We’re back in part two of our two part mini-series on the History of Panerai. If you haven’t yet read part one, click the link here to read the first.
In this conclusion to the legacy of Panerai, we’re picking up the story in the later half of the 20th century, after the decline of Panerai as a prominent watchmaker. We’ll discuss their comeback, their coming out onto the world stage, and their technological advancements in the 21st century.
After more than a century making exacting tools and watches for military clients, and 20+ years taking their time to streamline their operation, Panerai reawakens in 1993 with the launch of three new models for the general public. Each is inspired by their golden age in the middle of the century: The Luminor, The Luminor Marina, and The Mare Nostrum chronograph. A ceremony was held on the deck of the Italian navy cruiser Durand De La Penne to mark the occasion, which was attended by Duke Amedeo D'Aosta, a member of the Italian Royal Family who was born in Florence like Panerai.
Panerai had hoped this fanfare would ignite interest from the watchbuying public, but having been essentially shuttered for 20 years and never in its 133 year history sold a watch in the greater retail market, their wristwatch relaunch was met with little interest from the watchbuying public. However, like Rolex’s Daytona watch in the 1960s, Panerai would get an unlikely marketing boost from a well known Hollywood actor.
Sylvester Stallone, a huge international star in action movies, purchased and wore a new Luminor, Ref. 5218-201/A, on his wrist in the 1996 film “Daylight.” Sly Stallone insisted that his character wear it throughout the film. He loved the watch so much that he commissioned a custom batch of Luminors with the words “Daylight” and “Slytech” on the dial. Some of these watches he gifted to his famous friends, like Arnold Schwarzeneggar, who also wore the watch in his film “Eraser.” Over the next few years, Panerai watches would be seen in several other action movies. Due to this priceless free exposure, Panerai sales finally jumped.
By 1997, sales of Panerai watches caught the attention of the luxury goods holding company Vendome, who then purchased Officine Panerai, marking the end of family ownership for the 137 year old watchmaker. Vendome took Panerai international, and with the aid of Vendome’s massive resources, sales rose ever higher.
The four years between Panerai’s reemergence and Vendome’s acquisition are known as the Pre-Vendome era. The Pre-Vendome watches made during that time are rare collector’s items, not only because it was the final years of Panerai family ownership but because there were a very limited number of watches produced. In 1998, an even larger holdings company, Richemont Group, bought Vendome, and the Panerai brand with it. Richemont then cranked up production of watches by 3400%.
The new millennium brought rising sales thanks to the muscle of the Richemont group and also a lively community of watch enthusiast forums on the increasingly powerful world wide web.
In 2001, the original Orologeria Svizzera shop that Giovanni Panerai opened in Florence Italy a century earlier is fully restored and reopened as a functioning boutique and historical destination. And a year later, Officine Panerai’s first international office and plant is opened in Switzerland, a hub for research and development. Also, their first boutique in Asai is opened in Hong Kong.
Starting in 2005, Panerai’s movements were no longer made by third parties like Rolex or Angleus as in decades passed but made in-house by Panerai. The first of these is the P.2002, named after the year their first Swiss operation opened its doors. The P.2002 is hand-wound, with GMT functionality, and an eight day power reserve. After that came the P.2003, the P.2004, and so on. The P.2005 contains their first tourbillon: a rotating cage, first created over 200 years ago, containing the escapement and balance wheel. This cage combats the forces of friction and gravity on the watch, thus increasing its longevity and accuracy.
Panerai improved on this design by turning the tourbillon on its side, causing it to rotate on a perpendicular axis to the balance wheel axis, as opposed to the traditional parallel axis. The modern Panerai tourbillon rotates every 30 seconds, twice as fast, and more accurately, than a standard tourbillon.
Continuing their pattern of resurrecting former models, the Egiziano, first made for the Egyptian Navy in 1956, is updated and re-released in 2009.
And again drawing inspiration from the past, three totally new special edition watches are released to commemorate famous Italian scientist Galileo Galilei and his first astronomical discoveries: the L’Astronomo, the Lo Scienziato, and the Jupiterium clock in 2010.
A fully bronze version of the Luminor is offered in 2011, and the Radiomir 1940 is launched in 2012. This Radiomir 1940 is so named because it’s a near identical remake of the classic, down to the Plexiglas crystal, but fortunately not containing any radioactive radium.
A very special edition of the Radiomir 1940 is introduced in 2016. The Radiomir 1940 Minute Repeater Carillon Tourbillon is technically the most complicated watch ever produced by Panerai. It features a tourbillon regulator and a chiming mechanism that can chime one of two time zones every hour, every ten minutes, or every single minute. It is their latest in a long line of sophisticated, elite watches.
Officine Panerai continues to grow and innovate well into the 21st century, more than a hundred and fifty years since their humble inception by Giovanni Panerai on the streets of Florence, Italy. This watchmaker has survived decade after decade of experimentation, world war, and economic downturns, so Panerai should have no problem flourishing for many more decades to come.
Thank you so much for reading this two-part mini-series.
If you are interested in straps and accessories, you can find them for your Panerai, as well as many others, on our website: Everestbands.com. Thanks again and see you next time.