< Panerai >
With high-precision and accuracy as its forte, Panerai watches rule not just the Navy and military, but also the world of sports. Hiren Kumar Bose
Initially created for underwater operations of the Italian Navy, Panerai watches showcase superb engineering and design works which have won the hearts of many. Nowadays, Panerai watches not only cater to the needs of seamen, but works for sportspersons and laymen alike.
Founded in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai, the company started as a manufacturer of precision instruments and watches to the Italian Navy. The brand was not available to the public until 1993. Before its public launch, Panerai was a favourite on the auction circuit because only legitimate members of the Italian Navy could buy Panerai watches, making them quite rare.
Panerai’s early innovations included the ‘sandwich’ dial construction employed in the second series of watches; the rigorous sealing system for exceptional water-tightness; the ingenious lever-locking device that increased the theoretical waterproof range of its watches to a phenomenal 200 metres; the use of the Angelus movement made by the Stolz brothers, with its eight-day power reserve; and, above all, the ‘Radiomir’ luminous compound for which Guido Panerai had applied for U.S. and British patents as early as 1915. In due course, the potentially hazardous Radiomir material was substituted for a safer, tritium-based compound. This, too, was perfected in the Panerai laboratories.Panerai was not a watch manufacture, after all, but a supplier of parts, equipment and completed pieces. It was, however, a ‘laboratory of ideas’, a place of inspiration and ingenuity that conceived the essential aspects of the original Radiomir and Luminor watches, which elevated them from being mere timekeepers to high-specification military instruments. Among the products it offered was a range of highly accurate timing devices created and developed over several years for military use. This invaluable experience is partly what prompted the Italian Navy to request that the company explore the possibility of creating a type of wristwatch that no other manufacturer had previously been able to offer.
When Richemont took Officine Panerai under its wing in 1997, it not only gained custody of a company that made watches for telling the time, but one that also had been instrumental in taking the technical aspects of timekeeping in extreme conditions to an unprecedented level. As a result, the new owners recognised the need to respect the prewar values of Panerai wrist-watches that demanded a high level of mechanical integrity while simultaneously undertaking to develop the original idea of a practical, robust, reliable and ingenious timepiece that also happened to be exceptionally handsome.
The task of creating watches worthy of bearing the Panerai name was made less daunting by the giant leaps forward in watchmaking technology and expertise that recent years have brought. Instead of resting on its laurels, Panerai surprised just about everyone by announcing a slate of new manufacture movements, signalling its desire to move into true watchmaking, solidifying its future in the luxury watch sector. Perhaps the most important of these is the advent of computer-assisted design and machining, which could not even have been dreamt of back in the 1930s, yet which enables Panerai’s distinctive cushion case shape to be reproduced to remarkable tolerances. This makes the watches even more reliable and means that various dial and movement designs can be experimented with gradually to extend the range of models.