There are a lot of incredible luxury watch brands that often fly under our radar while we’re busy obsessing over the big names. One such brand, with a long, respectable history and significant technological advancements, is Panerai.
The oft-overlooked Italian watch giant was prominent during the early and mid-20th century. In the last few decades, it has resurfaced as one of the most noteworthy luxury watch brands and a staple of Italian watch design and Swiss technology.
But what is it that makes Panerai watches special? Why is Panerai so expensive? And what are the best Panerai watches you can buy today? Keep reading to learn all about this remarkable company in our Panerai brand review.
A Brief History of Panerai
Panerai’s founder, Giovanni Panerai, established the brand way back in 1860 in Florence, Italy. During the early 20th century, the brand began to create innovative and efficient military watches and instruments that it supplied to the Italian Royal Navy and Marina Militare.
Its innovations revolved around luminescence in watches, and the brand was one of the first to integrate luminous materials into timepieces through its Radiomir and Luminor compounds. Radiomir was a luminous compound that originated from radium, which was highly radioactive, while the Panerai Luminor compound utilized the much safer tritium element.
Panerai continued to innovate and supply the Italian military with high-quality instruments and watches throughout World War II. In fact, it was in 1950 when the brand developed its distinct crown lock system. However, it was actually Rolex that designed and manufactured these early Panerai watches, while the brand focused on the production of its luminous dials.
While Panerai was still releasing watches, they were largely unknown to the general public for most of the second half of the 20th century, since the brand largely produced for the Italian Navy. That was until the mid-’90s, when the brand released a few timepieces for civilians and scored an excellent endorsement with Sylvester Stallone. Finally, in 1997, the Richemont Group acquired Panerai, moved its production to Switzerland, and repurposed it as the luxury brand we know today.
What Makes Panerai Watches Special
Like most luxury Swiss watch brands, Panerai has a few unique traits that make its watches extra special. The most important aspect is the distinct design elements of the brand. Panerai watches are famous for their large but elegant watch designs, as well as their unique safety lock system for the crown.
Panerai also has a long heritage of watchmaking behind it. As mentioned above, the brand’s history includes impressive technical innovation and a passion for creating functional watches with precise military specifications.
Even though Panerai fell slightly out of favor after the middle of the 20th century, its recent resurgence has made watch enthusiasts appreciate its watch designs and storied history.
Why is Panerai So Expensive?
In the world of luxury watches, where timepieces from brands like Patek Philippe can easily fetch six figures, Panerai watches are actually quite reasonably priced. Still, several watch fans question why Panerai is so expensive and whether its prices are justified.
What makes Panerai watches so costly is their recognition as a high-end luxury watch brand, along with a unique selling proposition. After all, where else will you find a watch with diver specifications on a high-quality leather strap?
Panerai incorporates top-grade materials that provide impressive durability to all of its watches. Additionally, it features simple and aesthetic watch designs that are distinctly masculine without being over the top. That’s a combination you won’t find on any other watch brand, which partially justifies an increased price tag.
What’s the Relationship Between Panerai and Rolex?
Despite their different roots, Panerai and Rolex enjoyed a strong partnership during the beginning of the 20th century. Panerai had just begun to take its first steps into the watch world and needed a solid waterproof case design to house its excellent luminous dials.
That’s where Rolex stepped in to provide its technological advancements in watchmaking and create a unique and tough timepiece for the Italian military. Rolex essentially became Panerai's watch designer and manufacturer, while the Italian company focused on the lume technology and dial design. Rolex was responsible for the case and movement of the watch and sourced high-quality pocket watch movements from Cortébert.
Eventually, the two companies parted ways, and Rolex continued its ascent toward the top of the watch world. While Panerai hasn’t reached the same heights, it still remains a very respectable luxury watch brand with a bit of Rolex’s DNA in some of its older models.
Best Panerai Watches
Now that you’ve learned the basics about Panerai, let’s have a look at some of the most important watches the brand produces. In general, Panerai watches are split into four large families, each with its own distinct traits.
Credit: Lido Watch Club
The Luminor collection is arguably the most well-known and vast line of Panerai watches. Its origins trace back to the 1940s when Panerai switched from the highly radioactive Radiomir compound to the much-friendlier Luminor, which utilizes tritium as a lume source. Additionally, the Luminor collection features the distinct Panerai crown lock system that the brand developed in 1950.
Out of the dozens of Panerai Luminor models available, the standard 44 mm PAM01086 is the one you’ll come across most often. The simple and understated design, with the cushion-shaped case and the standard black dial, is pure class from Panerai. Additionally, a high-quality brown leather strap completes the elegant yet sporty look of the watch.
The Luminor collection also includes tons of complications, such as chronographs, GMT watches, perpetual calendars, and tourbillons. It even includes the famous GMT 10 days model, an automatic watch with a staggering 10-day power reserve, and a dedicated power reserve indicator on the dial.
The Radiomir collection kickstarted Panerai’s ascent into the world of watchmaking. As mentioned above, the name Radiomir derives from radium, the element utilized for its luminous properties. Another distinct trait of the Radiomir collection is its lack of prominent lugs, which helps with the wearability of an otherwise very large timepiece.
Notable watches in the Radiomir collection include the PAM 21 and the PAM 127. The PAM 21 was the first Panerai watch after its acquisition by Richemont and resembles some of the earliest Panerai designs that were Rolex-made.
The PAM 127 is unique, as it’s the modern interpretation of the Panerai 6152/1 from the 1950s, and also has the distinct nickname “Fiddy”, supposedly given by rapper 50 Cent.
As for the modern collection, you can find standard models like the PAM00753 with its beautiful hand-wound mechanical movement.
While most Panerai watches have the water resistance to endure water activities, it’s their Submersible line that targets dive enthusiasts. This collection is the most recent in the Panerai catalog since its official release in 2019. The Submersible models feature a sportier overall design, as well as a rotating bezel which makes them true tool watches for aspiring divers.
The Panerai Submersible collection is full of large tool watches that come in stainless steel or other unique materials. One such watch is the Submersible Bronzo PAM00968, a bronze-crafted timepiece with a unique copper dial and a complimentary brown leather strap.
Another impressive Submersible model is the PAM02231 Carbotech™, which utilizes Panerai’s proprietary carbon fiber material. The Carbotech™ construction provides extreme durability to the watch, as well as a unique style and appearance. That’s because the material has an uneven pattern according to how it was cut.
Panerai Luminor Due
The Luminor Due collection is Panerai’s answer to those who enjoy the brand's bold designs but prefer a smaller watch. The first Luminor Due models came out in 2016, targeting women as well as men with smaller wrists. The watches were an instant hit and continue to be a significant part of the brand’s identity.
Most Luminor Due models feature details and design choices that cater to dressier styles. In the collection, you’ll find options such as the PAM01182 with its beautiful Goldtech™ case design. Goldtech™ is Panerai’s proprietary gold alloy that the brand enriches with copper, which gives it a brilliant red hue.
Still, if you’re not a fan of gold, there are always the stainless steel options, such as the PAM01123 with the blue dial or the PAM01250 with a stunning anthracite dial and a black alligator strap.
As you can see, Panerai is a major Italian watch brand with a long legacy and dedicated fans (known as Paneristi) across the world. In fact, Panerai is a huge inspiration for us at Operandi Firenze!
The brand’s roots in Florence, where we source our excellent Italian leather, as well as its meticulousness and attention to detail, drive us to make the best watch rolls for you and your precious timepieces. That’s why we ensure the safety and reliability of all of our watch rolls through rigorous tests.
Consider purchasing one of our premium watch rolls to protect your Panerai watches or any other timepieces in your collection. So, get out there, join your fellow Paneristi enthusiasts, and don’t forget to keep an eye on the time!