Why is Panerai relying less on its naval history and dabbling in futuristic tech?
The Italian watchmaker’s 2020 lineup borrows materials from the aerospace and automotive industries, setting a new, practical course for the future of military watches.
The Panerai Luminor, easily recognised as the stocky crown-guard bearing successor to the original Radiomir, is turning 70 this year. For a good portion of those years, they were reserved exclusively for the country’s navy, and it was only in 1993 that civilian models were introduced.
They were, and still are, a hit. The brand’s military background makes for scrumptious storytelling and such purpose-built tool watches come with the assurance (even if it is perceived) of durability and strength. But even the best war stories get old, which is why Panerai has been slowly upgrading their little machines over recent years with new tech and thus setting a new, practical course for the future of military watches.
It looks like a subtler example of carbon fibre, but the gently patterned dark grey cases on the two new Luminor Marina Fibratech 44mm watches get their name and case materials from basalt fibre.
Basalt rock, which is formed by the rapid cooling of lava, is bound with polymers and baked under controlled temperatures and pressures to form a composite that can be machined into shape. Its benefits are many: It has better physical and mechanical properties than fibreglass, it’s cheaper than carbon fibre, 60 per cent lighter than steel, and is highly resistant to corrosion. Such properties have made Fibratech a standout material in the aerospace and automotive industry, but Panerai is the first to see its potential for watches.
The PAM01663 sports a gradient blue dial with a matching Panerai Sportech or rubber strap, but the PAM01119 will additionally shine, quite literally, with modern style thanks to Super-Luminova coating not just on the numerals and hands, but also on the dial periphery and crown guard. Even the strap features luminescent sewing. Both are guaranteed for 70 years and limited to 270 pieces each from Panerai boutiques only.
This is far from the first time Panerai has introduced a novel material into the world of watchmaking. This year’s enthusiastically lumed Luminor Marina Carbotech 44mm PAM01118 is cased in Carbotech, a carbon fibre composite Panerai developed that’s lighter and tougher than ceramic or titanium.
This reference also confidently comes with a 70-year guarantee and is limited to 270 pieces. The first watch to use this material was the Luminor Submersible 1950 Carbotech 3 Days Automatic 47mm PAM00616 back in 2015.
Even its dressier offerings haven’t escaped pragmatic reimagining. Last year Panerai introduced the Luminor Due Goldtech, named for the gold alloy the brand developed using a significant amount of copper (24 per cent) to add a richer, darker hue than traditional pink gold, as well as a whisper of platinum (0.4 per cent) to prevent colour changes that may result from oxidation. The alloy has returned this year in the new Luminor Marina Goldtech 44mm PAM01112.
Panerai’s experiments in material science benefits other collections as well. The Submersible EcoPangaea Tourbillon GMT 50mm Mike Horn Edition PAM01108, also new for 2020, is a five-piece limited edition boutique exclusive that uses a proprietary high-tech steel, also dubbed EcoPangaea. Since the watch was made in partnership with adventurer and explorer Mike Horn, Panerai used recycled material from the drive shaft of Horn’s sailing ship, the Pangaea, to create the steel case.
For a year that’s making everyone prove their mettle, it’s rather inspiring to have a collection that represents everything we need to be right now: Adaptable, innovative and resilient.