Officially named Officine Panerai, this Swiss watch brand has roots dating back to 19th century Italy when Giovanni Panerai opened his workshops and watchmaking school in Florence in 1860. Throughout the ensuing decades, the oversized watch brand would become a favorite of the military and would even equip the frogmen of the Royal Italian Navy as early as 1936. Today, Officine Panerai retains its strong looks and professional instrument status but also designs for contemporary adventurers. It’s cult-like watch collector followers are known as Paneristi.
Panerai’s history started when a re-known watchmaker, Giovanni Panerai, launched his first shop in Florence in 1860. It operated as a watch workshop and the city’s school for watchmaking. The shop moved to its current location on the Palazzo Arcivescovile by the early 20th century, under the Orologeria Svizzera name.
The Royal Italian Navy was the chief buyer of high-precision Panerai watches for many years. To meet the military needs, Radiomir, a radium-made powder, was used in their watches. Typically, the substance was known to give excellent visibility to the dials of devices and instruments. On March 23, 1916, the company filed a patent in France. This patent was a remarkable innovation that marked Panerai’s history.
In 1935, with the Second World War imminent, Panerai created the first Radiomir prototypes for the Royal Italian Navy’s frogman commandos. The prototype’s primary function was to provide superb readability even while in the water. Today, the Radiomir Panerai watches still have these distinctive features.
After implementing and assessing the Radiomir prototype’s functions for two years, the new Radiomir model came into existence. The goal was to give high visibility underwater for an extended period. During this timeframe, only ten Radiomir prototypes got developed for testing purposes.
In 1940, Panerai introduced the Radimir 940 case to meet the Royal Navy’s specific requirements. This model was produced to have increased water-resistant and withstand extreme conditions.
Officine Panerai created the Mare Nostrum in 1943. It was a two-counter chronograph prototype designed for deck officers.
A more luminous and safe substance, the Luminor, replaced Radiomir-based paste in 1949, marking the beginning of the new Luminor watch. One year later, the company completed the transition from Radiomir to Luminor.
In 1956, Panerai designed the Egiziano watch for the Egyptian Navy, which had an exceptional size and case strength. When Guiseppe Panerai died in 1972, engineer Dino Zei took charge of the company and changed the name to Officine Panerai S.r.L.
In September 1993, the Luminor, Panerai Luminor Marina, and Mare Nostrum limited watch series were presented to the public. In 1997, the Richmont Group bought Panerai, introducing them to the international market in 1998.
Due to meticulous refurbishment, the Panerai’s historic boutique in Piazza San Giovanni in Florence reopened in 2001, creating a central workshop and a popular site for Panerai aficionados. In 2002, the company opened the Panerai Manufacture in Neuchatel, in the heart of Swiss watchmaking, and the same year, opened its first boutique in Prince’s Building, Hong Kong, in Asia.
Panerai’s first in-house movement, the P.2002, was launched in 2005. By 2008, Panerai had introduced an additional five in-house calibres, including a tourbillon and a split-second chronograph.
Panerai is owned by the Compagnie Financiere Richemont S.A., who also owns such prestigious brands as Cartier and IWC.
Up until 1993, Panerai watches were only made available to the Royal Italian Navy military forces. Their first watches launched for the general public attracted Sylvester Stallone’s eye, who gave them his ringing endorsement.
The Panerai Submersible watch collection is its dedicated dive watches, designed to be super water-resistant and sturdy. These watches have either a 42mm or a 47mm case diameter. The Panerai Submersible watches come in different materials like steel, ceramic, titanium, carbotech, and more.
In the late 1940s, Panerai moved away from using the Radiomir lume to the safer Luminor. The Luminor models feature Panerai’s signature crown lock and cushion shape case. The timepieces come in different case diameters ranging from 40 to 50mm, exuding both a vintage and sporty look. The materials used to make the Panerai Luminor Marina watches include; titanium, ceramic, steel, carbotech, and fibratech.
The Luminor Due collection is a thinner, smaller version of the Panerai Luminor. The collection was launched in 2018 in response to women’s requests for a Panerai to fit their smaller wrists. The water resistance is less than you would generally find on the sportier models, 30 meters.
The Radiomir watches are a nod to Panerai’s military history and take their inspiration from their 1930s military timepieces. The case diameter ranges from 42 to 48mm and is typically made of titanium, ceramic, steel, and goldtech materials. The watches are large and have a plain dial giving them a classic look.