In recent years, you might have seen Panerai dominate headlines for reasons beyond its watches. It dialled up its environmental efforts with the launch of the Submersible eLAB-ID, the first-ever watch constructed from 98.6 per cent recycled materials. It journeyed with its clients to the ice floes of the Arctic with brand ambassador Mike Horn; and it has ventured into the metaverse by releasing an NFT with every Panerai Experience Edition watch.
While these have all been exciting initiatives that have served to reinforce the brand’s bold ambitions, they have also distracted us slightly from the main crux of Panerai’s raison d’etre: its super-cool watches. Which is a pity, because we have really been digging the aesthetics and the restrained (well, by Panerai’s standards) approach to the Luminor collection.
Case in point: The 2022 Luminor BiTempo. Meaning GMT in Panerai’s world, Bitempo is powered by Calibre P.9012, which is slightly slimmer than its predecessor, the P.9002. The in-house movement was built by Panerai’s team in Neûchatel, and is the watchmaker’s de facto GMT movement, with a power reserve of three days thanks to twin barrels. It also boasts a zero-reset hack seconds hands that flies back to 12 when the crown is pulled out.
Characteristically large at 44mm, the watch nonetheless does not come across as bombastic nor ostentatious. Panerai has applied a refined touch to the design of the dial, with an attention to handsome details such as the sun-brushed blue dial, small seconds dial at 9, a slightly enlarged date window at 3, and the power reserve indicator at 4. A blue arrow-tipped hour hand reveals the second-time zone. Both the black and blue versions of the watch are packaged in a stainless steel case.
As with all contemporary Panerai Luminors, it is built like a tool watch, with all the bells and whistles needed for a modern adventurer, such as the SuperLuminova-coated hands and the signature sandwich dial; the oversized crown protector and the 300m water-resistance. But it is also imbued with tasteful details for the modern man (or woman) facing daily battles in the boardroom.
Step Back in Time
The Luminor Bitempo is a worthy heir to the distinguished collection, one that has its roots in Panerai’s military past. Funnily enough, the first few Luminor watches actually had the words Radiomir printed on their dial, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Founded in 1860 in Florence, Panerai began its life as a watch repair workshop. It would eventually go on to design its own watches, using movements supplied by Swiss watchmakers. In 1936, it would be commissioned by the Italian Navy to construct hardy watches for its frogmen. Thus the Radiomir was born, whose most distinguishing characteristic was undoubtedly the radium-filled markers and hands. Great for providing luminosity in the dark, but not so great for the health of the watchmakers.
The first official batch of watches was ready for the Navy in 1938, and it also featured a number of firsts in watchmaking: a Perspex crystal was used to protect the watch, while an intelligent sandwich dial increased the legibility of the Radium-filled numerals. The company would keep making minor improvements to the watch, but by the late 1940s, it realised that it had to replace radium.
Hence, Luminor was introduced. Brighter than radium and not toxic, Luminor was first introduced in 1949 in reference 6152-1, in the same Radiomir case. Eventually, the watches with Luminor would have the words ‘Marina Militare’ (Military Navy) and ‘Luminor’ on the dial.
In 1950, the signature crown protection system made its debut, becoming a distinguishing mark of the Luminor collection. By 1955, the innovation had been patented for its ability to be water-resistant to 200m — unheard of at that time — and made its appearance in the US. For many years, Panerai would focus on constructing watches for military forces including the Egyptian military. It specialised in diving tools and aerospace instruments, but it was only in 1993 when Panerai decided to make its watches available to the public. The rest — including unpaid celebrity roles in championing the brand — has been well-documented, and its trajectory over the past 30 years from B2B to B2C has been nothing short of stupendous.
From making watches that were worn to the most dangerous of battlefields to designing watches that now accompany vicarious adventurers to the Arctic, Panerai continues inject its Luminor collection with an intrepid spirit, without foregoing chutzpah and flair.
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