Was there ever a larger critical and commercial success than Officine Panerai? The manufacture emerged in the mechanical watch renaissance that grew out of the Quartz Crisis of the 1980s, gathered steam in the ’90s, and became a phenomenon in the aughts. There are a handful of contenders, but those of us who have followed fine timepieces for a significant period of time know that Panerai is in a league of its own.
What Panerai and its management achieved was nothing short of extraordinary. CEO Angelo Bonati took a little-known naval supply firm specializing in depth gauges, compasses, and luminous dive instruments, and, in just a few short years, transformed it into a powerful global luxury marque. Today, Panerai is a subsidiary of Richemont, with offices all over the world. If Officine Panerai’s transformation isn’t yet a case study in business schools, it probably should be. For an analog in another industry, you’d probably have to look to automobiles and the military-issued Hummer.
Part of what made Panerai so successful was its watches’ trend-setting large size. It was, after all, the company that first gained commercial exposure thanks to the imprimatur of Hollywood action star Sylvester Stallone, who has ordered and commissioned several Panerais over the years. The Italian-designed, Swiss-manufactured wristwatches sometimes exceeded 45 mm in diameter, contrasting sharply with the approximate 38 mm average of the early ’90s. The larger size initially popularized by Panerai was to have a lasting influence throughout the industry. While you can still certainly find the occasional 38 mm dress watch these days, the average has shifted upward toward 42 mm.
In 2016 Panerai has taken its signature case, the Luminor—famous for its cushion shape, sturdy, integrated lugs, and functional crown protector—and reinterpreted it for modern times. The name assigned to the watch is telling. It is the Luminor Due, or Luminor Two, representing a second chapter for a watch that has achieved that vital yet allusive feat of watch design: instant recognition from across a room.
When you update a design icon, it’s advisable to tread lightly and show extreme deference to the attributes that define its iconography. It’s obvious when looking at the Luminor Due that Panerai took this maxim to heart when approaching this most recent project, which was officially launched in May at Florence’s “Dive into Time” exhibition, a retrospective of Panerai timepieces.
The objective of Panerai’s designers was to take the classic Luminor-style case, the result of a design conversation that began in the 1930s, and adapt it to the realities of the modern watch-wearing public. While the Luminor was originally made to be a tool watch for men in the maritime field, today the watch is worn by both women and men.
It’s the ideal pairing for a casual summertime ensemble or for pursuits such as sailing and swimming. Still, plenty of collectors want to wear their Luminor in a more formal, buttoned-down setting. Both Due models invite the Paneristi to slide their watch underneath their shirt cuff in a natural way that has proved to be elusive for the Luminor. The 45 mm version of the Luminor Due measures 10.7 mm thin, and its 42 mm sibling is just about 10.5 mm from top to bottom. While both versions are thinner than previously available models, the 42 mm version represents a 40 percent reduction in height over the standard Panerai Luminor 1950 case. As one would expect, the new watches offer a noticeable reduction in weight as well.
The Due is the bridge that takes the Luminor into dress-watch territory while exuding the same robust quality that we rightly expect from Panerai. All four new models come on beautiful alligator straps instead of rubber, suede, or calfskin, and their water resistance lies at 30 m. The new case sizes offer Panerai fans a more refined take on the Luminor to wear when they aren’t deep-sea diving. The dials offer another sign that this watch is more dress watch and less tool watch: On the steel versions, a sun-brushed black dial offers a subtle touch of flair; on the red gold versions, the dial is in sun-brushed anthracite.
What’s interesting is that the two new models are not really small or designed explicitly for women. While their heights are less than we’re accustomed to seeing from Panerai—the 42 mm version, the smaller of the two, represents a 40 percent reduction in overall thickness—the range tops out at 45 mm, long Panerai’s sweet spot for case diameter.
Far from eschewing its mantle as the popularizer of the oversized luxury watch, Panerai is doubling down on it by introducing a large watch with previously unseen versatility in the way it can be worn.
The Luminor Due line debuted with four new models, each outfitted with an in-house mechanical movement with a power reserve of three days. With their slimmer profiles, these new Luminors required slimmer movements, and Panerai looked to the P.1000 manually wound caliber and the P.4000 automatic, each of which has seen previous, if somewhat limited, use in the Radiomir range.
The P. 4000, which originally debuted in 2014, is Panerai’s thinnest automatic caliber, coming in a hair under 4 mm in height, at 3.95 mm. In designing its thinnest automatic movement to date, Panerai opted for a bidirectional micro rotor sunken into the baseplate in order to wind the watch. The functions offered by Caliber P. 4000 are really just the essentials: hours, minutes, and small seconds, in addition to automatic winding, of course. Despite its thinness, the design communicates the kind of robustness that has been characteristic of Panerai watchmaking since the company began developing in-house movements in the early 2000s. These include a large, sparsely decorated baseplate, a sturdy bridge, substantial screws throughout, and of course KIF Parechoc antishock protection. All these elements can be viewed through the Luminor Due 3 Days 45 mm case back, available in both red gold (oro rosso) and stainless steel (acciaio) variations.
To power the smaller of the Due models, Panerai went with the manually wound P.1000 movement. All in, it measures 3.85 mm thin and offers the same basic functions—hours, minutes, and seconds—as the P. 4000, minus the automatic winding, of course. Like the P. 4000, this movement delivers 72 hours of power reserve to the watches that run on it. It’s a powerfully accurate engine befitting a watch designed for military precision.
The Luminor Due, a rare example of a watch company really listening to its clients and delivering a product that fills an opening in its offerings, will be available at authorized Panerai points of sale in mid-September. In steel, the PAM 00674 will come with a price tag of $10,700. In the gold version, a souped up, openworked version of the P. 4000 caliber powers the watch. It will sell for $25,600. —Jonathan Bues