Welcome to Brand Breakdown, a series of comprehensive yet easy-to-digest guides to your favorite companies, with insights and information you won’t find on the average About page.
G]iovani Panerai opened the first watch shop in Florence, Italy in 1860, and his operation soon expanded to include a bustling workshop and Florence’s first horological training center. By the early 20th Century, Panerai had taken on contracts for the Royal Italian Navy, and in 1916 Panerai secured a crucial patent for Radiomir, a radium-based glowing paint.
Like so many firms stuck in fascist countries, Panerai replica watch developed watches for the wrong side during WWII, but Mussolini’s dictatorial mandates and deep pockets spurred Panerai to innovate at a rapid pace. They developed the Perspex crystal (1936), massive luminous sandwich dials (1938), integrated lugs with spring bars (1940) and a movement with an 8-day power reserve to reduce wear on crown seals (also 1940). After the fascists fell, Panerai developed their renowned tritium-based lume called Luminor (1949), and their signature lever-activated crown lock (1950).
Panerai’s wrist watches didn’t reach a wider audience until they offered a civilian collection in 1993 and attracted the endorsement of Sylvester Stallone. By 1997, Panerai had become so successful that the Vendome Group (later the Richemont Group) acquired the firm, moved production to Switzerland, and transformed Panerai into the luxury sport watch company we know today.
It took Panerai some time to shed Sly’s Rocky/Rambo bravado and tell its own story more directly, but once it did, the company offered up a subtler form of badassery that’s all about oceangoing adventure. Italy is almost entirely coastline, and their Navy is famous for innovative maritime technologies and techniques. Panerai was right there making the dive watches, gauges, and compasses for these pioneers of the deep. Meanwhile, the company has maintained a close relationship with yacht racing, including on vintage wooden yachts.
Despite the relocation of its manufacturing to Switzerland, Panerai’s style remains faithful to the original Italian designs of the early to mid-20th Century, and today’s collection is far more diverse than ever before.
Panerai offers over 20 in-house movements as well a slew of movements built on third party bases, and these calibers are found in well over 100 individual watch models available in steel, bronze, titanium, gold, platinum, and proprietary case materials such as BMG-TECH (bulk metallic glass), Carbotech (polyether ether ketone), and Panerai Composite (synthetic ceramic using micro arc oxidation).
Sometimes the distinction between models is merely a matter of case material or dial color, but it’s common to grow frustrated shopping for a Panerai because one’s preferred look and fit don’t always come equipped with the movement/functions one prefers—or vice-versa. We aim to make navigating this dense catalog as easy as possible.
The Best Strategy for Shopping Panerai
We’ve found that the best way to divide and conquer the Panerai catalog is to sort based on the movements. For example, if you prefer a hand-wound GMT with an 8-day power reserve (Cal. P.2002), then you’re down to just two watches (PAM00223 and PAM00576). Want a flyback chronograph? Look at Cal. 9100, and you’ve got six choices. Before delving into the movements, however, let’s get our heads around Panerai’s four main model categories.
Panerai’s Four Model Categories
Radiomir: Referencing Panerai’s earliest military watches from the 1930s, Radiomer models feature either wire lugs that detach for strap changes or integrated lugs with spring bars. The smallest Radiomir is 42mm, and generally these watches are large, plain faced, and classic.
Luminor: Beginning in the late 1940s, Panerai moved away from Radiomir lume to the tritium-based mixture patented as Luminor. In 1950 Panerai introduced its signature crown lock. The Luminor line features this crown lock, integrated lugs, and a cushion case shape that has its roots in the past but was also modernized a bit for 1993’s first civilian collection.
Paneria Luminor Due: Smaller, thinner, and often fancier. The Due line premiered in 2018 and is Panerai’s answer to demands for both smaller and more feminine models. Water resistance is only 30 meters (a typical dress watch rating), so many die-hards dismiss these as fluff pieces, but on wrist they are some of Panerai’s most comfortable and good looking watches.
Panerai Submersible: In 2019, Panerai separated out its dedicated dive watches into this new category, and doing so vastly simplified its catalog.
The chart below offers a glance at how these four lines are distributed across various case sizes, and it should provide a quick way to locate models that might fit your wrist. (Please note that as models come and go, these numbers will change slightly as Panerai phases watches in and out of production.)
To satisfy the appetites of its hardcore fans, Panerai, like so many brands today, offers a steady stream of limited edition timepieces. These small batches can be as few as 10 pieces, and they typically sell out quickly. Staying on top of Panerai’s limited editions is an ongoing challenge, so we are going to forego covering most of them in this buying guide. We have also excluded pocket watches and clocks, of which Panerai makes just a few.
Panerai’s in-house movements carry calibre numbers in this format: P.xxxx.
The company’s movements built on a Unitas/ETA base have Roman numeral calibre numbers that start with OP (e.g., OPXXII).
Each watch is assigned an individual reference number, or PAM number: PAMxxxxx.
How to Use This Guide
With a little bit of scrolling you should be able to swiftly navigate to a watch that interests you. There are three effective ways to approach this guide:
1.Search By Movement: By locating the mechanical functionality you’re interested in, you can then quickly browse the available watches that house it. We’ve grouped movements under larger headings (e.g. Auto-Winding GMTs) to simplify your search.
2.Search by Look: By scrolling through the photos, you can locate an appealing look and then learn about the mechanical functionality, materials, price, etc.
3.Search by Size and Model Line: We’ve listed the case sizes and model lines prominently together, so you’ll be able to scroll to, say, a number of 42mm Luminor models pretty quickly.