The Panerai name is synonymous with innovation in both design and operation, as well as possessing one of the most dedicated fan bases in the world of luxury watches.

From a small business in Switzerland founded to teach and repair watches to a titan of production, Panerai history is a fascinating one. A blend of bold risks plus intelligent and calculated decisions came together to create the brand we know today.

This blog will go into great detail on Panerai history — from the streets of Florence to the wrists of the Hollywood elite, and beyond. 

The Origins of Panerai 

The company currently known as Panerai Officine was founded in 1860 in Florence, Italy by Giovanni Panerai. The initial concept behind the company was to combine a watchmaking school with a workshop for repairs, and a sales showroom all under one roof. Over time, the success of this venture led to the company becoming a key figure in the sale of luxury watches, allowing Panerai to branch out. 

Towards the end of the nineteenth century under the tutelage of Giovanni and his son, Leon Fransesco, Panerai (or Orologeria Svizzera as it was then known) started to collaborate with key figures in luxury watchmaking at the time. This established long-lasting and vital supply ties that would be the spark for Panerai’s eventual rise. 

As Giovanni got older, his son and grandson Guido began to take more important roles in the growth and development of the business. It was this period that can be tied to the diversification and eventual evolution of Panerai Officine. 

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Guido forged an agreement with the Regia Marina (the Royal Italian Navy) to act as an official supplier. The initial focus of the contract centred on design and research. In these early years of Panerai’s relationship with the Regia Marina, they were responsible for such things as: 

  • The timing and contact triggers for mines 
  • Navigation tools for submersibles 

This period also helped to foster great change for the business and led to the innovation that helped change the course of history. Not just for Panerai, but for the industry at large —the creation of Radiomir. 

Panerai’s Greatest Invention

Between the years of 1915 and 1916, the company cemented its status as a watch brand with a true military identity with the development of their most iconic invention: Radiomir. 

Initially, the idea came about as Panerai sought to develop a self-sustaining source of illumination for the military equipment the firm had a hand in producing. The 1898 discovery of Radium by Marie and Pierre Curie opened the door for this game-changing innovation for Panerai. 

The compound developed in-house at Panerai was composed of a combination of zinc sulphide, radium bromide, and mesothorium. It was trademarked under the name Radiomir — likely the most important measure of the Panerai legacy. 

Two decades after the invention of Radiomir in 1936, with war in Europe on the horizon, the Royal Italian Navy needed a marine watch that utilised Panerai’s luminous compound — a watch that was easy to read in any environment and also water resistant. 

To meet the Navy’s demands, Panerai turned to Rolex for help. In collaboration, Rolex supplied Panerai with enlarged versions of their 26mm Oyster case, and fitted them with Rolex 618 calibres. This, when combined with the Radiomir, meant that the first ever Radiomir watch prototypes were now ready to wear. 

Panerai created 10 versions of the Radiomir for the Italian navy, while setting out on ways to improve this exciting, innovative model. Over time, Panerai began to produce their own cases, as well as develop a more effective replacement for their Radiomir compound, Luminor.

The Modern Era and Rise of Panerai Officine

The first non-Panerai director of the company took charge in the form of former naval officer and engineer Dino Zei in 1972. Utilising the brand’s military reputation, Zei worked to secure a foothold in the mechanical watch market, a similar move to the one Rolex perfected years earlier. 

In 1993, a direct result of this ambition led to Panerai Officine launching the three first consumer watch models in the company’s 133 year history.  The models were named for Panerai’s past military ties and would leave differing impacts on Panerai history. The two Luminor branded watches in particular would be the breakthrough products that would help enable Panerai’s eventual rise. 

However, the rise was in no way simple. The initial release failed to set the world alight and struggled to attract early adopters. This was in no small part due to the relative obscurity of Panerai at the time in the commercial sector, the limited distributor base, and even more limited marketing. The answer to Panerai’s issues would, eventually, come from a highly unlikely source; Hollywood. 

While filming the action film ‘Daylight’ in Rome, acting megastar Sylvester Stallone — one of the most famous men in the world at the time — purchased a Panerai Luminor Marina and effectively lived in the model on set and throughout filming, wearing it at every opportunity.

Stallone went on to place a series of large orders for custom ‘Slytech’ branded Luminor watches to give as gifts to close friends. Many, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, were just as famous and successful as Stallone himself, helping launch Panerai Officine to the stratosphere. 

The Panerai name being spotted and photographed on the wrists of such megastars in everyday life, and even in some of their movies, would lead to Panerai’s public profile picking up exponentially. It made the company an established name virtually overnight

It’s a position that Panerai have worked to maintain ever since. Partially in thanks to Rocky Balboa himself, Panerai is now one of the most popular and highly sought after brands of luxury watches in the entire world.

The Impact of the Panteristi

One of the most prominent features of Panerai is how loyal the brand’s fanbase are. From the outset of the internet age, websites and forums began to crop up for enthusiasts to discuss their favourite models, features, and more. 

Around the beginning of the 21st century, the website was launched, a network of thousands of Panerai fans. Over the following years, the number of Paneristi (as they would call themselves) would grow rapidly until it became an early prototype for how a company can harness its fanbase using the internet. 

The Paneristi community became the best free marketing a business could ask for. These ardent fans would tell everybody they know, scream from the rooftops, the value of Panerai watches.

The rise of the Paneristi community was also met with a significant uptick in the amount of watches produced by Panerai, from 2000 watches in the early 1990s to around 50,000 in the 2000s, to upwards of 70,000 luxury watches produced per annum in the 2010s.

Enter the Panerai History Books with Blowers Jewellers

The Panerai history books are diverse and full of innovation and excellence. Have you got your eye on a dream Panerai watch to add to your collection? Blowers have an excellent range of watches from this famed Italian manufacturer, including models in the Radiomir, Luminor, and Submersible collections. 

Decades of experience in the trading in the luxury second hand watch/jewellery market mean that at Blowers, we know what we’re doing and we understand the world of watches inside and out. 

Our team of experts are on hand to provide an all-encompassing and expert service from start to finish. Whether you want a Rolex or an Omega, a Patek or an Audemars Piguet, we can help. For assistance in finding the Panerai of your dreams or for assistance in browning our collecting of excellent second-hand items, get in touch today.