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Watches

Precision & Innovation: The History of Officine Panerai

From 30 November until 15 December a unique Panerai timepiece will be offered for sale in The Panerai Experience Online. Inspired by Panerai’s historic creations for the Royal Italian Navy, the Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Bronzo - 47mm watch celebrates Panerai’s reputation for creating renowned underwater watches. All proceeds will be donated to the Royal Yachting Association’s charitable programme OnBoard, which promotes equal access to sailing for young people from all social and economic backgrounds. The sale will also include a number of exclusive experiences, including private tours of the Florence boutique and the Panerai manufacture in Switzerland, a masterclass in the newly-opened London boutique, and a sailing day at the Panerai Classic Yacht Regatta. Ahead of the auction, we explore the fascinating history of Officine Panerai, from its foundation in the 19th century to the present day.

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PANERAI, A UNIQUE BRONZE AND TITANIUM CUSHION-FORM AUTOMATIC WRISTWATCH WITH BROWN DIAL AND DATE, REF PAM00907 NO 1/1 LUMINOR 1950, BRONZE MADE IN 2017. ESTIMATE £15,000–20,000. FROM THE PANERAI EXPERIENCE ONLINE.

The first Panerai shop was opened by Giovanni Panerai in 1860 in Florence, cradle of the Renaissance and a city famed not only for its contributions to art, culture, finance and commerce, but also as an important centre of scientific excellence. The Tuscan city boasts among its historic inhabitants both quintessential Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei. In addition to his well-deserved reputation as a brilliant astronomer Galileo also played a crucial role in the development of time measurement, as he conducted the first studies on the subject of oscillation in the 16th century, which were crucial in the invention of the pendulum clock almost a century later.

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THE PANERAI SHOP IN THE EARLY 1900S, WHEN IT STILL WENT BY THE NAME OF “OROLOGERIA SVIZZERA” BUT HAD ALREADY MOVED TO ITS FINAL AND CURRENT LOCATION: PIAZZA SAN GIOVANNI, FLORENCE.

Officine Panerai’s establishment in Italy in the 1930s and 1940s coincided with a period of intellectual uproar in the country and the emergence of Italian Rationalism, an architectural movement which stated that an object’s form should reflect its function. In the field of horology, this devotion to simplicity and modernity is exemplified in the productions of Officine Panerai. All the technical and aesthetic choices made in the 1940s represent the epitome of Italian style, and they have become the unmistakable signs of Panerai watches.

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GIOVANNI PANERAI (1825-1897), FOUNDER OF THE PANERAI HOUSE AND DYNASTY.

Despite numerous political and social transformations in the intervening centuries, Florence always remained proud of its cultural, scientific and artistic traditions. During this period a few important local institutions came into being, such as the Istituto Tecnico Toscano, the expertise of which undoubtedly created an atmosphere in which enterprises such as Officine Panerai could develop and thrive.

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VICTOR TOGLIANI, AN ITALIAN NAVY “GAMMA MAN” DURING A TRAINING EXERCISE. IN THE FOREGROUND A PANERAI DEPTH GAUGE IS VISIBLE ON HIS WRIST.

In the early years of the 20th century Officine Panerai was commissioned by the Royal Italian Navy to supply high-precision instruments, designed and produced to meet their very exacting requirements. This venture was aided by the 1916 invention by Giovanni’s grandson Guido of “Radiomir”, a self-luminous radium-based substance, which resulted in instruments that could be operated in near-total darkness. The patent proved crucial to the company’s future and confirmed its later association with the Italian Navy during the 1930s and 1940s.

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THE SELF-LUMINOUS SUBSTANCE LUMINOR WAS PROTECTED BY TRADEMARK NO. 93970 OF JANUARY 11, 1949, REGISTERED BY GUIDO PANERAI & FIGLIO FOR “LUMINESCENT, FLUORESCENT AND SIMILAR PRODUCTS IN ANY FORM (SOLID, PASTE, POWDER AND LIQUID”).

In 1935 the Royal Italian Navy wanted to develop a “special luminous watch for sea divers” and Officine Panerai was chosen over many well-established watch manufacturers to fulfil the order. The naval archives reveal that initially just ten prototypes of this first watch were produced, exclusively for military use. To meet the ever more demanding requirements of the Royal Navy, several modifications were made to the design in the next 10 years, many of which are still distinctive features in the collections of Officine Panerai today. This includes the development in 1949 of a new self-luminous substance named “Luminor”, based on an isotope of hydrogen called tritium. After the war, Officine Panerai’s watches continued to be used by military frogmen, this time in more peaceful operations such as clearing mine zones and underwater ship maintenance.

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PRECISION DIVING INSTRUMENTS PRODUCED BY OFFICINE PANERAI.

After the death of Giuseppe Panerai’s son Guido in 1972, the company passed to the management of engineer Dino Zei and continued to make instruments for the Italian Navy. In 1993 Officine Panerai presented their first collection for the civilian public consisting of three limited-edition watches: the Luminor, the Luminor Marina and the Mare Nostrum. Inspired by the historic models created for the underwater commandos of the Italian Navy, these quickly became desirable objects for many collectors and enthusiasts.

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PICTURE TAKEN FROM THE ITALIAN 1953 MOVIE “I SETTE DELL’ORSA MAGGIORE” (“HUMAN TORPEDOES”) WHERE THIS DIVER IS SHOWN TO BE WEARING PANERAI PRECISION INSTRUMENTS.

The brand gained further renown when Sylvester Stallone noticed the watches of Officine Panerai while travelling in Italy. He had a watch specially made and went on to wear it in the 1996 Rob Cohen film Daylight. This event led to the production of a personalised series of watches known as Luminor Slytech after Stallone’s nickname Sly. In turn, this attracted the attention of the Richemont Group (then the Vendôme Group), who purchased the company in 1997, launching the brand on the international market the following year.

The online-only auction will run from 30 November until the 15 December.

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