Panerai is a popular luxury watch brand with a passionate and loyal fan-base known as the “Paneristi”. Panerai watches were originally designed for the Italian Navy in the first half of the twentieth century and nearly all its designs since have shared three features: large cushion-cut cases, highly legible dials and easily changeable straps. It wasn’t until the nineties that Panerai watches started to win admirers outside of military diving. In 1995, around the time larger watches started coming into fashion, Sylvester Stallone took a shine to Panerai and started wearing them on screen. This combined with its buy-out two years later by Richemont led to a meteoric rise to fame. Today, Panerai has its headquarters in Florence and manufacture in Switzerland, where it makes a wide variety of models for men and women. The best known are the Radiomir and Luminor. Due to their devoted following, pre-owned Panerai watches are always in high demand and their prices appreciate. Vintage Panerai watches can fetch impressive prices at auction.
Panerai began its days in Florence, Italy in 1860. It was set up by Giovanni Panerai and his workshop doubled as the first watchmaking school in the city. By the time his grandson took over the business in 1900 they had been commissioned by the Italian Navy, sparking a partnership that would go on to define the brand and its watches. A fundamental quality for a deep-water tool watch is high visibility and, in 1916, Panerai patented an advanced radium-based luminous powder that would turn out to have a big influence on future watches.
Two decades later, Panerai designed a watch for an Italian Navy commando unit to be used during WWII. It borrowed its name from the innovative luminous powder, the Radiomir. It had a 47 mm cushion-shaped steel case with wire lugs attached to the case and a long water-resistant designed to be fit over a diving suit.
As Panerai’s partnership with military diving progressed it upgraded its technology introducing a cutting-edge movement with an impressive eight-day power reserve. In 1949 it was time to upgrade its luminous paint and, carrying on tradition, the new patented paint gave birth to a new watch model a year later, the Luminor.
The new watch was aesthetically similar but it had a flat, wider bezel, reinforced integrated lugs and a large bridge protecting the crown. Over the following decades, Panerai continued to develop its dive-watch technology and its relationship with the Navy. It also produced an entirely new model for the Egyptian Navy.
In the nineties, Panerai was bought out by Richemont who saw a potential commercial appeal for its large watches. It tested the water with three series of limited edition watches: the Luminor, the Luminor Marina and Mare Nostrum, its only non-cushion-shaped watch, and attracted a wide variety of admirers.
In the mid-nineties, between winning a celebrity number one fan, Sylvester Stallone, and being acquired by Richemont, Panerai became a big name luxury watch brand. Since then it has hugely expanded in size and since 2005 has produced its own in-house movements at its manufacturing facility in Switzerland.
Today Panerai offers a wide variety of models and takes inspired by its original designs. Its watches and movements are built to excellent standards and it even makes a handful of complications including a tourbillon.