The Panerai Luminor Marina: Enduring ClassicsBy Stephen Watson
Earlier this year, Panerai donated a PAM 1661 to the Revolution x The Rake Covid-19 Solidarity Auction, a factory prototype Luminor Marina PAM 1661 Carbotech 44 with blue indexes. Panerai has always been one of Revolution’s favorite brands, and its unprecedented generosity proved to be highly successful with the outstanding USD 16,600 result.
Novelties for 2020 represent the best of Panerai, and the three cover watches of our U.S. edition clearly illustrate why. This Luminior Marina trio, the black dial PAM01312, blue dial PAM01313, and the white dial PAM01314 represent the purest examples of these historical models’ executions. While it might be impossible to choose between them, the new white sandwich dial of the PAM01314 represents a first for Panerai in this particular colorway, a total knockout.
All three incorporate the P.9010 in house movement, one of Panerai’s best with a three-day power reserve, offering hours, minutes, small seconds, and date. The trio comes in at USD 7,700 each, offering a lot of bang for the buck—Italian “sprezzatura,” Panerai style. With a renewed focus on innovation, 2020 has been a tremendous year for the Luminor.
“I have discovered a universal rule which seems to apply more than any other in all human actions or words; namely, to steer away from affectation at all costs, as if it were a rough and dangerous reef, and to practice in all things a certain nonchalance (sprezzatura) which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.”
The above comment is from Baldassare Castiglione, the Renaissance-era author, in his famed Book of the Courtier. He is expounding on the fashionable concept of sprezzatura, the Italian art of understatement. Castiglione proposed that everything one does should appear relaxed and confident, and that this ideal can best be achieved avoiding the superficial, while practicing a studied type of elegant detachment. He is, essentially, describing the very essence of inner cool.
It should come as no surprise that Castiglione was Italian. Nearly five centuries after he espoused the virtues of sprezzatura, the concept remains deeply ingrained in his nation’s sense of style. So much so that men (and women) there still strive to emulate its ineffable magic, carefully curating details—an unfastened strap, an unbuttoned sleeve, an uneven tie blade—as to appear carefree.
This same elusive trait explains the appeal of Panerai. The beloved watchmaker—founded in Italy, of course—makes everything about the craft seem easy, look simple, and feel special. Its design hallmarks, like the pairing of an oversized case to a minimalist dial, or a utilitarian crown guard next to a supple leather strap, capture an unforgettable incongruity of beauty and toughness without fuss. Signore Castiglione would approve.
At the same time, careful work behind the scenes has enabled Panerai to evolve into a fully-fledged lifestyle phenomenon. A look back to the brand’s distinguished military ties reveals its core DNA, workmanship in the service of durable and deliberate timepieces, while today it continues to push the boundaries of possibility in design and materials. Macho celebrity envoys like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger initially helped put Panerai’s modern offerings on the map. Still, it’s the hardcore fan base, the Paneristi, that gives the business a not-so-quiet enthusiasm, inviting collectors of all stripes, all around the world, into the fold.
“Everything about the look and design of our watches, both in their first iteration back in 1930, but also today, speaks of boldness and innovation. For many, the name has also come to represent a community,” says Jean-Marc Pontroué, the affable 55-year-old Frenchman who was named CEO of Officine Panerai in 2018. “Panerai is a brand that has always inspired adventure, daring, and an important historical connection to Italy and the sea.”
This history provides a unique halo-effect. But the story begins long before those first watches, in the city of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, where Guido Panerai founded his workshop in the latter part of the 1860s. His studio’s expertise in high-precision mechanicals caught the attention of the Ministry of Defense and Royal Italian Navy, which requested production for a range of instruments. During WWI, working under the banners “Guido Panerai & Figlio” and “Officine Panerai,” the company began producing military equipment and automatic machine tools, often incorporating luminous elements.
The shop’s Radiomir coating immediately set itself apart. This special material, a radium-based mixture, made Panerai devices readable in complete darkness, crucial for the military’s covert nighttime maneuvers. Soon, the company would be supplying frogmen and divers with lines of luminescent wrist-worn gear for underwater use—torches, compasses, and depth gauges. While much has been lost to history, it’s believed the first Radiomir wristwatches were made for the Italian Navy around 1935. Panerai timepieces were, quite literally, battle-tested.
Not that ruggedness came at the expense of appearances. During the interwar period, Guido’s children, Giuseppe and Maria, opened a stylish watch and clock shop called L’Orologeria Svizzera in Florence, further aligning the family with both horlogerie and Italian design. The shop still exists today as a Panerai boutique, reimagined by Milan-based architect Patricia Urquiola. She added numerous nautical references, brushed bronze-like fixtures, and warm walnut paneling throughout, a graphical contrast to the subtle striping of grey and white marble floors, which create unexpected geometric patterns. This old family flagship sits directly across the street from the Duomo, whose soaring structure is bathed in dedicated exterior lighting each night.
Radiance, always. As decades passed, collector interest in vintage Italian luminescent service equipment only increased, commanding extraordinary prices at auction. Eventually, Officine Panerai responded to the market. In 1993, it reissued the legendary Luminor—along with the Luminor Marina and Mare Nostrum chronograph—in limited runs available to the public. The buzz surrounding these pieces dovetailed into an instant-classic cameo on Stallone’s wrist in the action-thriller Daylight. The momentum helped Panerai score an investment from the Vendome Luxury Group, now known as Richemont, in 1997.
A careful rollout began in Italy the following year, with a global launch planned for 1999. Two models made worldwide debuts, the Luminor and Luminor Marina, in three different variations. The Mare Nostrum also got a rerelease, after being updated slightly to improve non-tactical wearability. The case sizes of these pieces, all measuring 44 mm or larger, made them unlike any other luxury watch available, lending an unusual appeal that proved self-evident. Other current-day Panerai signatures, most of them highly-stylized nods to the brand’s military roots, were established here as well: the unmistakable cushion-shaped case, the unique crown locking system, the superior water resistance.
Panerai’s relaunch was something of a perfect storm, offering products whose historical narrative appealed to horology buffs and whose striking design language initiated a new generation of collectors. Market demand for big, bold luxury timepieces exploded; Officine Panerai rode the lighting. All the while, the core Paneristi eagerly snatched up each new watch added to the core collection. Wearing one, they could immediately imagine themselves taking on a daring underwater adventure or military operation, piloting the Luna Rossa in America’s Cup or sailing the Amalfi coast, or simply lifting a glass of rosé at the local trattoria.
At the same time, internal leadership resolved to further elevate the company’s technical expertise. Hence, the development of a manufacture operation in Switzerland, beginning in 2002. The first in-house Panerai movement, a hand-wound caliber with a GMT function and an eight-day power reserve, arrived in 2005, dubbed P.2002 to commemorate the inaugural year of the production facility project. Three more exceptional in-house calibers followed in short order: P. 2003, whose tourbillon completed a single rotation in thirty seconds; P.2004, a chronograph; and P.2005, a GMT with tourbillon.
Before the end of the decade, the P.9000 family of movements arrived, providing a strong foundation to bolster and expand the core collections. Panerai slowly started replacing base calibers with its own in-house creations, which soon included automatic movements with chronograph flyback functions and fascinating regatta countdown timers. Finally, in 2014, a new manufacturer was inaugurated at Pierre-à-Bot, on the hills of Neuchâtel. It allowed for further research and development, manufacturing, assembly, and quality control, all under one roof. The final union between Italian design and Swiss watchmaking. Today, Panerai’s Laboratorio di Idee takes this concept and goes one step beyond.
“The core competencies of materials innovation, customer experience, and sustainability have evolved from the Laboratorio di idee over the years and have fundamentally changed the Panerai brand as a whole,” says Pontroué, the CEO. “The lab constantly pushes the boundaries of industry-first materials, like this year’s Prima Assoluta release of Fibratech–a volcanic basalt treated into a [special] polymer, which prior to its introduction as a material used for Panerai was only used in the aeronautical industry.”
There is plenty to be said about the artistry of Laboratorio di Idee. But Panerai’s forward-looking mindset extends beyond the physical space. Aiming even higher, the brand is looking to expand its universe with the launch of the PAMCAST this summer. This multimedia platform will provide in-house editorial content, offering one-of-a-kind experiences and storytelling journeys, like exploring the best diving sites in Italy, from Porto Santo Stefano to Portofino. Through web content, podcasts, and Spotify playlists, the company can paint a fuller picture of its identity. La dolce vita, Panerai style. No doubt, the Paneristi will come in droves.
“This project took inspiration from the huge streaming media industry and targets new levels of expectation, strengthening brand advocacy,” Pontroué says. “We believe this impactful content will allow our community members to feel closer and let them have a deep dive in the Panerai world.”
What draws them to that world is cohesion and balance—Italian design and Swiss mechanics, complex and effortless, all in concert with history. And as any brand devotee will tell you, this year is of particular reverence, as it marks the 70th anniversary of the original Luminor. Today, the Luminor is considered a technical landmark.
Fittingly, Panerai has chosen this moment to announce its latest technological breakthrough, a new generation of high-performance “X1” Super-Luminova. Not only is this said to be brighter and more durable, but the stealth detail looks different in daylight depending on application: white lume for a blue dial, grey on a white dial, and neon green for a black dial, a distinctive colorway that recalls the original Luminor. Pontroué calls it “an important aspect of the functionality of the design,” ensuring the next generation of Panerai watches “glow in the greatest depths of the ocean and at night.”
But the arrival of upgraded X1 Super-Luminova is just one facet of the “Year of Luminor” celebrations. Panerai is also releasing three-anniversary edition versions of existing pieces, an arresting trio whose specialized treatment demands new reference numbers: Luminor Marina (PAM1117), Luminor Marina Carbotech (PAM1118), and Luminor Marina Fibratech (PAM1119). According to Pontroué, these pieces feature “a heavy focus on luminescent details,” which can be seen on the dial, flange, crown, bezel ring, and on the straps, where lumed accent stitching is sewn. Only 270 examples of each of these models will be made. And, in a neat acknowledgment of the occasion, they all carry a 70-year warranty.
Meanwhile, another new Luminor Marina (PAM01313) joins the collection this year. Its satiné soleil sunray-finish blue dial is paired with a corresponding blue alligator strap, or the optional rubber alternate. It’s accompanied by a sibling piece, PAM01314, which is the real knockout of the group. Here, a white dial appears in a sandwich configuration, a layered style that intensifies luminescence, for the first time in any Panerai collection. Underpinning both watches is Calibre P.9010, a svelte automatic movement designed and built in Neuchâtel, offering a full three-day power reserve. The hour hand can be set in steps, one hour forwards or back, while simultaneously adjusting the date, adding more real-world practicality.
“The Luminor design has become an iconic shape over time … [the watch] continues to be sleek, functional, and significant to the core characteristics of the brand with every new reference added,” Pontroué says. “It has become a look that is immediately recognizable by those in the know.”
The man understands his clientele. They will always buy into the Italian status and commando pedigree, the ingenious and straightforward design of that distinctive crown guard, and the durable materials that tie it all together. They want the glowing lumed Arabic and Roman numerals, the clarity and legibility of those dials, whose large hands and small seconds indicators have barely changed in size or appearance for decades. Because without bending to trends or gimmicks—avoiding the superficial, as it were—Panerai has been able to evolve by celebrating its strengths, adapting gradually over time, rarely if ever misstepping. Sprezzatura, indeed.