The first Panerai watchmaker’s shop was opened in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai on the Ponte delle Grazie in Florence. The company was later passed down through the family, first to Giovanni Panerai’s son, Leon Francesco and, later, to his grandson, Guido. From 1890 to 1900, Guido gave the family’s business a new impetus, specializing in high-precision mechanisms and also becoming the official supplier to the Royal Italian Navy.
At the turn of the century, the shop moved to the Piazza San Giovanni site in Florence, where the Panerai boutique can be found today, still keeping the Orologeria Svizzera name on the shop door.
During the First World War, the Royal Italian Navy used the precision instruments supplied by Panerai. The products delivered included luminous devices for sighting naval guns at night, timing mechanisms, depth gauges and mechanical calculators to launch torpedoes from MAS.
The Royal Italian Navy then asked Panerai to develop a water-resistant watch with a luminous dial, to make it possible to read under water in the dark. In 1936, the first Panerai Radiomir prototype was developed, with its official production starting in 1938.
A few years later, in 1943, Panerai presented the prototype of its first chronograph, the Mare Nostrum, designed for ship deck officers. However, due to events during the war, these never went into production.
During the early 40s, the device protecting the winding crown was fitted to the Radiomir watch (patented in Italy in 1956 and in USA in 1960). This device enabled a descent to a depth of 200 metres, a remarkable achievement for this time.
In 1949, a patent was granted for Luminor, the luminous substance based on tritium, which replaced the previous Radiomir mix developed between 1910 and 1915. The Radiomir and Luminor watches take their names from these two luminous substances.
In 1972, with the death of Giuseppe Panerai, the running of the company was handed over to engineer Dino Zei, with the family firms name being changed to “Officine Panerai”. In 1997, the company changed hands again and was taken over by the Richemont Group.
Returning to an account of Panerai’s creations; in 1980, a watch was designed capable of withstanding a pressure equivalent to a depth of 1000 metres. In 1993, Officine Panerai produced a numbered series in a limited edition of models aimed at the civilian market: Luminor, Luminor Marina and an edition of the Mare Nostrum chronograph.
In 1995, the company created the special collection Slytech, named after the actor Sylvester Stallone, a great admirer of the brand. Subsequently, Stallone requested an edition with a white dial, named Daylight, and a personalized re-edition of the Mare Nostrum. All of these watches bear the actor's signature engraved on the back.
In 1998, one year after that the company had been taken over by the Richemont Group, the first Panerai self-winding watches were presented to an international public: Officine Panerai Luminor Submersible, Officine Panerai Luminor GMT and Officine Panerai Luminor Power Reserve. Subsequently there followed a new Officine Panerai collection , known as the Contemporanei, based on innovative features. These were a smaller case, a metal bracelet and the use of the chronograph function.
After the re-styling of the historical Panerai site in Piazza San Giovanni, new boutiques were opened in Hong Kong (2002) and Portofino (2003), whilst between 2008 and 2009 new shops were opened in Beijing, Tokyo, New York, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Qatar and Dubai.
In 2004, Officine Panerai released Radiomir 8 Days. This model re-used a mechanism it had already experimented with in the 1940s; the hand-wound 8 day movement, but with a Jaeger-LeCoultre base rather than an Angelus calibre. It is also worth mentioning that in the 1940s, some Panerai models fitted Rolex mechanisms as well.
In 2005, the first Panerai movement was created: the calibre P.2002, which in 2007 was followed by three new calibres (P.2003, P.2004, P.2005).
In 2006, the new Panerai and Ferrari collections were presented in Geneva (the Granturismo and Scuderia series).
The above models can be viewed on the brand’s official website, including a detailed photo gallery of the Officine Panerai catalogue. You can also browse the Officine Panerai boutiques around the world. The typical design of these shop interiors is inspired by the sea; display units take on the shape of ocean waves, the furnishing details imitating diving suits and divers’ equipment, and the porthole windows recall yacht fittings. All of which are blended seamlessly with a clean and linear nautical style.
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