A combination of elegant utilitarian construction, bold graphics, fine Swiss horology and Italian sprezzatura have conspired to make Panerai a cult watch brand among the global design community. Each new model produced draws inspiration from its vintage archive of timepieces created between the 1930s and the 1950s, when the Panerai workshops in Florence provided the Italian Navy with instruments designed for its commandos to use during underwater missions. For their robustness, water-resistance and legendary visibility in the dark, the Panerai Radiomir and Luminor are recognised by numerous experts in the field as the first professional diver’s watches in history and have become undisputed icons of watch design.
Panerai watches are concise, modern examples of contemporary watchmaking. Rigorously designed, they boast an unembellished functionality, clearly recalling the exemplary lines and aesthetics that made Italian rationalism one of the great architectural movements of the 1920s and 1930s, and are a genuinely credible contribution to the wider ‘Made In Italy’ ethos.
For this reason Panerai watches have come to be included in some of the most authoritative anthologies of 20th-century design. ‘Few objects from the first part of the 20th century have survived the obsolescence of fashion,’ says Philippe Daverio, historian and art critic. ‘They are those that were not only characteristic examples of the period but that were also active in defining them. They have become archetypes established in the collective conscience,’ he continues. ‘This is now happening with the Florentine watches of Panerai. They are classics of modernity. They are timeless objects, even though they mark the time and indicate it with the absolute precision of their mechanics.’
In keeping with its own natural association with the world of design, Officine Panerai has for years been promoting and encouraging worldwide excellence in this field through partnerships, exhibitions, prizes and other initiatives in cooperation with leading personalities and institutions.
The relationship between Panerai and the architect and designer Patricia Urquiola – born in Spain but educated in Italy under the tutelage of Achille Castiglioni – began in 2011 when Panerai sponsored an alternative time exhibition, ‘O’Clock – Design time, Time design’, at Milan’s Triennale Design Museum. It featured original site-specific works, installations, design objects, works of art and videos by international artists and designers, with both the display environment and the installation space devoted to Panerai designed by the Patricia Urquiola studio. A dialogue with Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati developed, and soon Urquiola was on board to create the retail concept for all of the brand’s new boutiques, including its flagship store in Florence.
Urquiola’s brief when designing the Florence flagship was ‘to reinterpret the aesthetic and technical codes of the watch house, while remaining faithful to the concept of the workshop where the history of Officine Panerai was born,’ she explained to Wallpaper* last year. ‘It was important to respect the philosophy of the brand, to express Panerai’s link with tradition but also acknowledge its dedication to the future, to design and innovation, and its continuing search for excellence.’
The collaboration now extends to a partnership at Design Miami for the Visionary Award and the Design Visionary Dinner, adding to Panerai’s past and present projects with the global design community, which include the sponsorship of exhibitions and events at the Triennale Design Museum and Spazio Rossana Orlandi in Milan and the Tokyo Midtown Design Touch, as well as the London Design Medal and the Wallpaper* 2016 Design Awards.
Officine Panerai appeals to Urquiola because, she says, ‘throughout its evolution, Panerai has been clean, contemporary and very modern. From the beginning, it spoke that simple language of a graphic display and a clear dial.’ Urquiola’s relationship with the watchmaker is similarly lucid and legible. ‘It is an exercise in understanding, reflecting and honouring the stylistic elements which make Panerai such a contemporary, iconic marque.’