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Prior to the 1990s, Officine Panerai made watches exclusively for the military (primarily the Italian Navy) and never for the public. Impressively, in less than three decades, Panerai has gone from an obscure Italian-based brand to one of the biggest names in Swiss luxury watches. And this feat was thanks in no small part to the iconic and highly popular status of the watch.
Characterized by its large cushion-shaped case, a bridge over the winding crown, and a bold luminous dial, the model is the brand's flagship collection of watches. Today, the model is available in a host of materials, sizes, configurations, and complications, and it is also available with both modern and vintage-inspired versions of its distinctive case. Despite the wide diversity of the collection, this model is always recognizable thanks to its distinctive case shape and bold wrist presence.
In the 1930 and 1940s, Panerai was already making dive watches for the frogmen of the Royal Italian Navy, the Regina Maria. With the birth of the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana) in 1946, the Regia Marina changed its name to Marina Militare. Those early watches, characterized by large cushion-shaped cases and winding crowns without crown guards, used a Panerai-patented, radium-based, self-luminous substance called 'Radiomir' for dial legibility underwater.
In 1949, the brand filed another patent for a self-luminous paste, but this time based on tritium (which is much safer than radium) under the 'Luminor' name. A year later in 1950, the company also updated the design of its watches to now include a bridge over the winding crown to improve durability and water resistance. The lever-operated crown bridge not only served to push the winding crown into the case for a better seal against water seeping into the watch, but it also added a layer of protection to the exposed crown (which can break or compromise water resistance when knocked). The new case design, the new luminescence, and the new "Marina Militare" text on the dials, marked a new era for the brand.
This particular design with the cushion-shaped case, thick lugs, and bridge over the crown, serves as the design blueprint for modern models of the brands watches. The company continued to supply watches and other instruments to the Italian military throughout the 1950s and the subsequent decades.
However, in the 1990s, the company decided that it was time to make Panerai watches available for sale to the public. Teh brands Chief of Mechanical Engineering at that time, Alessandro Bettarini designed a watch using the crown-protector bridge from Panerai's archives and called the watch model the Luminor after the luminesce material patent from 1949. In 1993, the new timepiece was presented a collection of three limited-edition watches: the Luminor, the Luminor Marina Militare, and the Mare Nostrum.
In the mid-1990s, Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone was in Italy filming the movie Daylight when he was made aware of the collection. Not only did the actor wear one in the film Daylight, but he also worked with the brand to produce a host of limited-edition Slytech watches including the Slytech Luminor Submersible, the Slytech Luminor Daylight, and the Slytech Mare Nostrum, complete with Stallone's signature on the caseback. The actor also gifted Panerai watches to famous friends like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in turn also wore this model in some of his movies. This type of star-power gained the attention of the Vendome Group (now known as the Richemont Group), which ultimately purchased the company in 1997. Panerai watches made from 1993 until 1997 are known in the collecting community as "Pre-Vendome" watches.
Under the umbrella of the powerful Vendome/Richemont Group, the company set out to become an internationally recognized luxury brand, and at the core of the company's catalog are its various Luminor watches. Over the years, the lineup has branched out into other models and collections including the Luminor 1950, the Luminor Submersible, and the Luminor Due.
The current 2023 latest versions of the entry-level Luminor Base models range from $4,900 to $6,000 at retail, depending on the specific reference number. However, the majority of the collection is priced between $7,500 and $11,500 for stainless steel models. In addition to stainless steel, the model is home to other metal and material options such as gold, titanium, ceramic, and Carbotech (a patented carbon fiber-based material).
While the time and time/date models are the most popular, the brand also offers more complicated versions of the Luminor with GMT, power reserve, regatta timer, chronograph, and even equation of time complications . As expected, the more complicated the timepiece, the more expensive it is. A GMT model starts at around $7,500 but prices can quickly go up from there. There are even some special edition high-complication models, such as the Tourbillon GMT "Lo Scienziato" that have a hefty $149,000 price tag.
Below is a table outlining the retail prices of current-production watches.
|Model||Reference||Case Size & Materials||Movement Type||Retail Price (MSRP)|
|Base Logo||PAM00774||44mm; Stainless Steel||Manual-Wind||$4,900|
|Base 8 Days||PAM00560||44mm; Stainless Steel||Manual-Wind||$6,000|
|GMT||PAM01088||44mm; Stainless Steel||Automatic||$7,500|
|1950 Power Reserve||PAM00423||47mm; Stainless Steel||Manual-Wind||$9,700|
|1950 Chrono Flyback||PAM00580||44mm; Black Ceramic||Automatic||$14,700|
|1950 Marina Carbotech||PAM00661||44mm; Carbotech||Automatic||$12,20|
|Marina 8 Days||PAM00511||44mm Goldtech (Red Gold)||Manual-Wind||$21,500|
|1950 Yachts Challenge Chrono Flyback||PAM01020||44mm Goldtech (Red Gold)||Automatic||$28,300|
|Tourbillon GMT "Lo Scienziato"||PAM00768||47mm; Titanium + Carbotech||Manual-Wind||$149,000|
Along with the primary lineup, there are a few variations and different models that you should know. To most, the design differences are subtle, but to enthusiasts, aka Paneristis, these differences are significant. The one design characteristic that ties all these variants together is the iconic half-moon shaped crown guard protruding from the case, and extending over the winding crown.
Today, the three main sizes of the collection are 42mm, 44mm, and 47mm. However, there are a handful of other size options too, such as 38mm, 40mm, and 48mm.
Historically, the company used to segment the Luminor and the Luminor 1950 into different collections. Additionally, the Luminor Submersible was once housed within the Luminor 1950 lineup. Today, however, the brand has reorganized its catalog into just four lines: Luminor, Luminor Due, Submersible, and Radiomir.
The primary this collection is comprised of watches based on Alessandro Bettarini's designs that debuted in 1993 to the public. He used vintage Panerai watches as inspiration, specifically those from the 1950s that included the crown-protector bridge, but modernized it. As a result, these are often referred to as "Bettarini Case" Luminors. The most common size is 44mm but there are some 40mm options too.
Luminor Base watches are the entry-level models, and only include the hour hand and the minute hand on the dial. There is no running seconds indication or any other watch complication present. On the other hand, Luminor Marina variations include a running seconds indicator at 9 o'clock. Furthermore, there are complicated versions of the mdoel, fitted with GMT functionality and/or power reserve indicators.
In 2002, the brand released a limited edition Luminor 1950 PAM127 (famously nicknamed the "Fiddy"). Unlike the modernized Bettarini Case Luminors, the PAM127 was a faithful re-issue of the 1950's Panerai watch for the Italian Navy, complete with a massive 47mm case and dramatic domed crystal.
Following a few other limited edition models, the company eventually added regular production Luminor 1950 models to the catalog. In fact, the Luminor 1950 is now the most varied model within brands lineup with a slew of editions available from simple time-only models to sporty flyback chronograph editions to high compilation versions - not to mention all the different material options. The most common case sizes for Luminor 1950 watches are 44mm and 47mm.
Although the company has been making watches for diving since the late 1930s, by today's standards, those original Navy frogmen watches cannot be classified as dive watches. However, in 2000, Panerai unveiled its first modern dive watch in the form of the limited edition (500 pieces) Luminor Submersible PAM064. The watch featured all the essentials of a contemporary diving watch such as a rotating bezel (to time dives), a small seconds sub-dial (to indicate the watch is running), and a water resistance rating above 100 meters (1000 meters in the case of the Submersible). The thickness of the 44mm and hefty wrist presence led to the watch's "La Bomba" nickname.
Yet again, Panerai released a handful of limited-edition references over the following years then added the dive watch as a staple of the brand's catalog. Since 2019, the Submersible is no longer part of the Luminor family. The "Luminor" name was dropped from the dial and the Submersible now stands as its own collection.
In 2016, the brand unveiled the Luminor Due collection, named after the Italian word for "two." While these watches retain the famed cushion-shape case and crown-protecting bridge combo, they are notably slimmer and have a much lower water resistance rating of 30 meters (compared to the typical 100 meters or more of other models within this collection).
Positioned as the companies dress watch collection, this model also (for the first time in the company's history) offers a 38mm case size option, primarily targeted towards a female audience. Today, the company makes the model with 38mm, 42mm, and 45mm cases, with most crafted from wither stainless steel or red gold.
At first glance, the Luminor and Luminor 1950 cases look almost identical - yet they do have some distinct differences to note. Generally, the Luminor models with Bettarini-style cases are available in 40 and 44mm size options, while Luminor 1950 watches are available in 44mm and 47mm case sizes.
Looking at both watches straight on, the Luminor 1950 has wider edges on its cushion-shaped case. The biggest differences can be seen from the side profile of the two models where the Luminor has a straighter middle case and shorter lugs, while the Luminor 1950's middle case curves upward with slightly longer lugs. The quickest way to tell these two watches apart is by looking at the crown-bridge protector - the 1950 variations have the "REG." and "T.M." markings while the standard does not.
While the Bettrani-style cases were the mainstay in the companies catalog during the 1990s and 2000, the Luminor 1950s case style has since taken over as the main Luminor case silhouette. The company no longer segments these into different models - since roughly late-2018, both versions now belong in the greater collection.
As with most things Panerai, a closer look at the dials of the watches reveals some subtle differences in construction and execution. Dials can generally be categorized as sandwich, sausage, and printed dials.
As its nickname implies, sandwich-style dials are comprised of two plates where the lower one holds the luminescent material while the upper plate includes cutout hour markers and text to allow the lume to show through. This technique makes way for a stencil-like effect with the sunken luminous material.
On the other hand, sausage-style dials house rounder and protruding markings on the dial because the details are painted onto the dial, lending a three-dimensional effect. Finally, the simplest dial execution is the printed dials, where the markings are printed flat onto the dial surface.Shop All Panerai Watches
Ever since Sylvester Stallone brought the brands watches to Hollywood and the big screen in the mid-1990s, the collection has enjoyed an impressive celebrity following. Actors like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jason Statham, Russell Crowe, Pierce Brosnan, Ben Affleck, Orlando Bloom, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Chris Pratt, and of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger have all been spotted wearing watches on-screen, off-screen, or both.
Musicians John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, and Usher all have Luminor watches in their vast watch collections while celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Masaharu Morimoto, Tyler Florence, Graham Elliot, and the late Anthony Bordain have all been seen wearing Luminor watches.
Other household names that wear Luminor watches include Disney CEO Bob Iger, President Bill Clinton, Super Bowl champ Peyton Manning, comedian Trevor Noah, and superstar golfer Greg Norman.