai Luminor Chrono

The first ever Panerai chronograph was in fact the Panerai Mare Nostrum, but the Panerai Luminor has since received the chronograph treatment... read more

Panerai Luminor GMT

The perfect travel companion, the Panerai Luminor GMT has the useful addition of an independently-settable GMT hand to keep track of the... read more

Panerai Luminor Marina

Officine Panerai started out as a manufacturer of diving instruments, and was commissioned by the Italian Royal Navy (the Regia Marina) to... read more

Panerai Luminor Power Reserve

A handy indication that lets the user keep tabs on a watch's energy level, the power reserve indicator has appeared on many Panerai. A semi... read more

Panerai Luminor Submersible

Seeking its inspiration from the bold stylings of the 60mm Panerai GPF 2/56 'Big Egiziano,' the Panerai Luminor Submersible offers even more... read more

Panerai Manifattura Luminor

The first of Panerai's in-house 'Manifattura' movements was the calibre P.2002, launched in 2005, a hand-wound movement with three barrels... read more

Panerai Manifattura Radiomir

The original and exquisite Panerai Radiomir cushion case has been home to some of the most impressive in-house - or 'Manifattura' - movements... read more

Panerai Radiomir Automatic

Inspired by the name of the radium-laced paint invented and used by Panerai to illuminate the dials of their diving instruments, the Panerai Radiomir... read more

Panerai Radiomir Manual

When the Italian Royal Navy commissioned a watch from diving instrument manufacturer Officine Panerai, they demanded it be robust, water... read more

Panerai Special Editions

The Panerai Specialties collection is a platform to showcase historical re-issues, unusual features and exotic materials, such as the re-issue Panerai... read more

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