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History Of Panerai
Having pieced together several sources it would appear that in 1860, one Guido Panerai set up a workshop in Florence making precision mechanical instruments. The workshop continued to produce equipment into the 20th century and was known as "Officine Panerai". (OP)
By the 1930s the workshops were making a range of wrist-worn instruments for frogmen; compasses, depth gauges and the like and in 1935 Officine Panerai were commissioned by the Italian Navy to construct watches for use underwater, specifically ones that could be read underwater. After some initial prototypes Officine Panerai delivered it's first product diving watches in 1938. These were fitted with Rolex movements (and Rolex crowns and casebacks).
The PIG & Italian Divers
Officially named the Siluro a Lenta Corsa (lit. slow running torpedo) or SLC it was quickly baptized the Maiale (pig) by its crews due to its poor handling qualities, especially in its early incarnation.
The SLC was in fact an electrically propelled torpedo ridden by a crew of two, the whole front end of which was a detachable warhead packed with up to 300kg of high explosive. Transported as close as possible to the area of action by a conventional submarine in watertight cylinders attached to the deck, the SLC was mounted by its two brave crew members and guided towards its intended target, an enemy warship or cargo ship moored in a heavily defended harbor.
One can hardly begin to imagine the type of bravery needed to sit astride a torpedo on a dark moonless night, encased in a rubber suit and primitive breathing apparatus, whilst attempting to penetrate the enemy defenses, which usually included a steel anti-torpedo net enclosing the harbor mouth.
If the crew were able to overcome the various technical difficulties which could plague the “Maiale” and to creep past the enemy unobserved, they then had to detach the warhead from the front of their SLC and attach it to the keel of the unsuspecting vessel, thereafter making their getaway on what was left of their craft before the time delay fuse detonated the charge.
The first successful action took place on the night of 18th December 1941 when three SLC’s succeeded in entering the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt, and in sinking the battleships HMS Valliant and Queen Elizabeth. The British Royal Navy, whilst not amused by their loss, were nevertheless sufficiently impressed by the means employed by the crafty Italians to initiate the development of their own human torpedoes. According to legend the British crews that manned the counterpart of the “Maiale”, the “Chariot”, revered their Italian progenitors as heroes! In fact after Italy’s armistice with the Allies in September 1943 the two former adversaries worked together to perfect their methods and to destroy Nazi shipping.
Post War Production
Officine Panerai progressively improved its designs, with increased luminosity of numerals and hands, and the now famous crown-locking device. Later models were fitted with an Angelus 8 day (marked "8 giorno") movement . The radioactive radium which gave such legibility to the Radiomir models was replaced with the distinctly less toxic compound "Luminor".
Officine Panerai appears to have drifted out of business after the end of the Second World War only to resurface in 1993 as Officine Panerai started to reproduce the Luminor, and the Mare Nostrum chronograph, basically targeting the collector's market. These were produced only in very limited numbers. This period of Panerai life is referred to as the Pre-Vendome period.
In 1997 Officine Panerai were acquired by the Vendôme group. Under the new bosses basically the same models were produced, still in small numbers. However in a clever marketing move, a few "unique editions" were produced each year, with an intriguing movement or case design. Another unconfirmed but urban myth revolves around Sylvester Stallone spotting the brand whilst on a trip to Italy and commissioning a Ltd run of 1000 ‘Slytech’ models for him to give to friends and family!
There seems to be no great rush to produce Officine Panerai watches in huge numbers. Collectors are snapping up vintage models and "pre - Vendôme". Panerai have just launched their most exciting range of production watches and unique editions yet. It will be intriguing to see what happens in the next few years, but with a steady hand on the helm Panerai might well become one of the most collectable brands around, whilst still not being seen on every street corner or other persons wrist!.
History of Panerai and Me
At the end of the Iraq War of 2003 we began the reconstruction process and opened the floodgates to a wave of private security operatives. As the first of these contractors arrived it was good to see some old boys still living the dream after leaving the military. As I stood on the outskirts of Basra a face from the past appeared in the form of Nick an old SBS lad who had on his wrist what he described as ‘Italian Navy Ninja Dive Watch’!!! Was I impressed? ‘No’ but the conversation and first spot stuck in the mind for 5 more years.
Initially I was a Rolex & Omega fan and dipped my toe in the water with a classic Marina Militare ‘Homage’ (posh word for wannabe but cant afford!) Then I looked at Eddies PRS 20 offerings, again close but no cigar. Truth be told he had no stock and I’m an impatient bugger!! So it was time to make a few calls and get some brochures. It didn’t take long to form a plan, a simple plan. Buy a Panerai!
The range falls into 3 distinct sections with the addition of the Special Additions.
Based on the experience of the wartime production, the Luminor is reliable, resistant, and easy to read in any conditions. Indeed the size and simplicity has a following with the older & short sighted watch fraternity!! Dial is large and legible with the standard lever device to protect the crown from shocks and accidental movement thus increasing the water tightness of the crown.
Cases are typically 44mm and they utilize the OP X & OP XI movement, fitted with a swans neck regulator which enables the rate of movement to be precisely adjusted and Cotes de Geneve decoration on the bridges.
16.5 lignes and 17 jewels, 21,600 alternations/hour and incabloc antishock device with a 56 hour power reserve. The OP XI is tested and certified C.O.S.C.
The Marina Luminor range consists of 40mm & 44mm cases fitted with automatic movement, usual combinations of polished, brushed, or titanium with a variety of straps in various leathers or the heavy and less popular bracelets (Panerai’s just don’t look good on bracelets…Sorry!)
This collection is home to the most diverse range, it contains a GMT, Submersible, Chronographs, and a vast array of combinations with dates, Cyclops, power reserves, number combinations, or all or none of the above! Basically a model for everyone. Constructed in the classic chunky AISI 316L Steel casing with most incorporating the new strap change system allowing a push button strap removal (using the tool provided) in literally seconds. So simple even a monkey could do it!!
The upper end of this range includes the ‘Daylight’ series, a title of a successful film starring Sylvester Stallone (he doesn’t have many!) and the use of the traditional 1950 case on the Flyback & Rattrapante models. This consists of a rounded edge and smoothed bezel with a polished finish.
Movements in the Contemporary range include OPIII, OPVIII, OPIX, OPXII, OPXVIII, & OPXIX. Too vast for this article but worth a little research if you are going to purchase a specific model. All are C.O.S.C.
The Manifattura line is Panerai's line-up of watches with in-house movements built by Panerai. A lot of watch manufacturers use movements built by third party companies, even top Swiss manufacturers like Omega, Oris, Panerai, Tag Heuer and others. Omega, Panerai and Tag Heuer heavily modify ETA movements before putting them in their watches. For example Omega's ETA based Co-Axial movements are so heavily modified it is hard to say if they are more ETA or more Omega. Still, horologist place greater value on watches with in-house movements. Paneria have been releasing more and more watches with in-house movements due to this preference.
In many cases, the in-house movements built by the watchmaker do not really offer the buyer anything different from the ETA modified movements. In the case of "built by Panerai", I am glad to say that is not the case. You will pay a premium when you decide to buy a Panerai Manifattura you get something special. When Panerai builds in-house, they do not do it just for the sake of saying built by Panerai, but to give you something different. Six to ten day power reserves. Whether you select a manual winding or self winding watch from the Panerai Manifattura line you get a 6 to 10 day power reserves which is much longer than the 2 to 3 day power reserve of other watches. They also all produce 28,800 vibrations per hour.
A smaller combination of GMT, Chrono, & Tourbillon feature in the range with prices from £8,800 - £85000!!! Ummmm.
There will always be the ‘marmite’ debate of whether you love them or hate them. There will always be those who rave about them and those who dismiss them, there will always be the movement experts and conspiracy theorists. But bottom line is that they have a rich and fascinating history with a strong military connection, they are big, bold, and looks the bollocks! And the strap change system has promoted a whole new world of 3rd party strap manufacturer’s and adds a dimension to the watch as the strap can be changed o fit the mood or dare I say it ‘the outfit’
I have literally skimmed the surface with this article, there is a whole world of information to be gained on the brand and its productions. I thank you for taking the time to read this and to those who have contributed in the past and allowed me to gain the ‘knowledge’ Indeed I have completely missed out the Radiomir's (wonder why!)
If Ive bored you I apologise, if not I’ve achieved the aim, look out for my 233 Review and in the meantime get googling!!!
All photos and text belong to 100thmonkey. Credits go to him