Panerai devotees flock to the Windy City for a three-day extravaganza.
By Adam Craniotes
To understand P-Day, first you have to understand the almost mystical hold that Panerai has over its fans. Given its origins as a dedicated military supplier to the Royal Italian Navy, coupled with the fact that prior to its resurgence in the early ’90s, Panerai had produced only around 300 watches, this was hardly a guaranteed thing. In fact, before 1993, pretty much no one had heard of the quirky Florentine watchmaker, who traveled thousands of miles once a year to hobnob with fellow fans of these bold, oversize watches.
So what happened?
The year was 1995, and Sylvester Stallone was in Rome shooting the action film Daylight. While scanning the local jewelers, the actor came across a giant stainless-steel watch, the likes of which he’d never seen before. The watch was a Panerai, and while 44mm might not seem unusually large in today’s market, back then it was an anomaly. Stallone decided on the spot that the watch could be a star itself, and promptly bought the entire stock to bring back to the States to give his friends. Of course, he kept one for himself as well. The Panerai Luminor Marina Submersible ended up being featured prominently in the film, thus earning the nickname “Daylight.”
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But it wasn’t Stallone’s star power alone that developed Panerai’s cult following. In 2000, an English watch collector by the name of Guy Verbist took it upon himself to create paneristi.com, a website for Panerai enthusiasts. Back then, the World Wide Web was in toddlerhood, and widespread high-speed DSL connections, WiFi and smartphones were still far off in the future, to say nothing of social media (Instagram, who?). And yet, Verbist helped build a thriving online community dedicated to the brand.
Which brings us to P-Day.
Since 2000, the Paneristi (as the fans call themselves) have come together once a year, each time in a different city, to celebrate the brand that’s become, as they put it, “more than just a watch.” While Officine Panerai (which is owned by Richemont) is involved to a degree, P-Day is always a balancing act of the official and the unofficial. Company representatives will usually set up vitrines of timepieces and, in the past, they have created limited editions timed to the occasion, but the company does not actually organize or subsidize the event. And it is this that makes P-Day such a unique experience.
This past October—only the third time that P-Day has taken place in North America—the event was held over a weekend in Chicago. Yes, “weekend.” P-Day is a three-day event. Local volunteers handled all the logistics, which included the planning of the daily activities, dinners and venues. This year, Chicagoan Raphael Shin led an A-team of Panerai diehards, including Peter Fruehling, David Press, Craig Faulkner, Mikki Conway, and Paddy Conway, who did everything from building the weekend’s dedicated website to arranging seating at the Saturday night gala.
For those who were unable to attend P-Day 2017, allow us to present the highlights…
Thursday, Oct. 19
The unofficial kickoff was a cocktail party cohosted by local jeweler Marshall Pierce & Co., and Red Bar Chicago at the heliport Vertiport. There were helicopter tours of Chicago, displays of luxury cars and, naturally, a slew of handsome watches on the wrists of the Paneristi.
Friday, Oct. 20
Steven Taffel, owner of the city’s famed men’s footwear boutique Leffot, hosted an event at his store, located in the historic Monadnock building in Chicago’s South Loop. (A watch geek, Taffel even sells vintage watches from his company’s official website.) As with cars and pens, shoes seem to go hand-in-hand (or is it “foot-in-foot”?) with watch collecting, so the gathering was a perfect fit.
Next came a whiskey tasting at the atelier of Chicago-based watch brand Oak & Oscar, hosted by brand founder Chase Fancher. Then it was time to split up into small groups for dinner, each hosted by a noted ‘risti, at local restaurants including RPM Steak, Maple & Ash, Barrio, and Topolobampo. The most energetic met up afterward at a local supper club for more drinks and music before calling it a night.
Saturday, Oct. 21
The unseasonably warm weather was ideal for the day’s watch walk. Led by the irrepressible Dave Press, the group visited Marshall Pierce & Co., Swiss Fine Timing and Geneva Seal, among other famed Chicago watch shops. (They also dropped by Bentley Gold Coast for another dose of supercars.) The afternoon was bookended with lunch at Epic Burger.
Of course, this was all a prelude to the evening’s gala, at the Chicago Cultural Center. There, Preston Bradley Hall was filled with over 160 ‘ristis from around the world. A warm keynote speech from Panerai’s youthful North American President Giovanni Carestia was followed by performances by local guitarist Andreas Kapsalis and country-western singer Brian Hughes. A roast/awards ceremony followed, acknowledging not only the accomplishments of the P-Day volunteers but also the winner of the group’s “Asshat of the Year” award. (An example of why it’s better for Panerai to stay officially uninvolved with P-Day.)
The group made their way back to the Palmer House hotel for an afterparty that lingered into the wee hours of the night. For many, this is the real main event, when old friends can trade war stories, and everyone can kick their feet up and reminisce. P-Day Chicago coordinator Raphael Shin was duly fêted for pulling off the 16th-annual P-Day in the fine, irreverent style to which everyone has grown accustomed.
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Ah, but what of the 17th-annual P-Day?
We would be remiss if we didn’t report that at the end of the dinner, per custom, next year’s host city was announced: Hong Kong.
Needless to say, the planning has already begun.
See you there.