The History of Panerai Watches

Posted by Daniel Luczak on 29th Mar 2013

For watch collectors and aficionados, Panerai is one of the most esteemed watch manufacturing and marketing companies in the world.

Founded by one, Giovanni Panerai (1825–1897) in Florence, Italy, in 1860, the company has easily expanded its influence to all corners of the globe. With their watches’ unmistakable appearance and reputation as a fascinating piece of history, true sophisticates have adopted the brand as one representing both high class and sleek style. Despite Panerai’s fame and credentials today, the company started out humbly enough.

Giovanni opened his original watch shop along the streets of Florence. The building acted as a number of things; a workshop for the production and repair of watches, a place for Giovanni to sale his wares, and later as the city’s very first school for watchmakers. Eventually the shop would relocate to Piazza San Giovanni, and it would alter its name to “Orologeria Svizzera”.

One of the company’s main clients was actually the Italian navy for many years. Panerai had provided its homeland’s navy with a number of precision instruments for years, but in 1916 it struck upon something truly revolutionary.

Radiomir was a radium-based powder that provided luminosity to the navy’s sighting tools, and it quickly took hold as an essential aspect in the company’s production. It wasn’t until 1936 however that Radiomir would make its first appearance in one of the company’s watch designs and in incredibly low quantities. Only ten prototypes were released initially of the watch design now named “Radiomir” for the radically new compound it was presenting. By 1938 however, Panerai had begun work on the production of a sellable version of their 1936 prototypes which included, “the use of overlapping plates for the dial, the upper part having perforated indices and numerals so as to make the radium paint more readable and luminescent; the wire lugs are made more resistant, comprising a metal bar folded at both ends and welded to the case middle.”

Held in high regard by the men in uniform that used them, production of the Radiomir watches boomed until eventually Radiomir itself was outmoded by a new substance called Luminor. After WWII died down Panerai began work on the “Luminor” style of watches that would eventually become available during the 1950’s.

For the next 43 years, Panerai would continue to provide waterproof and quality watch styles for not only the Italian navy, but also for a number of others, including the creation of the “Egiziano” style of watch for the Egyptian navy. In 1993 however, the company finally severed ties with the production of navy-specific watches and began focusing on the world of civilian marketing.

Finding extreme success marketing to civilians, Panerai has become one of the very top names in the world of fine watch-making and collecting. Anyone who appreciates the quality of such historically relevant and time-tested watchmaking will without a doubt want to look into their wide array of styles available. However it should be noted that the company releases all of its styles in limited runs, and that waiting to seize upon a piece one may be considering for purchase is not advised, as each specific style becomes rarer and more prized each time one of its counterparts disappears into another private collection.

Most current day collectors find that aftermarket Panerai straps are an easy way to give their Panerai watch a fresh new look. Some collectors own 100s of aftermarket watch straps that are swapped between their watches up to many times per day.