In our first two reports from the 2018 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva a few weeks ago we’ve already looked at Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier; two brands whose collections represent luxury, sophistication and even opulence, our final look back focuses on one which started life as a tough, utilitarian, military grade instrument, but whose strong and enduring design codes have weathered rigours of special ops as well as the decades to become a cult favourite; Panerai.
One could be forgiven for holding the belief that even though they do it so well, when it actually comes down to it, Panerai really only have one greatest hit, as the distinctive styling of its off-square, cushion-shaped cases, the large numerals with curly tailed sixes and nines and of course that oversized crown protector are themes which on first appearances seem to symbolise what the brand is all about. To an extent, there is truth in that, as it’s a style which is both unmistakably recognisable, and also one which has come to define the brand. But take a closer look, and in fact, there is quite some variety to be found, and not all of its watches combine all of these features, which may come as a surprise to some, even many.
With Panerai though, there has always been pretty much one constant, and that is the unavoidable fact that with case sizes ranging from a relatively largish 40mm with more popular models weighing in at 42, 44, 45 and 47mm. and even going on all the way up to a colossal 52mm, Panerai has been a brand with an uncompromisingly manly image. While this is understandable, considering the company we know today properly came into being thanks to the demand for its robust, functional and reliable no frills diver’s watches and instruments, produced by its Florence workshop (with many components produced by none other than Rolex), during the second world war, for the frogmen of the Italian navy.
This hard-wearing masculine image has seen the brand achieve an iconic, cult status among collectors, and even more so when Mr Indestructible himself, Sylvester Stallone, without any official solicitation, bought one for himself, even going on to insisting on wearing his new loves on screen in several high profile movies and establishing an enduring and mutual relationship. Pretty much exclusively a man’s watch then.
And so with all this in mind, the really big news from Panerai at SIHH 2018 was actually about something small, and although not officially denominated as a ‘ladies’ watch per se, at 38mm the newest addition to the Luminor Due collection, particularly on light shades of green and blue straps is certainly making Panerai accessible to an audience which previously had been well out of reach.
The Luminor Due collection itself is pretty new too, as it was unveiled only in 2016, and while not designed for serious aquatic activities, because not everyone wants to take their expensive wristwatch into the sea, with a water resistance rating of 30m (read splash resistant) it represents a trade-off between the signature Panerai design codes and slightly more refined dimensions, making it more of a ‘desk diver’ and easier to wear. It would, however, take a keen eye to tell the difference.
The new 38mm Luminor Due Acciaio 3 Days will come in four options; two in steel and two in 18Kt rose gold, with white or black dial options for each. In steel, the green lume against a sunburst black dial complements a green strap, while the blue numerals on the white dial pair with the blue strap, and it’s basically the same in the gold options. Feminine as they may well have been intended to be, this new size is probably more accurately looked upon as unisex, because the funny thing about them is that there will likely be plenty of interest from both sexes, as 38mm is right on that crossover point which is neither petite nor overly large.
It’s early days for the Due and thus far it has only been available in 40, 42 and 45mm cases, and with manual winding only. 2018 sees the introduction of its automatic, self-winding movements with three day power reserve to the collection, and as well as the four ‘baby’ Panerai there will also be two 42mm Acciaio (steel) and two 45mm, including a GMT version with day and night, power reserve and second time zone indicators, on top of the date and small seconds which feature across all of the new models.
Not surprisingly, Panerai’s most popular models are those iconic designs for which it is best known, those with the pronounced locking crown protector, sandwich dials (layered, with luminous base and cut out numbers or indices), and chief among them is the Luminor Logo range, with Base (hours and minutes only) and Marina (with small seconds). All feature on the dial the interlocking OP initials, standing for Officine Panerai, and this year sees six new references, all boasting a new in-house hand-winding movement, the P6000 which also packs a power reserve of three days.
Elsewhere on display in its vast and luxurious SIHH ‘kiosk’, Panerai was demonstrating that there’s a lot more than just its timeless cool good looks on offer too, with a pair of highly sophisticated pieces highlighting its prowess when it comes to the more technical aspects of watchmaking. The striking Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Titanio features a hollowed 3D printed titanium case which makes for a remarkably light watch, and this stripped back approach also extends to the aesthetics with a skeletonised P2500 movement replacing a conventional dial as such, allowing an uninhibited view of the components within, but it’s the patented tourbillon which provides the real focal point in this piece as it rotates and gyrates hypnotically on bi-axial planes.
However, as impressive as it is, even Lo Scienziato Tourbillon must take second stage to what is the most technically advanced Panerai piece to date; because its (takes deep breath) L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time GMT is so complex that it’s not even being made as a limited edition. Rather, this extraordinary piece is available by commission only, but for those who want the ultimate Panerai, then this 50mm leviathan brims with so many features and horologic complications that some, such as the beautiful moon phase, which is accurate to fifteen minutes has to be displayed on the back of the watch. Other functions include a sunrise and sunset display, the Equation of Time (which shows the difference between the imperfect 24 hour day we use for simplicity and real solar time), and tourbillon to put the icing on the cake.
So, if you’ve been one of the many who thought that this brand was something of a one trick pony, then perhaps it’s time to take a closer look, because increasingly Panerai is moving in ever wider circles, and there’s also the fact that regardless the occasion, with styling that’s remained close to its roots, these watches have a timeless cool cachet other brands can only dream of.
– By Johnny McElherron