ICE AGE

Panerai’s Luminor Sub­mersible is part of the brand’s long tra­di­tion of mak­ing div­ing in­stru­ments for mil­i­tary frog­men. We sub­jected this model, which de­buted in 2017, to the ul­ti­mate test: ice div­ing!

WatchTime - - Table Of Contents - By Jens Koch

| Panerai’s Luminor Sub­mersible is part of the brand’s long tra­di­tion of mak­ing div­ing in­stru­ments for mil­i­tary frog­men. We sub­jected this model to the ul­ti­mate test: ice div­ing!

— Ice div­ing re­quires spe­cial ex­per­tise. e risk of break­ing through the ice on a frozen lake and drown­ing in frigid wa­ter is quite high if the layer of ice is not thick enough to hold the divers, their team and their heavy equipment. A diver must pass a train­ing course and be­come cer­ti­fied in ice div­ing to learn how to min­i­mize the risks in­volved. We plan to test the Panerai Luminor Sub­mersible 1950 3 Days dur­ing our ice dive. Our dive won’t be nearly as dan­ger­ous as the mis­sions of the mil­i­tary frog­men in the 1940s and 1950s for whom Panerai’s watches were orig­i­nally de­vel­oped. But we do have to drive up to Ty­rol, Aus­tria, high in the Alps, to find a lake cov­ered by a sheet of ice that’s thick enough for our dive.

Af­ter we ob­tain per­mis­sion for our dive, each diver clips him­self onto a safety rope. en we start our chain­saw and be­gin cut­ting small blocks of ice, which we push down and

shove side­ways so they dis­ap­pear un­der the icy sur­face. It takes us only a few min­utes to cut a square hole big enough for our two divers. e wa­ter tem­per­a­ture is a frosty +1 de­gree Cel­sius (33.8 de­grees Fahren­heit). To pro­tect them­selves from the cold, ice divers wear so-called “dry suits.” Un­like or­di­nary neo­prene suits, dry suits don’t al­low wa­ter to make con­tact with the skin, are filled with pres­sur­ized air for in­su­la­tion and can even be worn over warm un­der­gar­ments. But dry suits are so thick that they make it dif­fi­cult to wear a watch over their sleeves. In ad­di­tion, the gloves are sig­nif­i­cantly thicker than neo­prene ones and are usu­ally con­nected to the suit’s cuff with a bay­o­net lock.

When we put the Luminor Sub­mersible on over our thick gloves, its rub­ber strap is just long enough to al­low us to slip the buckle’s pin through the last hole in the strap. How­ever, the rub­ber strap on our Sub­mersible is too big to wear the watch with­out a div­ing suit. e ad­justable range isn’t great enough to ac­com­mo­date both; more holes in the strap or a sep­a­rate ex­ten­sion piece would have been very help­ful. e eye-catch­ing ex­pan­sion coils near the strap lugs are very use­ful when div­ing: not only do they look pro­fes­sional, they also en­sure that the watch stays snugly around the wrist un­der­wa­ter, when wa­ter pres­sure has com­pressed the div­ing suit. In ex­treme cases, as the pres­sure com­presses the suit, a watch strap may be­come so loose that the watch can slip over a diver’s glove and plunge ir­re­triev­ably into the depths.

An­other danger in ice div­ing is that a diver may not be able to find the hole cut in the ice and can’t resur­face if a prob­lem oc­curs un­der­wa­ter be­cause he’s trapped un­der an im­pen­e­tra­ble ceil­ing of frozen wa­ter. at’s why ice divers never dive alone, al­ways clip them­selves to a safety rope, have a team of as­sis­tants top­side on the ice, and tug on the rope to send sig­nals if they en­counter a prob­lem dur­ing the dive. In an emer­gency, the as­sis­tants can sim­ply pull on the ropes and haul the divers up through the hole in the ice.

The Panerai Sub­mersible had to cope with ex­treme tem­per­a­tures and hard knocks against ice.

Our divers sit on the edge of the ice and then heave them­selves and their heavy equipment into the wa­ter. e Panerai Sub­mersible must be able to cope not only with ex­treme tem­per­a­tures, but also with a few hard knocks against the un­yield­ing ice. Our test watch, which bears the some­what lengthy model name “Luminor Sub­mersible 1950 Amag­netic 3 Days Au­to­matic Ti­tanio,” has the char­ac­ter­is­tic case with the bridge-style crown guard that Panerai has used since the 1950s. ere’s also a his­tor­i­cal prece­dent for the watch’s ro­tat­able bezel, which is not of­ten seen on a Panerai. Most of Panerai’s watches made do with­out this de­tail, which would later be re­garded as in­dis­pens­able for divers. But Panerai de­liv­ered watches with ro­tat­able bezels to the Egyp­tian Navy in 1956. With a di­am­e­ter of 60 mm, this Egyp­tian ver­sion is con­sid­er­ably larger than our test watch, which is a wear­able 47 mm in di­am­e­ter.

Be­fore the divers dis­ap­pear un­der­wa­ter, they turn the ring on the test watch un­til the lu­mi­nous dot on the uni­di­rec­tional ro­tat­ing bezel is di­rectly tan­gent to the tip of the min­utes hand. is will en­able them to read the div­ing time when they’re un­der the ice. e ro­tat­able bezel snaps into po­si­tion in sin­gle-minute in­cre­ments, but a fair amount of

force is needed to over­come its re­sis­tance. e fine­ness of the flut­ing around its rim adds to the dif­fi­culty of oper­at­ing the bezel while wear­ing gloves. e de­sign with small raised cir­cles for the 5-minute in­dexes and large raised cir­cles for the 15-minute in­dexes is de­rived from the 1956 Egyp­tian model. Like the rest of the case, the bezel is made of ti­ta­nium, while matte black ceramic is used for the cal­i­brated scale on the ring. ere are also ver­sions with­out ceramic scales: they more closely re­sem­ble the his­tor­i­cal model, but we pre­fer the bold con­trast on our test watch. In ad­di­tion to the scratchre­sis­tant ceramic scale, the fine flut­ing around the rim helps pre­vent scratches from mar­ring this ex­posed part.

Leg­i­bil­ity is a top pri­or­ity when a dive watch is un­der­wa­ter. e Panerai Sub­mersible isn’t quite as re­flec­tive be­low the wa­ter’s sur­face as it is above the wa­ter. And the time can be read quickly thanks to the am­ple quan­tity of lu­mi­nous ma­te­rial. e min­utes hand and the lu­mi­nous in­dex on the bezel shine with a blue glow, while the other lu­mi­nous ma­te­rial glows green. is makes it even quicker to read the dive time: sim­ply look for the blue and ig­nore the green. e sec­onds hand on its sub­dial is lu­mi­nous, too, so it can be used un­der­wa­ter to check that the watch is still run­ning.

When a diver gazes up­ward from a cer­tain depth, the layer of ice above him looks like a matte pane of glass and the hole cut in the ice re­sem­bles a win­dow. Air bub­bles rise and col­lect un­der the ice, where they merge into flat shapes that look like pud­dles – a fas­ci­nat­ing spec­ta­cle. is is es­pe­cially im­pres­sive in the win­ter, when the vis­i­bil­ity un­der­wa­ter is bet­ter be­cause there is less sus­pended mat­ter and al­gae.

We can’t con­firm the pres­sure re­sis­tance of the Sub­mersible to its full 300-me­ter depth dur­ing our dive be­cause the lake is less than 40 me­ters deep and our safety ropes are only 10 me­ters long.

Af­ter com­plet­ing three dives, we take a closer look at the Sub­mersible. As ex­pected, no scratches can be seen on the hard sap­phire crys­tal or on the ro­bust ceramic ro­tat­able bezel, where scratches would surely not es­cape no­tice. e rest of the ti­ta­nium case like­wise ap­pears un­scathed, but scru­tiny through a watch­maker’s loupe dis­cov­ers a few small scratches on the satin-fin­ished sides. e pin buckle suf­fered a some­what worse fate in its ex­posed po­si­tion: con­tact with our hard equipment has marred its fin­ish, but these blem­ishes can be re­moved with a few min­utes of pol­ish­ing. at’s good news, be­cause a re­place­ment pin buckle costs $270.

e hard knocks and ex­treme tem­per­a­tures haven’t dam­aged the pre­ci­sion of the time­keep­ing. Our tim­ing ma­chine cal­cu­lated an av­er­age de­vi­a­tion across all the po­si­tions of +1.3 sec­onds per day, which is nearly per­fect. Only the great­est dif­fer­ence among the sev­eral po­si­tions (10 sec­onds) is a bit too large.

In con­clu­sion, this Panerai Sub­mersible passed its “acid test” un­der the ice. Of course, the watch’s owner won’t want to wear it only un­der­wa­ter, so other fac­tors also come into play. A soft iron in­ner case pre­vents mag­netic fields from pen­e­trat­ing into the Sub­mersible’s move­ment – a worth­while fea­ture nowa­days, when daily life in­volves so many po­ten­tial sources of mag­netism.

Our test watch is sim­ple to op­er­ate, too, thanks to an easy-to-open crown guard, a stop-sec­onds func­tion and the op­tion of re­set­ting the hour hand in full-hour in­cre­ments, which is es­pe­cially use­ful when day­light sav­ing time re­quires you to “spring for­ward” an hour in the spring and “fall back” an hour in the fall. e down­side is that ad­just­ing the date dis­play may take some­what longer than it would if a fullfledged rapid-reset mech­a­nism were in­cluded.

The move­ment inside the Sub­mersible’s case is Cal­iber P.9010, a re­vised ver­sion of man­u­fac­ture Cal­iber P.9000. With a height of just 6 mm, the P.9010 is nearly 2 mm slim­mer than Cal­iber P.9000. is ex­tra slim­ness gives our test watch a rel­a­tively low pro­file, de­spite its high re­sis­tance to pres­sure and its in­ner case for pro­tec­tion against mag­netic fields. With three days of run­ning au­ton­omy, the Sub­mersible will still be tick­ing on Mon­day morn­ing af­ter hav­ing been taken off and left un­worn since Fri­day evening. is lon­glast­ing power re­serve is made pos­si­ble by us­ing two bar­rels in tan­dem with a bidi­rec­tion­ally wind­ing (and clearly audi-

ble) ro­tor. e bal­ance bridge, which is ad­justable via knurled screws, pro­motes sta­bil­ity and pre­ci­sion. e freely os­cil­lat­ing bal­ance with weight screws along its rim for fine ad­just­ment ought to like­wise im­prove the move­ment’s ac­cu­racy and fine reg­u­la­tion. As is usual in Panerai watches, the plate cov­ers most of the move­ment, which boasts abraded stripes, pol­ished heads on screws, and beveled and pol­ished edges on flat parts.

With a re­tail price of $11,000, this Panerai costs the prover­bial “pretty penny,” but it of­fers plenty of value in re­turn. e crafts­man­ship and pro­cess­ing are quite good, al­though some other Panerai mod­els of­fer a bet­ter price-per­for­mance ra­tio. Com­pared to its com­peti­tors, the Sub­mersible ranks in the up­per third of the field and is nearly the price of the Rolex Sea-dweller, which also pro­vides al­most three days of run­ning au­ton­omy thanks to its new move­ment.

e Panerai Luminor Sub­mersible is a watch for peo­ple who want to stand out from the crowd and some­times even court danger, es­pe­cially when the risks are man­age­able. —

Air bub­bles rise and merge un­der the ice to form shapes that look like pud­dles – a fas­ci­nat­ing spec­ta­cle.

Ice div­ing re­quires bulky, heavy equipment. The ti­ta­nium watch is the light­est piece of gear.

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