Panerai has some of the most recognizable silhouettes in watchmaking. They’re a mainstay in the industry – and for good reason. Panerai has successfully upheld their historic design language, and they’ve done so without sacrificing modern technology. Celebrities like Arnold Schwarzennegger and Sylvester Stallone have helped globalize the brand over the years. People that love Panerai love Panerai. They even have a fan club known as The Paneristis. There are only a few models, but most seem to have endless references. In 2022, I think Panerai is an underrated brand. Today we’ll look at their current catalog, but first, we have to know their history.
A Brief History
160 years ago, Giovanni Panerai opened a watch shop in Florence, Italy. Not only did they sell watches, they taught watchmaking classes. Panerai knew horology inside and out. One day, his son Leon said – and I’m paraphrasing – “Hey dad, let’s just make our own watches”. Around the year 1900, the Panerai family shifted their focus toward their own product: the Radiomir. Leon’s son Guido helped incorporate the business: Guido Panerai & Figlio. They supplied watches to the Italian Navy. In the 1920’s, Rolex released the Oyster, introducing waterproof watches to the world. Rolex was a manufacturing partner of Panerai, meaning Panerai had access to the Oyster’s technology. Approaching World War II, the Italian Navy needed a lot of waterproof watches. Panerai was perfectly positioned to make some generational earnings, and they did just that. I could go on about Panerai’s history, but that’s not the point of this article. If you’re interested in their backstory, you can read it on their site.
The Radiomir is Panerai’s first watch. They’ve kept the appearance true to the original – including its massive 45mm case diameter. It features a screw down crown, sandwich dial, and wire lugs. Some references include small seconds at 9 o'clock, which gives the otherwise simple dial a bit of flavor. The Radiomir’s vintage appearance perfectly embodies the history of Panerai, while incorporating some modern refinement. Luckily, today’s models don’t include radium-226 as their lume material. It turns out you shouldn't wear radioactive substances on your body. Around the 1950s, they transitioned to a tritium-based solution known as Luminor.
Personally, I love the aesthetics of the Radiomir. There aren’t as many references as the Luminor: mostly just black and brown dials on leather straps. If I were in the market, I’d be torn between the Radiomir Bronzo and the Radiomir Black Seal. You can’t go wrong with the looks of this watch, but it definitely outsizes most human wrists. I would try one on before you pull the trigger, but it’s a timeless silhouette nonetheless. The Radiomir is the historian’s choice. It’s no longer Panerai’s flagship model, but it’s where the brand started.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s that Panerai started selling watches to consumers. Their entire brand revolved around the Italian Navy. In 1993, they released The Luminor to the public. It borrows a lot of design notes from the Radiomir, but features Panerai’s iconic crown guard. The Luminor also swaps the Radiomir’s wires for thicker, sturdier lugs. These lugs are 24mm wide, which makes it hard to find an aftermarket strap. Luckily, Everest has you covered with rubber and leather straps for all 44mm Luminors. A rubber strap gives the Luminor a sportier look, while paying homage to the brand’s history. If 44mm is too big for you, Panerai offers the Luminor Quaranta, which is a 40mm option.
If you’re looking for a Panerai with complications, the Luminor is your watch. Multiple references include flyback chronographs, perpetual calendars, GMT hands, date apertures, etc. The Luminor offers the widest array of styles, all of which are still distinctively Panerai. If I were in the market, I would go with the PAM01371, which is the white Luminor Quaranta. It features small seconds at 9 o’clock, a date window at 3 o’clock, and Panerai’s signature sandwich dial. I love the way this watch looks, and at 40mm, it’s extremely wearable for most people.
Think of the Panerai Submersible as a Luminor on steroids. These chunkier, G-Shock-esque Luminors are dive watches, first and foremost. Panerai describes them as “survival instruments”. They’re very rugged, very capable, and very large. Most of them are nearly 50mm, but they offer some smaller options as well. The Submersible comes in bronze, which has to be one of the heaviest watches money can buy. If you’re like me, you’re thinking “Bronze and water don’t mix. Why is this an option?”, but if you take care of the case, it will add a unique patina. The Submersible is an eccentric offering from Panerai. It’s a modern interpretation of the company’s Naval roots.
If I were in the market for a Submersible, I would go all out. I’m not wearing it on a daily basis; this is my fun watch. I would go with the Submersible EcoPangaea. This 50mm behemoth has a tourbillon, GMT functionality, a skeleton dial, small seconds, and a six day power reserve. It’s one of the most insane watches I’ve ever seen, and I think I love it.
The 38mm Luminor Due, as Panerai describes it, is “contemporary elegance”. It’s a smaller, thinner Luminor aimed at the dress watch market. The Due can include a date aperture or moonphase at 3 o’clock, as well as small seconds at 9 o'clock. It’s interesting that Panerai chose to dress up (and size down) the Luminor, not the Radiomir. The vintage vibe of the Radiomir would have served this look well, and without the bulky crown guard. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very cool, unique watch. It just confuses me a bit. If you’re looking for a dress watch on a bracelet, but you also need a moonphase, the Luminor Due is right up your alley.
The Due’s 38mm case diameter opens up the Panerai brand to a lot of people. If 40mm is your max, the Due is probably your best bet. If I were in the market for a Luminor Due, I would go with a simple black sunburst dial with the small seconds. It’s casual, it’s dressy, and it’s rugged all at once. I’m not sure where this watch is appropriate, but I can’t think of a place where it’s inappropriate. It’s just a cool offering. Oh – and all but one reference come with rose gold hands.
Although Panerai only has four models, they have plenty of options. The large, military-oriented design language persists across their catalog, and the brand’s history is remarkable. If you love watches, you’ve probably been obsessed with Panerai at one point or another. Now is as good a time as any to get in on Panerai, and you have plenty of references to choose from. For most people, I would recommend the Luminor Quaranta. I think that’s the best of all worlds when it comes to Panerai. Truth be told, you can’t go wrong with such an iconic brand.