Panerai is still making plenty unabashedly oversized watches, with several coming in at 44 to 47 mm (and wearing even larger thanks to their cushion case shape and frequent use of large crown protectors). This kind of watchmaking is, if you’ll pardon the cliche, a part of Panerai’s watchmaking DNA. Panerai has a reputation for being the OG oversized watch. The Italian-born watchmaker, which manufactures in Switzerland, started a trend that began on the wrist of Sly Stallone in the 1990s and became a legitimate force in style by the early aughts. But more recent times have witnessed a reaction in the other direction – a shift toward smaller, less obtrusive wristwatches.
But in 2016 we saw a curious twist in the company’s lineup. It came in the form of the Panerai Luminor Due 38, which incorporated sunray burst dial motifs and arrived on alligator straps looking far more dressy than any other Panerai to date. Measured across, these were still large watches, but thin movements were deployed in order to keep the overall thickness down. It seemed that the idea was for the Luminor Due to have the look of a tool watch matched with the elegance of a dressier and more refined timepiece. For years people had been wearing Panerais with suits – some pulling off the look better than others – but the Panerai Luminor Due 38 was a Panerai that was expressly made to be worn that way.
This year in Geneva, we were treated to an evolution of the Luminor Due that comes as a 38mm automatic watch, and which is the smallest Panerai to date. When I wrote about it from Geneva earlier this year, I knew that I would want to take this one for a spin should the opportunity present itself, which just so happened to be the case this spring. When my test watch arrived, it came on a black alligator strap that was a hair too short for my 7-inch wrist, so I promptly put it on the green leather strap you here, which matched wonderfully with the green lume markers and numbers.
The Panerai Luminor Due 38 is a smaller version of the classic Luminor style case and dial that most folks think of when they hear the name Panerai. There is the cushion shape of the case, the prominent lugs, the raised bezel, and most importantly, the crown guard – a registered trademark of Panerai. Opening the crown guard gives you access to the crown, with which you can manually wind the movement inside as well as set the time and date. This is in fact a brand new movement, the OPXXXIV, which is known as the caliber BM12-1975A when used by Baume & Mercier in its Clifton Baumatic. It’s hard to know at this very early stage how this movement will perform in the long run, but early reports of the Baumatic have been quite positive. It should be noted, however, that when Panerai uses this new caliber, which has been developed at the group level by Richemont, they opt for a conventional Nivarox hairspring rather than using, as Baume & Mercier does, one made from silicon. The Panerai version also has three days of power reserve, in contrast to the Baumatic’s five. There are two stainless steel options available: the sunray finished dark grey you see here and a white-dialed variation. There is also a rose gold version with a see-through back, which allows one to see how Panerai has taken a movement designed at the group level and finished it to look like a Panerai caliber. The grey dialed version has a traditional sandwich type of dial – a welcome attribute that doesn’t come with certain entry-level Panerais such as the Luminor Base Logo. One thing you’ll notice if you turn this watch over is that its closed caseback has the look of being screwed in, but it’s not. This watch, like the two larger Luminor Due size watches, has a water resistance of just 30 meters. This less-than-diveworthy depth rating continues to be a point of criticism that some watch enthusiasts and reviewers have had with the Luminor Due.
After a week spent with the Panerai Luminor Due 38, I’ve come to the conclusion that while I enjoyed wearing it, and while I think it is among the best-proportioned Panerais out there, it’s not the first Panerai that I would purchase at this time. For me, that would be the Luminor Base Logo, which comes with an in-house movement and a swim-worthy 100 meters of water resistance. But if your wrist is smaller than than 7 inches around, and if you’re buying a Panerai primarily for style, then the Luminor Due 38 would be a very solid choice.