OFFICINE PANERAI AND 24:7 PRESENT THE NEW RADIOMIR 1940 SERIES, BASED ON THE OFT-FORGOTTEN VERSIONS OF THE 1940S, AND SET TO USHER IN A NEW ERA FOR THE LEGENDARY TIMEPIECE
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Though this is seldom acknowledged, some of mankind’s best inventions owe their origins to wartime innovations. In the 6th century BC, the Persian Emperor Darius the Great was said to have started the first known postal service to aid communication between his court and his armies on the battlefield. Modern wristwatches themselves came about as the result of soldiers finding pocket watches too awkward to wear during battle.
Officine Panerai, a company that historically supplied wristwatches to the Royal Italian Navy, was naturally influenced by the rigorous demands of elite troops on duty. This gave rise to the utilitarian design, robust quality, water-resistance and superior legibility of Panerai watches, characteristics that are part of the brand’s DNA, and which contribute significantly to its appeal. The brand’s Radiomir watch was born in an era of resolute pragmatism amid the looming threat of war: The 1930s.
In 1938, Panerai unveiled a prototype with a cushion-shaped case 47mm in diameter (in keeping with the pocket watch proportions favoured at the time), with wire lugs soldered to the middle of the case, along with a screw-down case back and screw-down crown. Within the strapping case lay a handwound movement with a diameter of 36mm, dimensions typical of pocket-watch calibres. On the dial, Arabic and Roman numerals were coated in luminescent material and protected by a crystal made of Perspex. A belt-like leather strap, treated for prolonged water immersion, and long enough to be strapped directly over wet suits, made these first-generation Radiomirs indispensable tools for Navy commandos and gamma forces on their missions.
As armies marched across Europe, the Radiomir made its own advances, most notably using a “sandwich construction” dial to improve legibility, a hallmark of the brand that exists to this day. It consisted of an upper disc in black with perforated hour markers and numerals (at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock), and a lower disc coated with a luminous susbtance derived from a cocktail of zinc sulphide, mesothorium and radium bromide – from which the very name “Radiomir” derives.
In the months that followed, technical innovations developed quickly, to keep pace with the increasing intensity of World War II. By 1940, Panerai’s workshops in Florence had perfected a new case, with larger, sturdier lugs attached directly to the case – in fact, they were carved from the same block of steel. Compared with the previous design, this new detail eliminated the risk of the strap coming off during extreme underwater operations. Thus was born the Radiomir 1940.
In 2012, it was resurrected as the limited-edition PAM 00399, a modern tribute to the vintage model with the key difference being the use of a Minerva movement. All other aspects of the heritage timepiece – the 47mm case diameter, the Perspex crystal, the cambered bezel, the cylindrical crown and the screwdown case back – remained intact. It marked the dawn of a new era for the historic watch, once built for military use, now engineered for civilian utility.
This year, Panerai went one step further, presenting two new models in two sizes: A classic 47mm and a more contemporary 42mm. The 47mm Radiomir 1940 3 Days, wrought in steel (PAM00514) or rose gold (PAM00515), is fitted with the P.3000 calibre, a hand-wound mechanical movement with a power reserve of three days. This powerful engine is backed by two spring barrels in series. At its core, an unusually large balance wheel (13.2mm in diameter) oscillates at a frequency of 3 Hz. The dial is black in the steel version and brown in the rose gold model.
Another significant difference is the slender new profile of the 42mm Radiomir 1940, which gives the watch a more refined appearance, not to mention a more comfortable fit for users with slimmer wrists. To fit the new case, Panerai’s movement constructors developed the manufacture’s smallest and thinnest in-house calibre yet. Though compact in size, the P.999 hand-wound movement boasts an enviable 60hour power reserve. Detail-obsessed collectors will want to note that in the rose gold model (PAM00513), the active length of the balance spring is adjusted by a swan-neck regulator, while in the steel version (PAM00512) it is adjusted by curb pins. Without a doubt, the new Radiomirs demonstrate the same inventive spirit that has stood Panerai in good stead both in wartime and peacetime.
While armed with greater robustness courtesy of a redesigned case and crown,
the new Radiomir watches continue to exude vintage sophistication