It’s a big week for Panerai. Not only does it mark a second year as partner of the Wallpaper* Design Awards, the Florentine marque also unveils its 2017 models at the SIHH (Salon International de La Haute Horlogerie) in Geneva. There’s no better time, then, to consider Panerai’s own illustrious design history.
Panerai’s limited editions range from reissues of historically-important pieces to showcases for new materials to platforms for unusual complications. They may commemorate a yachting competition or a polar expedition. What all exhibit, though, is fidelity to a design language created for the Italian Navy 80 years ago. And yet they still look as contemporary as if designed in this decade. Responsible for transforming the median size of men’s watches to 40mm-plus, and for popularising oversized 3/6/9 numerals, Panerai’s design impact far outweighs the actual number of watches. We’ve picked 10 specials that show you why...
PAM00021 Platinum Radiomir (1997)
Limited to 60 examples, the 47mm PAM00021 is the most sought-after Panerai of all, valued at over $200,000. This re-edition of the 1938 Radiomir forms a link between the 1990s revival and the current owners, the Richemont Group, who made Panerai one of the most coveted sport watch brands of the 21st Century. Platinum case, vintage Rolex movement: it’s the Holy Grail of Panerais.
PAM00077 Radiomir Tourbillon (2000)
With only two produced, this is one of the rarest of all Panerais. The 42mm platinum case was fitted with a Girard-Perregaux 9007 movement, with its three bridges in brushed pink gold. Like the G-P version, the dial side shows the tourbillon itself, as well as the spring barrel. It is one of the most unusual-looking of all Panerai specials.
PAM00152-153-154-155 Luminor Sealand for Purdey (2002)
Production of this collaboration with the legendary British manufacturer of sporting guns reached 100 pieces total, divided among four models. In 2004, 2005 and 2007, Panerai would again offer a 'Sealand for Purdey,' with 100 examples divided among three styles each time. The brushed steel 44mm case featured a hinged cover, engraved with a suitably evocative animal or nature scene.
PAM00191 Black Seal Compass (2004)
Panerai produced 300 of these compasses to satisfy demand for those who wanted a replica of the original issue as supplied to the Italian Navy commandos. A massive titanium case 60mm in diameter, with 50mm dome 23mm thick, the Black Seal Compass contained a petroleum-based liquid in the capsule. It also featured a rotating bezel graduated in 2.5 degree increments
PAM00217 Luminor Marina Militaire Left-Hand (2005)
Left-hand-winder Panerais always attract attention and are favoured by collectors, so it was natural for the company to reissue a modern version of the 47mm Marina Militaire. Chronometer tested, the hand-wound movement runs for 56 hours. Flipping the winder to the other side also moved the small seconds to the 3 o’clock position. This was issued in a series of 1000 pieces.
PAM00285 Luminor Submersible 2500M (2008)
Panerai has only ever been about diving watches and every timepiece they’ve made since the very first offers water-resistance in excess of what even most professionals require. This macho masterpiece, in a 47mm titanium case with helium release valve to survive decompression, took the depth all the way down to 2500 meters, or 250 bar. The company made only 250 units.
PAM00341 L’Egiziano (2009)
Panerai’s biggest, baddest watches were made for the Egyptian Navy in the 1950s, distinguished by a massive rotating bezel. In 2009, they unleashed this 60mm re-edition in titanium – a relief because an all-steel version weighs so much. Despite the lightening of the load, few could wear it without a wetsuit between watch and wrist, so most of the 500 examples are in never-used condition.
PAM00349 Radiomir Titanio (2009)
Panerai loves using titanium because it lowers the weight of the watches. In 2009, they offered it with the classic, cushion-shaped Radiomir. This edition, in 47mm case, is arguably one of most handsome Radiomirs yet to appear, thanks to the 'California dial' with mixed Roman and Arabic numerals and gold trim. Alas, only 12 lucky customers were able to buy one.
PAM00300 Mare Nostrum 52mm (2010)
This writer’s dream Panerai is the latest reissue of the ill-fated Mare Nostrum Chronograph, which failed to go into production in the 1940s. Reimagined in the 1990s, Panerai created this more accurate 52mm version in brushed stainless steel on a fabric strap in a series of 99 sold-out-immediately examples. I want it so badly that I can’t bear to look at it.
LAB-IDTM Luminor 1950 CarbotechTM 3 Days (2017)
Panerai’s Laboratorio Idee is the 'skunkworks' division where imagination runs riot. Every so often a limited edition watch sold to the public appears, bristling with innovation. The LAB-IDTM Luminor 1950 CarbotechTM 3 Days is a 49mm model in a carbon fibre case with a movement that promises to need no lubrication, guaranteed for 50 years. Which is why they’ll only produce 50 examples.
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