A History of Panerai Watches

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A History of Panerai Watches

In 1860 Giovanni Panerai (1825-1897), founded the family business and opens the first watchmaker's shop in Florence on the Ponte alle Grazie and establishes contact with the most prestigious and longest established Swiss watch manufacturers. Giovanni is succeeded by his son, Leon Francesco.

1890 - 1900, Guido Panerai (1873-1934), grandson of the founder, expands his grandfather's business and gives it new impetus, specializing in high precision mechanisms and becoming official supplier to the Royal Italian Navy. At the turn of the century, the shop moves to the Piazza San Giovanni site in Florence, where the Panerai boutique can be found today, and the Orologeria Svizzera name, still visible today, appears on the shop door to underline the close link between the watches and their Swiss origin. In this period, the first deliveries of precision optical and mechanical instruments are made to the Ministry of Defence.

1910 - The first experiments with luminous materials begin and a system is developed to make instrument dials and sighting and telescopic devices luminous. The luminescence is achieved using a mix of zinc sulphide and radium bromide given later the name Radiomir. Inserted into tiny glass tubes to increase its resistance over time, this mix was the subject of patent applications by Guido Panerai in Italy and other countries.

1915 - 1918. The Royal Italian Navy employs the precision instruments supplied by Panerai during the First World War. The products delivered include luminous devices for sighting naval guns at night, timing mechanisms, depth gauges and mechanical calculators to launch torpedoes from MAS, high speed motor torpedo boats.

1934 - Guido Panerai's children, Giuseppe and Maria, continue developing their father's business. Maria is mainly concerned with running the Orologeria Svizzera shop, while Giuseppe devotes himself almost entirely to the company's business of supplying underwater instruments, torches, wrist compasses and wrist depth gauges to the Royal Italian Navy. He can take credit for the creation of the famous Radiomir and Luminor watches.

1936 - Following disappointing tests carried out on the watches available at that time, the Royal Italian Navy asks Panerai to develop a watch able to withstand the extreme conditions it will be subjected to. A Radiomir prototype is submitted to the Command of the First Submarine Group and the watch passed all the tests with flying colours.

1938 - Production of Radiomir watches begins for the Italian Navy, with a large (47 mm in diameter) cushion-shaped case, wire loop strap attachments welded to the case, screw-down crown, luminous dial easy to read under water in the dark, and a hand-wound mechanical movement supplied by Rolex. The wide strap was made of oiled and punched leather, and with its extra long length it could be worn over the diving suit.

1943 - Officine Panerai presents the prototype of the first Panerai chronograph, the Mare Nostrum, designed for deck officers. Due to events in the war, the Mare Nostrum never went into production but remained at the prototype stage. The device protecting the winding crown was fitted to the Radiomir watch to keep the crown in position. This device will enable the watches to descend to a depth of 200 metres, a remarkable achievement for the time.

1949 - The patent is granted for Luminor, the luminous substance based on tritium, which replaced the previous Radiomir mix developed between 1910 and 1915. The Radiomir and Luminor watches take their names from these two luminous substances.

1956 - On the request of the Egyptian Navy, Panerai creates a large Radiomir watch with an Angelus movement with 8-day power reserve and 5-minute intervals to calculate immersion times. For other Mediterranean Navies, Panerai makes limited production runs of approximately thirty pieces each. In the same year the patent is granted in Italy for the device protecting the winding crown, which clamps it in position and ensures the water-resistance of the watch. This device will be patented in the U.S.A. in 1960.

1972 - On the death of Giuseppe Panerai, the running of the Florentine company is handed over to the engineer Dino Zei and the family firm becomes Officine Panerai s.r.l. The close collaboration with the Italian Navy continues in the supply of watches, instruments and sophisticated devices for its men.

1980 - A watch is designed capable of withstanding a pressure equivalent to a depth of 1000 metres. The only prototype built has a titanium case, an automatic mechanical movement, a rubber strap and a luminous dial achieved by using tiny phials of tritium on the dial face and on the hands.

1993 - Officine Panerai creates a numbered series in a limited edition of models aimed at the civilian market: Luminor, Luminor Marina and an edition of the Mare Nostrum chronograph.

1995 - A special edition of watches called Slytech is created. Sly is the nickname of actor Sylvester Stallone, a great admirer of the watch, who had requested a special edition called Submersible to use during the shooting of the movie Daylight. Subsequently, Stallone requested an edition with a white dial, named Daylight, and a personalized re-edition of the Mare Nostrum. All of these watches bear the actor's signature engraved on the back.

1997 - The Vendôme Group, now RICHEMONT, takes over Officine Panerai and the company's range of watches, compasses, torches and depth gauges. New productions are started up, with a significant improvement in quality, and the official watch of Italian Navy commandos takes on an international dimension following a worldwide launch.

1998 - The first Panerai watches with automatic mechanical movements are presented to an international public: the Luminor Submersible professional diver's watch; the Luminor GMT with a second time zone indication and the Luminor Power Reserve with a function of high quality watchmaking which enables the power reserve to be read.

1999 - At the International Salon of Haute Horologerie in Geneva, Panerai presents a new range of Contemporary watches based on important innovative features: a smaller case, 40 mm in diameter; a Panerai Luminor fitted with a metal bracelet; the use of the chronograph function and an exclusively designed Luminor chronograph case, in which the push-pieces are integrated into the device protecting the crown in total respect of the aesthetic of the historic watch; the use of a titanium-steel combination for the case parts and the links of the bracelet of the Panerai Luminor Chrono.

2000 - Panerai creates the Luminor Submersible 1000 metres, a professional diver's instrument designed according to the NIHS (Normes de l'Industrie Horlogère Suisse) specifications relating to diver's watches and able to withstand a depth of 1000 metres. Equipped with a helium valve necessary for decompression, the sapphire crystal has a thickness of 5.1 mm and the steel back is 3 mm thick.

2001 - The Panerai Boutique is inaugurated, following restyling, at the historical site in Piazza San Giovanni in Florence, following the purchase of the family boutique by Officine Panerai. This Bottega d'Arte represents a meeting point for enthusiasts and collectors of the brand who can find here, in addition to the current collection, special editions and production runs which Panerai reserves exclusively for its boutiques. The shop also plays host to the Panerai Historical Archive, a selection of historical items created by the Florentine company: watches, compasses, depth gauges, torches and horology instruments.

2002 - The first Panerai boutique in Asia opens in the Prince's Building in Hong Kong. Officine Panerai opens the Manufacture in Neuchâtel, where all activities relating to the development and production of watches are based.

2003 - The Panerai Boutique in Portofino is opened in the charming Piazzetta in this well-known Italian seaside resort. New ideas come to life...

2004 - The Radiomir collection is enhanced by the 8 Days model. This is a return to the past, with the re-presentation in a modern key of a mechanism which Officine Panerai has already experimented with, the hand-wound 8-day movement. The calibre used in the 1940s was the Angelus, while the new model has a Jaeger-LeCoultre base. The case is 45 millimetres in diameter and is fitted with the patented slim wire loop strap attachments and a round caseband, while the screwed back and crown ensure water-resistance to 100 metres.


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