Beyond the fabled 1993 ref. 5128/202 A and the 1999 PAM 36B, there are a total of four other modern watches that have worn the words ‘Marina Militare’ on their dials. Each of them is interesting in a certain way. For instance, the 2005 PAM 217 Destro represents a large milestone in Panerai design. The 2010 PAM 339 was a major achievement in case-material innovation that was not without its initial challenges. And finally the 2015 PAM 587, which has become the darling of the Panerai-collecting scene, could well be one of the most beautiful Panerais ever made. But before we look at each of these, let’s discuss a watch that represented a highly unique aesthetic execution.
In 2000, following up on the success of the PAM 36, Panerai launched the PAM 82, their third watch with a 44mm titanium Luminor Marina case. Like its critically acclaimed predecessor, this watch proudly displayed four lines of text: “Marina, Militare, Luminor, Panerai”, in that order, this time on a decidedly gentrified-looking blue dial. Inside was a reliable Unitas pocket-watch caliber. As with all Luminor Marinas featuring a seconds hand, this was independently certified by COSC as a chronometer. Finally, the watch’s solid caseback was laser-engraved with the Amerigo Vespucci, a stunning 18th-century-style ship built in 1925, which is still used by Italy’s naval cadets for training. The PAM 82 was made in a limited edition of 300 watches, which are still actively sought after today for its distinct configuration and unique, blue four-line dial.
In 2002, Angelo Bonati would unveil what would become one of the most collectible Panerais in the modern era. The design underpinning of the Luminor Marina range had been created in the Pre-Vendôme era by the Panerai family. But Bonati sought to create a new case that was a more-faithful homage to the ref. 6152 from the 1950s. The resulting watch, model PAM 127 — nicknamed the “Fiddy” — had a 47mm diameter, a sandwich dial, a domed crystal and a larger crown guard with Italian patent engraving, all incredibly faithful to the vintage watch. Immediately, collectors sought to get their hands on one of the 1,950 pieces of the “Fiddy”, causing secondary prices to reach close to double the retail value.
In 2005, Bonati followed up with a stunning left-handed version, where the crown guard and crown are on the left of the case, the PAM 217 Destro. This watch featured the same 1950 steel case and decorated Unitas movement as the “Fiddy”, but in addition to the relocated crown and guard, it was made further distinct by the words “Marina Militare”, for the first time in vintage, 1950s-styled font on its sandwich dial. Made in just 1,000 watches, the PAM 217 is still, needless to say, highly collectible today.
In 2010, Panerai released a watch that would be, first, a huge critical success, then shortly afterwards pose a threat to the brand’s hard-won reputation for quality, and finally, be a testament to its dedication to maintaining the highest standards in the Swiss watch industry. PAM 339 was a Radiomir watch featuring Panerai’s in-house movement with eight-day power reserve. But it was the case of this watch that was a brilliant demonstration of Panerai’s commitment to materials innovation. The brand was one of the first to create blackened PVD-coated steel luxury watches. But the problem was that these coatings, despite looking tough as nails, were anything but. Said Bonati, as far back as 2004, when I first interviewed him, “Titanium was a response to the PVD watches; with this material, we could have something stealthy but more resistant. I will not release any more PVD watches unless we can assure a higher quality for the coating. In the meantime, we prefer to focus on materials innovation.”
True to his words, in the interim, Bonati had launched watches in tantalum, and then ceramic. But both had been used before — tantalum by Audemars Piguet and ceramic by IWC. The composite material used for the PAM 339’s case represented all-new technology. It started with an aluminum case. But aluminum, while very light and strong, does not have good surface hardness. Panerai’s solution was to grow a ceramic deposit directly onto the aluminum base material, which would endow the case with incredible hardness, second only to diamond on the Vickers scale.
To commemorate this achievement, Bonati had agreed to feature the coveted words “Marina Militare” on the dial of the PAM 339. But shortly after the watches were released, owners started experiencing white spots and color changes on the cases. That’s when Panerai realized it had a problem. Immediately recalling the watches, they realized the problem was a bonding issue with the ceramic deposit. By altering the composition of the base material, they were able to solve this problem permanently. As a testament to their slavish dedication to quality, they changed every single PAM 339 case. Since then, they’ve only used the composite material on one more watch: the PAM 375 with a 1950 case. The experience of wearing one of these watches is unique in that despite the heroic proportions of the timepiece, it feels almost weightless. At the same time, it is amongst the strongest, hardest-wearing watches out there, and because of the unique process, its ceramic skin is rendered a stunning shade of dark brown. The PAM 339 remains a highly collectible modern Panerai that is an amazing symbol of the brand’s commitment to innovation as well as reliability.
Released in 2014, the PAM 587, with a steel Radiomir 1940 case and featuring an in-house movement with three-day power reserve, has become something of the darling of the watch-collecting community. Why? Because in recent years, we’ve all re-embraced all things vintage, and the PAM 587 is an extremely evocative and charming tribute to one of the brand’s most famous watches from the 1950s — the Small Egiziano. If you look closely, the watch’s Radiomir 1950 case is essentially the same as that of the equally popular, vintage-themed PAM 372, minus the crown card. However, one critical difference is that the PAM 587 bears the words “Marina Militare” on its dial in script incredibly faithful to its forebear. It was made in a series of 1,000 watches and is one of the hottest timepieces on the collecting scene today.
In conclusion, the two simple but evocative words “Marina Militare” have graced six extraordinary timepieces in the modern, post-1993 world of Panerai, five of them created by the brand’s extraordinary leader, Angelo Bonati. Would a “Marina Militare”-themed Panerai collection consisting of these six watches, as well as a vintage Small Egiziano and a ref. 6152 bearing these words be the makings of a dream array of Panerai finery? Hopefully, there’s a collector out there that will answer that for us, as it would be incredible to see these watches reunited.