Head-to-Head: Cartier Roadster Chronograph VS Panerai Luminor Daylight
by Owen Davies ; @86imaging | April 13, 2017
This month in my Head to Head series, I’m sizing up two mid-priced stainless steel sports chronographs with unusually shaped cases. The Cartier Roadster Chronograph and the Panerai Luminor Daylight are designed for those who like something a little different in a watch. They are both well made and similar in functionality.
The question I set myself, as ever, is which one comes out on top. I’ll be comparing them in three categories: design, movement and wearability and I’ll give my opinion on which one I would rather spend my wages on.
Cartier’s speciality has always been the stylish, atypical case shape and the Roadster uses the same distinct oval-shape that was originally designed for the iconic Tortue. In fact, the Roadster is basically a 21st-century, sports version of the Tortue. The main aesthetic difference being that, unlike the Tortue Chrono, the Roadster Chrono has a very prominent, pointed winder, and it has chrono pushers where the Tortue doesn’t.
The Roadster’s dial features roman numerals and has fantastic recessed areas for the sub-dials that add interest and contrast. However, there is a lot of information to fit into a relatively small space, which makes the dial appear a little cramped. The watch also has a date display, which is magnified by a “Cyclops” lens that looks like a moulded extension of the crown. It comes on a ridged black leather strap that resembles a car tyre and it’s fitted with deployment buckle. The caseback is solid and engraved with brand and model signatures.
The Panerai Luminor Daylight is larger than the Roadster chrono and features the trademark Luminor cushion-case shape in brushed steel. The matte black dial is quite minimal and makes better use of the available space than the Roadster. The hour markers and sub-registers are coated in a golden luminous paint that resembles the patina found on vintage tritium painted watches. This faux patina that a number of manufacturers seem to be producing at the moment is the subject of debate amongst watch collectors. Some see it as faking the look of a vintage watch, whereas others see it as merely a design choice quenching the current thirst for retro cool. Personally, I see no problem with it and the world of mechanical watches is big enough for both camps to enjoy their niches.
The chronograph sub-dials are recessed and relatively small for the size of the dial, but I quite like this as it keeps the overall look restrained. Moving away from the dial, we come to the large crown guard, probably the most recognisable feature on the Luminor range. Throwing the concept of symmetry to the wind, Panerai has bolted on a semi-circular piece of steel that does a fantastic job of protecting the crown and preventing accidental operation thanks to the lever switch. It’s very much a Marmite design, and certainly helps the Luminor to stand out amongst its competitors in the sports watch sector.
Both watches have very unique design traits and offer good alternatives to the usual sports chronograph designs. The Cartier is a little more formal in its overall look, with the mirror-polished finish and Roman numerals, whereas the Panerai has a much more rugged appearance. If I were to make a choice between the two though, I would opt for the Panerai Luminor as I think it fits the sports chronograph bill better than the Roadster. I love the minimalist dial and those contentious vintage style markers. The iconic crown guard is also a great feature and certainly gets attention from others when on the wrist.
The Cartier Roadster is powered by a Cartier 2894 calibre self-winding movement. It is based on an ETA 2894 calibre but Cartier assembled and finished the movement to its standard. The 2894 has 37 jewels, beats at 28,800 vibrations per hour and has a power reserve of 42 hours.
Inside the Panerai Luminor beats a OP XII calibre movement. Much like the Roadster, the OP XII is based on the ETA 7753 calibre but is modified and finished by Panerai. The movement has 27 jewels, beats at 28,800 VPH and has a power reserve of 46 hours. The movement is also a certified chronometer, which adds a degree of timekeeping accuracy over the Roadster.
It’s unfortunate that neither of these watches feature in-house movements. Both brands are well established enough to be able to produce decent chronograph movements.That being said, ETA make fantastic and reliable movements, so you need not worry about reliability or accuracy in either watch. As for a winner, the Luminor’s OP XII movement is COSC-certified, which for me, gives it the edge over the Roadster—but only just!
I found both the Roadster and the Panerai to be pretty comfortable to wear. The rubber strap of the Panerai is nice and flexible which allows it to mould to the shape of my wrist easily. I found the tang buckle very easy to operate, but it was a little too wide and would be prone to scratching. The Luminor is a big watch and I certainly noticed its 44 mm case size. I found it to be slightly too large for my wrists and was quite conscious of knocking it.
The Roadster is fitted with a thick leather strap that I found a little uncomfortable at first, but it soon moulded to my wrist. I found the watch to be nicely balanced overall and felt that it would wear well with both formal and casual clothes. The deployment clasp is easy to operate, but I’m not the biggest fan of the fold-over strap design used by Cartier for this type of buckle. I find that the folded parts of the leather begin to look quite tatty after prolonged wear and can get in the way when putting the watch on.
The functionality of the Luminor is very good, the chrono pushers have a nice snap to them and setting the time is very simple. Manually winding the watch is a little tricky due to the large crown guard and the date needs to be set with a tool by pushing a button placed on the left side of the case. This isn’t ideal if you wanted to wear this watch as part of a larger collection, as the date can’t be changed quickly.
The Roadster is very easy to operate—winding, setting the time and adjusting the date is done in the standard fashion by using the three crown positions. The chrono pushers are a nice thick size and offer a good amount of resistance to prevent accidental operation.
I’m picking the Cartier Roadster in this category. I found it to be the more comfortable watch between the two, mainly due to its smaller size and weight. For me, the Panerai was just a little too bulky for everyday wear, but it would certainly be great for someone with larger wrists than myself.
I also thought that the Roadster was a little easier to operate—the ability to change the date quickly using the crown is a big plus point and I found the chronograph pushers to be a touch better than the Luminor’s.
With two wins out of three, the Panerai Luminor Chronograph Daylight takes the overall victory this month. While I found the Cartier Roadster a little easier to wear, I prefer the design of the Luminor—the minimal dial being the highlight—and the added bonus of having a COSC-certified movement is fantastic.
The Roadster is a great watch in its own right. It’s comfortable to wear, looks great with either a suit or t-shirt and jeans, and represents excellent value on the pre-owned market. I would say it’s a little more versatile than the Panerai, but I think the Luminor has a unique charm about it that makes it hard to resist.
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