Panerai is one of the ultimate “tool watches”. Produced for the Italian navy, these were commissioned to be ultra legible and water resistant. The form then followed the function, giving us that instantly recognisable Panerai aesthetic.
With so many models to choose from, the question is not “do buy a Panerai?”, but rather, “which one should I buy?”.
Over the years that the Vendome Group has owned the brand, they have adopted a strategy that limits the production of certain models, essentially playing the one side of the “supply/demand” equation (supply side) and therefore preserving the price of their timepieces. Clever sods aren’t they. Every year they produce a number of “special editions”, furthermore, they limit the production quantity of core models.
Some Panerai special editions come back as core models, others stay as limited editions. Also, these are split into Historic, Contempory or Special Editions. Historic being hand wound movements, true to the Panerai heritage hence the Historic name. Contempory include automatic self-winding movements. While Special editions are limited edition pieces, with pieces ranging in materials, movements and complications.
So, a common question asked when buying a Panerai (especially for the first time), is “which range to choose”. Frankly, with so many products now, this can be a difficult decision. Naturally, it’s a choice of person opinion. And, as a certified “Paneristi” (fan of Panerai’s), I like to spread my choice over a range of different pieces, mixing it up on a day to day basis, luminor one day, radiomir the next. However, if you’re not a collector, or you’re buying for the first time, you need to consider some of the below areas;
1. Sporty or classy? – Radiomir’s are a classier looking watch while Luminor’s more chunky. Radiomir’s were produced first in 1936 for Italian frogman and deck officers. Radiomir’s get their name from the radium based paste used to illuminate the indices and numerals on the dial. Radiomir’s were superseded by the Lumior edition in 1949 as Panerai added strength to the lugs, Tritium lume to the dial and that trademark crown protecting bridge. Both models are amazing but in my opinion, if you’re wearing with a suit, a Luminor is a pretty aggressive look! The case is chunky. I feel the 1950 Luminor case is slightly less aggressive with its rounded edges. The Radiomir’s case’s are mostly much thinner, making them great for fitting under sleeves. One might say Radiomirs are “for the officers among us”…
Luminor with suit, aggressive or cool? Can’t deny that crown bridge is awesome!
2. Self-winding – All the historic range are manual winding movements. You’ll have to wind these every couple of days. I don’t mind that, its part of the heritage of Panerai, reminds me of that everytime I wind it. But if you think this might get to you, then go for an 8/10 day historic movement (winding once every 8 -10 days is not drama) or a self-winding auto movement in the contemporary range.
3. Heritage or modern? – I love Panerai for the heritage of the brand. Sure, Italian navy divers switched sides a few times, but I’d still own a vintage one if they weren’t so damn expensive! Personally, I’m drawn to the classic dial and cases. The newness of a PAM00048 for example makes my skin crawl. But that said, the auto movement is convenient and I love the 1950 contempory range. I also own a PAM0505 and PAM0388, not having to wind these babies is refreshing.
4. Size – try on a few in store, you’d be surprised how much Panerai’s vary in size. Everything from the strap to the case size. Something for everyone. You might like 42mm Radiomir for the week at work, but maybe a 56mm Egiziano Diver PAM0341 for the weekend (actually, don’t think even Stallone can pull of the “Egi”, its truly ridiculous (unless you are an Egyptian diver from the 1950’s!)! I like to go someone inbetween, 45mm Radiomir’s or 44mm Luminor’s fit me well. And even if that size is a little big, just remember Panerai’s are suppose to be big, its part of being a legible diving tool!
5. Function – What do you need out of a watch? GMT to me is the best function a watch can have. I never really use Chrono. That said many people do need a chrono, not too mention, they look bad as*s. Flyback required? Unless you’re racing cars or yachts I doubt it, but again, it’s a beautiful movement (e.g. new PAM0526 Ragatta)
6. Material – Steel, gold, ceramic, composite. Panerai have it all. Steel is true to the heritage of Panerai, not to mention cheaper, so its my favourite. Also, if you give your watch a beating, go with steel, it can be buffed and polished (as can gold). The ceramica and composite models in Panerai are amazing pieces. I own the PAM505 and love it. One thing to say about these two materials though, they can chip and crack! And once chipped or scratched, will cost you a fortune to replace. I know. I’ve done it. I thought the composite would be indestructible. And to be fair, they are much harder to scratch than steel/gold. But I take decent care of my pieces and still managed to chip it. That blows. Mostly because of the replacement price (approximately 30% the value of the piece).
Putting in the research is part of the joy of buying Panerai. Panerai’s range is wide and deep not because they’re trying to offer something to everyone. Actually, the Panerai collection is often accused of “all looking the same”. However, ever Panerai is different in the smallest way. Panarai have made small variations to each new model, always in line with the heritage of the brand. This makes them totally collectable. No wonder the brand has boomed over the last 15 years. Beware, Panerai is an addictive brand due to its breath and depth of range, something tells me this is just the way the marketing wizards at Panerai intended it to be!
Just enjoy the ride, and remember, you can always buy more than one!