The very first military diver’s watch
The watch company, founded in Florence, produced the very first military diver’s watch in history for the Royal Italian Navy. The prototype of this watch was produced in 1936 with serially produced models released two years later, in 1938. These timepieces, supplied to the Italian Navy’s Submarine Command, were worn on the wrists over the outside of a diving suit.
The divers’ watches of 1938 were equipped with Rolex movements and screw down crowns. They featured highly legible dials, courtesy of Radiomir, a luminescent material used at the time. The watches were worn in conjunction with a bathometer and a compass, forming a three-part set, all mounted on the commando’s wrist and all produced by Officine Panerai.
Some of the commandos would sit astride slow-speed, manned torpedos called ‘Siluri a Lenta Corsa’ (S.L.C), guiding them towards their intended target before they hastily disembarked. This episode in Panerai’s history has led the brand to release some ‘S.L.C’ branded Radiomir models in recent years, including some sought-after limited editions.
An alternative luminescent material and the birth of a new name
In 1949, Officine Panerai ceased using Radiomir in favour of a tritium based luminescent material. The material was patented under the name, ‘Luminor’. Moreover, around this time, Panerai chose to use the ‘Luminor’ nomen for a replacement timepiece which superseded the Radiomir.
The following year, in 1950, the Luminor case was introduced with its very distinctive and patented crown-protecting bridge that mitigated the risk of the crown being accidentally dislodged underwater, allowing water ingress.
Another notable chapter in the history of Panerai was the creation of the special Radiomir divers’ watches for the Egyptian Navy. In 1956, Officine Panerai released the ‘Egiziano’ for the Egyptian Navy. This timepiece was huge, measuring a colossal 60mm in diameter, formed of specially treated steel and equipped with an 8-day Angelus movement. The watch also featured a prominent bezel, an aspect which has been subsequently referenced by the brand with its contemporary versions of the Submersible.
The contemporary Submersible
The modern-day Panerai Submersible watches are often presented in 44mm and 47mm cases. Stainless steel cases have featured within the collection, but the titanium models have proved especially popular owing to their lower mass and non-allergenic properties. In 2011, the brand released its Submersible watch in a bronze case, aptly named ‘Bronzo’. The unusual choice of material proved an immediate hit, promptly selling out. Interestingly, the case of the Bronzo is said to acquire a patina, influenced heavily by the lifestyle of the wearer and resulting in no two watches ever quite looking the same.
The brand has now equipped its Submersible collection with its own self-winding movements. The P.9000 has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz), a diameter of 13¾ lignes and features 28 jewels. Twin barrels collaborate to provide an impressive power-reserve of 3 days.
Another interesting version of the Panerai Submersible is the 1950 3 Days Chrono Flyback, again featuring the in-house P.9100 calibre. This chronograph has a vertical clutch and column wheel. Interestingly, this timepiece not only features a central chronograph seconds hand but also has a central chronograph minutes hand too, eschewing the normal approach of having small chronograph registers. A running small seconds display continues to feature at 9 o’clock.