90 Balance Of Power
Panerai’s long power reserve watches embody elegance, function, and an affirmation of its roots
Panerai’s long power reserve watches embody elegance, function, and an affirmation of its roots
This page: Radiomir 10 Days GMT Automatic Acciaio PAM323 Opposite page: Luminor 1950 10 Days GMT Automatic Acciaio PAM533
FROM MILITARY SECRET TO COMMERCIAL STARDOM
When Panerai introduced its first watch collection for the general public in 1993, it must have felt like something coming in from the cold. Comprising oversized watches in cushion-shaped cases with sandwich dials, it was quaint, unique, and shrouded in mystique from a company that had supplied secret equipment to the military, which only then was making its first steps into the consumer market with watches it was now permitted to sell.
Its history of supplying specialist instruments to the combat frogmen of the Royal Italian Navy, who fought in the shadows, gives Panerai immense cachet and imbues its watches with cult machismo. Yet, while Panerai celebrates its heritage in special exhibitions held every now and then, as well as marketing communications to an audience of adoring consumers, it respects its heritage of innovation too much to rest on the afterglow of past glories.
After all, when the Royal Italian Navy was sourcing for a timepiece to equip its elite combat frogmen in 1935– it would have to stand up to extreme conditions that these commandos operated in, and keep accurate time that remained readable in the murky depths – it was Panerai that secured the contract with a little help from Radiomir, a fluorescent paste that Panerai had patented two decades before in 1916, which made the numerals on the dial glow in the dark.
INNOVATE OR BUST
While the luminescent material patented by Panerai was a critical component in the timepieces it supplied to the Royal Italian Navy from the 1930s, the cases and movements in these watches were initially sourced from Rolex (Calibre 618). From the 1950s, Angelus 240 movements specially adapted for use in wristwatches at Panerai’s request, were used. Unlike the Rolex Calibre 618, which offered 38 hours’ power reserve, the manual-winding Angelus 240 offered eight days’ run time, thus limiting the wearing down of crown threads and sealing gaskets from daily hand winding.
Both movements have played an important part in Panerai’s history and the vintage models fitted with either, are hotly desired in collecting circles. But the Panerai story is not whole till in 2002, when the decision was made to develop its own movements.
Since then, Panerai has introduced new in-house movements at a pace that few companies can match. Between 2005, when it debuted its first in-house movement, to 2016, we counted 16 movements; and the year is not yet done.
Among its catalogue of movements, Panerai has pretty much covered the whole spread of complications, from split seconds chronographs to high-speed tourbillons where the balance is spun on an axis perpendicular to its oscillation. But here, we single out its long power reserve watches, a complication that resonates with the Panerai manufacture’s history.
Perfect 10s RADIOMIR 1940 10 DAYS GMT AUTOMATIC ORO ROSSO PAM624
The first Radiomir watch from 1936 had wire lugs soldered to the case. In 1940, a new Radiomir case was introduced, featuring solid lugs from the same block of steel as the case. This made the case stronger, as requested by the Royal Italian Navy, and is the basis for the Radiomir 1940 collection that debuted in 2015.
The 10 Days GMT Automatic Oro Rosso PAM624 is a refined
Radiomir 1940 10 Days GMT Automatic Oro Rosso PAM624
Luminor 1950 10 Days GMT Ceramica PAM335
dress watch with tool watch underpinnings, projecting a balance of grace and vigour that is unique and authentic; a watch that will segue from casual weekends by the marina to formal banquets, with no trouble. Much of this could be attributed to its warm and darkly glamorous red gold case. Dropping the wire lugs in favour of solid lugs has dialled down the tool factor a notch, while elevating the timepiece in the manner of making it look more formal.
For the citizen of the world, PAM624 makes a most practical companion, sporting an elegant and common sense implementation of the GMT function. A central arrow hand depicts home time, with AM/PM indication sharing dial space with the running seconds, while local time can be adjusted by setting the hour hand independently in discrete one-hour jumps forward or backwards, with the date adjusted automatically. Another convenient feature is the ability to set the time precisely – pulling the crown not only stops the balance, it also resets the running seconds hand, so one can set the watch from a time signal, to the minute.
The other headline feature is the power reserve: 10 days of running power on a full wind, displayed on a linear scale above six o’clock. Being self-winding, there won’t be many occasions where one would need to wind it, unless it spends more time in a safe than on one’s wrist.
LUMINOR 1950 10 DAYS GMT AUTOMATIC ACCIAIO PAM533
As it turned out, Radiomir (the luminescent paste) was found to be dangerously radioactive. Panerai then replaced it with Luminor, which it patented in 1949. Luminor is based on tritium, which is also radioactive like the radium found in Radiomir, but much safer. The following year, Panerai introduced the Luminor watch, with its nowfamiliar crown-protection bridge.
THE MOVEMENT: P.2003
Compared to the original Radiomir of 1936, Italian commandos now had a watch with a much burlier case, and better protection for the crown against shock. As a counterfoil to PAM624, the PAM533 in the Luminor case has the same functionality, but a thoroughly different aesthetic. In stainless steel, it wears its tool watch origins on its sleeve, but it’s not technically different from PAM624, being fitted with essentially the same movement. It does have a slightly smaller case, and twice the water resistance, at 100m.
PAM624, PAM533, and PAM323 share the same functionality because they are all driven by essentially the same movement, the P.2003
THE CLASSIC: RADIOMIR 10 DAYS GMT AUTOMATIC ACCIAIO PAM323
Though PAM624 and PAM533 look very similar to the original watches created in the 1930s and 1950s, the case sizes, while remaining large, have been “tamed” for contemporary taste. Without doubt, they are still large watches, at 45mm and 44mm, respectively. But collectors after something even closer to the original will prefer the PAM323, boasting the substantial 47mm case and wire lugs of the Radiomir of the 1930s. In terms of performance, though, PAM323 uses the same modern in-house movement as the other two watches, the P.2003. PAM624, PAM533 and PAM323 share the same functionality because they are all driven by essentially the same movement, the P.2003, equipped with three mainspring barrels in series, with efficient bi-directional winding, GMT, seconds reset, and 10 days’ power reserve. This is Panerai’s first automatic in-house movement, and it is actually the self-winding version of Panerai’s P.2002.
It should also be noted that PAM624 uses the P.2003/10, which is a thoroughly skeletonised variant that shows off the watch’s elaborate movement finishing. A most welcome refinement, in view of the PAM 624’s dressier intent.
LUMINOR 1950 8 DAYS GMT ORO ROSSO PAM576 8-Day References, Manual-winding
Self-winding movements make great sense, converting the energy from hand movements that one doesn’t give a second thought about, into useful work done in winding one’s watch. Yet, there is something inherently pure and elegant in a manual-winding movement’s purpose and execution that enthrals. Less moving parts, a neater, slimmer construction without a distracting rotor to obscure the view of movement operation and finish, even the connection and tactile delight from winding a treasured watch. Espousing all these fine qualities is the movement driving the eight-day power reserve references featured here: Panerai’s first in-house movement, the manual-winding P.2002.
It seems reasonable that watch companies should be conservative in specifying their first movement, by creating simple, hardy base calibres that are meant to take on more complication modules as the manufacture’s know-how and processes mature. Panerai looks to have jumped into the deep end on its first try, for the P.2002 boasts similar features as the P.2003, except with an eightday power reserve, which is also displayed on a linear scale.
The P.2002 has the same diameter as its self-winding version, at 13¾ lignes, but being a hand-wound movement, it’s thinner, at 6.6mm, compared to the P.2003’s 8mm. What happens when one combines the hulking tool watch case of the Luminor with the sheen of red gold? The result is a timepiece that makes a bold statement, to say the least, to suitably echo the charisma of an individual who lives large.
LUMINOR 1950 8 DAYS GMT ACCIAIO PAM233
Eminently suited for everyday wear, it has all the functionality of the long power reserve watches featured here, in a steel case at a relatively accessible 44mm case size.
RADIOMIR 8 DAYS CERAMICA PAM384
Panerai’s early collections rendered in black Pvd-coated steel drove collectors into a frenzy and helped ignite the black watch craze that is today more subdued, but remains here to stay. The PAM384 is even better: only the wire lugs and case back framing the smoked sapphire crystal are Pvd-coated titanium, the rest of the watch case is executed in matte black ceramic. Scratchresistant in the way that steel is not, thw PAM384 exudes stealth and potency that blurs the line between timepiece and weapon. However, unlike its siblings mentioned here, it uses the P.2002/3 movement, which drops the GMT function.