Luxury Swiss Watchmaking company Panerai was founded by Giovanni Panerai in Ponte alle Grazie in Florence in 1860. In these early days, the premises functioned as a watchmaking school as well as a shop. Soon after, the shop moved to the Palazzo Arcivescovile in Piazza San Giovanni, where it is still based to this day.
Soon after its creation, Panerai became known as creators of extremely reliable, precise watches, featuring what were – at the time – cutting edge features. Due to this reputation, it wasn’t long before they were supplying luxury watches to the Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina.
In 1916, Officine Panerai filed the patent for the Radiomir, a timepiece which would prove to be one of the company’s most popular ever. The watch was created to meet the needs of the Italian Navy, and featured a luminous dial and instruments, thanks to a radium-based powder which was included in the composition.
The first Radiomir prototype was released in 1936, when the clouds of the Second World War were beginning to amass. The model was purposed for the frogman command of the Royal Italian Navy. Many of the distinctive features which made this watch so popular and functional in its early days are still retained today, such as a large, cushion-shaped case and luminescent face.
1943 saw the introduction of the Mare Nostrum, a two counter chronograph, whilst 1949 heralded in what has become one of Panerai’s most celebrated ever model; the Luminor. Featuring a new self-luminous substance – again supported by a patent – this watch was seen as an evolution of the Luminor in terms of functionality and style.
When Guiseppe Panerai, the son of Guido died in 1972, the company passed on to Dino Zei, an engineer, who changed the company name from “G.Panerai & Figlio” to “Officine Panerai S.r.L, as this was the name which had appeared on Panerai’s earliest models. This newly-named company produced its first range in 1993. Including the Luminor, Luminor Marina and Mare Nostrum, the company carefully retained the stylistic features of Panerai’s earlier models, inspired by the watches initially created for World War II commandos.
The Richemont Group acquired Panerai in 1997 and opened up Panerai’s luxury products to first wider Italy, then the World. This period saw the Luminor and Luminor Marina both re-launched, with three models each unveiled. Panerai returned to its roots in 2001 with the refurbishment of the historic boutique, which was kept in bespoke condition, as a meeting point for collectors and enthusiasts. This functions as a sort of Panerai museum, showcasing current and special edition models.
In 2005, Panerai released their first in-house movement, the P.2002. This hand-wound calibre, with a GMT function broke new ground for the company, and features an eight day power reserve. The name of this movement was a tribute to the production plant which created it, which was opened by Panerai in 2002. The company have created several more high-quality in-house movements since this time.
With only four major lines of watches, these being Historic, Contemporary, Special Editions and Manifattura. Panerai limit the amount of models they produce, thus making them collectable, rare and expensive. With a prestigious history and a distinctive look, Panerai make a fantastic choice of timepiece, for both watch connoisseurs and style lovers alike.