Why Officine Panerai Dive Watches Are Still Celeb Favorites
Panerai watches are known for their big, sturdy style and hefty presence on the wrist. First created in 1936 for the Italian Navy, the watches’ large size allowed divers to read the time easily underwater. Today, the Italian brand continues to produce some of the highest quality mechanical watches available on the market. Thanks to their trademark combination of superb craftsmanship and limited-production numbers, the rarest models can command 80-90% of their retail value here at The RealReal.
Panerai watches are larger than your average Rolex or Tag Heuer, with case diameters up to 47 millimeters across and larger, but you don’t have to be a professional diver to pull off a Panerai. Chef Daniel Boulud wears his Panerai in the kitchen, and Andre 3000 has a Panerai Radiomir 1936. Actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones wore a Panerai with his tuxedo at this year’s Golden Globes, and artist Damien Hirst is so passionate about the watches he incorporated Panerai dials into his 2011 painting Beautiful Sunflower Panerai Painting. Says Hirst, “I hope the painting makes you think, we are here for a good time, not a long time.”
A watch with global appeal demands a global awareness, and Panerai has stayed true to its diving roots by committing to conserving the world’s resources. Last year, the brand sponsored Sting’s charity concert to benefit Oceana, the largest international ocean conservation advocacy organization in the world. And other artists are joining Panerai’s ranks around the globe: Taiwanese actor Wallace Ho was just named brand ambassador for Greater China, a first for Panerai.
But it was an American actor, Sylvester Stallone, who first catapulted the brand onto the celebrity scene. Sly wore a Panerai in the 1996 movie Daylight and loved his newly purchased watch so much that after filming, he ordered a limited series of watches from Panerai with his name engraved on the caseback. Dubbed the ”Slytech,” Stallone’s personalized edition soon appeared on the wrists of his friends and colleagues.
The brand’s original designs still inspire their current timepieces. Here, we’ll take a deep dive (pun intended) into Panerai’s Radiomir collection, the iconic design’s origins, and a few more modern watches.
The Incredible Lightness of Radiomir
Panerai invented Radiomir—a highly luminescent substance based on radium—as a means to enhance the underwater readability of its instruments for the Navy, and patented it in 1916. By 1936, Panerai produced its first diving watch using Radiomir for enhanced readability. Well-suited for underwater maneuvers, the watch’s cushion-shaped case measured a full 47 millimeters in width, and its luminescent numerals and hands were easily visible in the dark depths of the sea. The original timepiece was even outfitted with a strap long enough for the diver to wear over his wetsuit—a very practical consideration. An entire layer of radium was sandwiched under the watch’s dial to achieve maximum brightness; Panerai still employs the sandwiching technique (now using a safer, non-radioactive substance), to create one of the brand’s most signature dial designs.
The Modern Radiomir
The Radiomir collection today remains faithful to the original design. The distinctive oversized crown, which permitted naval divers to adjust the time and wind the watch easily while wearing gloves, is a hallmark of the collection. The case is cushion-shaped, like the original, with a circular dial.
There are two subtle yet distinct case designs: one simply named Radiomir, and the other called Radiomir 1940. The former features slim wire lugs that attach the strap to the watch and echo the brand’s first pieces, whose lugs were made of thick metal wire soldered onto the watch case. The effect is a retro-style look coveted by many collectors. The Radiomir 1940 collection watches feature lugs that are part of the case itself, constructed with one piece of metal to create a substantial anchor for the strap and a more modern, sleek look.
New, modern case materials have added a wider variety of choices to the Radiomir collection, including the lightweight strength of ceramic and titanium. The entire collection employs some of Panerai’s finest mechanical movements and complications, ranging from a small second hand to power reserve indicators and a GMT function. Whatever model you choose to add to your collection, the Radiomir’s signature stacked dials will pack plenty of luminescent punch.
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