Exceptional collection of vintage Panerai watch designs to go on sale in Paris

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Panerai's Radiomir Mare Nostrum PAM 300, circa 2011, steel chronograph wristwatch. Created in 1943 for deck officers in the navy, this chronograph with two push buttons, is one of just two or three prototypes made at the time. © Artcurial

Acquiring vintage timepieces can be a tricky business - as with any specialist collectable, if you are not in the know, how do you know where to look? Independent auction houses are a good place to start and the best ones are increasingly savvy to the fact that beyond the inner workings that make a watch tick, design is a key factor in collecting.

The result is more sales dedicated to modern names and watches with a recognisable aesthetic. And Panerai is way up there. The Florentine watch marque's precision instruments, secretly created for and supplied to the Italian Navy in the 1930s, have a clean, graphic code that has become the benchmark for military-watch design today.

Now, these 20th century design credentials have become the starting point for a brilliantly curated sale by the French auction house Artcurial. Its watch experts have worked for over a year to collect around 100 seriously special pieces for its 'Panerai Only' auction in Paris on Monday 8 December.

With estimates commencing at €2,000, it's a good starting-point sale for anyone keen to start a collection. But the star lot is undoubtedly the 1956 Egiziano, (estimated at €100,000 - €150,000) created for the Egyptian navy in 1956. Only five have come up for sale at auction in the last 12 years.

'Panerai's forms, colours and designs are a perfect represention of the 20th century object. More than a wristwatch, some of these pieces have become incredible works of art,' says Marie Sanna-Legrand of Artcurial watches department. We couldn't agree more.

Watch with silver dial

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Radiomir, PAM 00021, limited edition, version 1997, platinum wristwatch. The first Panerai model in platinum with a Rolex movement numbered 30/60. This watch was one of a limited edition of 60 examples that were made to commemorate 60 years since the first order delivered to the Italian navy, after the first ten prototypes of 1936. © Artcurial

Watch with blue dial

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Radiomir Independent Second PAM 080, limited edition, version 2001, white gold watch. Named after the revolutionary substance Radiomi - a Radium-based powder invented by Guido Panerai in 1916 that gave luminosity to military instruments - this limited edition has a dead-beat seconds function, allowing the measurement of short periods of time without the need to reset. © Artcurial

Watch with brown straps

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Radiomir, 8 Days, PAM 198, limited edition, version 2004, platinum wristwatch. The first calibre '8 days' model manufactured by Panerai with power-reserve indicator visible on the movement. The chocolate brown dial is pretty special too. © Artcurial

A steel diving watch

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Panerai Marina Militare, ref 6152-1, circa 1950, steel diving watch. This extremely rare piece charts the Radiomir’s evolution into the Luminor; the bridge has the crown guard, while the strap attachments are made from the same block of steel, replacing the original design's wire lugs that were welded onto the case. The bezel is also flatter and wider. © Artcurial

steel diving watch

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Luminor 1950 8 Days PAM 203, limited edition, version 2005, steel diving watch. In 1949, Panerai invented a new luminous substance based on Tritium. This compound was protected by a patent, registered on 11 January 1949, under the name ‘Luminor’, after which the watch is named. This rare limited edition is fitted with an 8-day power reserve - Panerai was one of the first watchmakers to incorporate this mechanical function into a diving watch in the 1950s. © Artcurial

diving wristwatch with brown strap

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Panerai Radiomir, Egyptian, circa 1956, diving wristwatch in steel. This model was created for and secretly supplied to the Egyptian navy in 1956. Big, bold and carefully engineered for the task, the Egyptian could calculate the length of time spent underwater and also marked the introduction of the crown guard bridge - a defining and distinctive feature of Luminor models. © Artcurial


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Caragh McKay is a contributing editor at Wallpaper* and was watches & jewellery director at the magazine between 2011 and 2019. Caragh’s current remit is cross-cultural and her recent stories include the curious tale of how Muhammad Ali met his poetic match in Robert Burns and how a Martin Scorsese Martin film revived a forgotten Osage art.