Panerai: It’s Not Broken, But Here’s How to Fix It
by Raman Kalra
Raman Kalra is the founder of The Watch Muse blog and has kindly agreed to share some of his articles with us here on Quill & Pad.
Panerai watches are unique. There is no denying that they are beautiful and have that Italian design flair. Panerai watches are unmistakable at a distance and have rightfully earnt their fame. For this reason, I am a big fan of the brand. The watches, despite being originally designed for diving, are elegant and timeless.
There are clear strengths of what Panerai produces and how they do it; however, there is a good amount of repetition. As we see other brands push the boundaries of design or follow trends to stay relevant, Panerai seems to be lagging.
Unless you are a Paneristi (a large online community of Panerai fans), it is a relatively tough task in distinguishing between references. A regular watch collector buys a Panerai to buy a Panerai, not necessarily because they are fully aware of the differences between the PAM01084 and PAM00915 for example.
This is not to say that there aren’t interesting propositions on offer. You just need to look harder because at first glance everything looks similar, or you buy a Panerai with extra complications on top.
However, in this era of growing watch enthusiasts and broader competition across all price ranges, there is a risk Panerai gets stuck. We don’t want this! I believe it might be time they consider expanding their lineup, creating a new collection and drawing on their expertise in design to entice a new audience.
Before going into more depth, I’m not knocking the brand. I love what Panerai does and want them to continue to thrive. Those die-hard Paneristi should never be forgotten by Panerai, but those same fans should understand that the brand needs to evolve and grow. At the end of the day, everyone will win by Panerai succeeding!
Panerai was established in Florence back in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai. At the time, his store consisted of watch repairs, a watchmaking school, and a showroom where it became an influential distributor of Swiss watches in Italy. There are a couple of notable developments in the history of Panerai and watchmaking that led to its first model as we know it.
Firstly, in 1915, Panerai worked on producing a source of illumination for Italian military equipment – this was built upon the discovery of radium in 1898. Panerai ended up creating a radium compound named “Radiomir”.
Secondly, the invention of waterproof watch cases by Rolex in 1926, which ended up becoming instrumental in the success of combat divers in the Navy. It was in the 1930s that the development progressed, initially starting with Panerai supplying the Italian navy with Oyster-cased pocket-watches, followed by a collaboration between the Navy, Panerai and Rolex leading to the first Panerai as we know it – the Ref. 3646.
For the next 18 years (1938-1956), this setup continued. Watches were produced by Rolex and modified by Panerai to suit the needs of the Navy. These modifications included highly visible, lume-filled sandwich dials, enlarged bezels, shatter-resistant plexiglass crystals and wired lugs. A number of these were innovations by Panerai. They were the first to use plexiglass (1936), the first to create sandwich dials (1938) and they even developed the 8-day movement to reduce wear and tear on the crown.
There were even further developments along the way in the late 1940s and 1950s. Panerai started producing its own cases with integrated lugs and, as chemistry progressed, tritium was discovered and became the basis for their next luminescent material – trademarked “Luminor”.
Despite the wide successes Panerai was achieving, the brand started to decline at the end of the 1950s when its partnership with Rolex ended. It did, however, remain a manufacturer of instruments for diving and aerospace until the 1990s, but it was not a typical watch brand like many of its counterparts. The big shift came when Richemont bought Panerai in 1997, moved it to Switzerland (thankfully the Italian design remained), and started to make it more commercialized. This is where Panerai as we know it began.
The current collection that Panerai produces spans four collections – Radiomir, Luminor, Luminor Due, and Submersible. Each of which with their own distinct details while following the Panerai aesthetic.
Starting with the Luminor. This is not based on those original, early designs from Panerai, but rather uses the design language that evolved in the 1950s. What does this mean? It builds on the Radiomir cushion case by using integrated lugs and, more importantly, the famous crown lock mechanism that has become synonymous with the brand. If you have not seen it before, it is a clever piece of engineering which uses a lever locked into place, holding the crown down. You have to release the lever in order to use the crown. This was Panerai’s answer to the Rolex screw-down crown to ensure water resistance. In doing so, they managed to find a very charming solution to the problem. It is no surprise that it continues to be produced this way to the day, and it is a large reason why the Luminor is the best-known line.
Next is the Radiomir. This is where it all began for Panerai and the modern iteration is based on the original watch that was produced for the Italian Navy. It comes with a cushion case, although when compared to the Luminor, it is slightly more squared off. Some models in the collection are still offered with wired lugs, but the most notable difference is that it has an exposed crown. This means you don’t get the famous crown guard here, or the same levels of water resistance, but you do get a more faithful interpretation of the original that feels less sporty.
The Submersible is where we see the modern interpretation of Panerai. It is a modern divers’ watch that the brand can push to the limits in terms of depth ratings and technology. It maintains the distinct Panerai look with a cushion case, however, you don’t get the 12-3-6-9 numerals that are traditionally found on the other models. Here everything is more purposeful. The indices are a combination of batons and circles, and the hands are broader and filled with more lume. On top of this, there is a rotating bezel. Again though, unmistakably a Panerai.
Finally, the Luminor Due which is the most recent addition launching in 2018. It is no secret that Panerai did not focus on smaller watches before. Historically, they have all been 42 mm and upwards in diameter. However, this changed with the launch of the Luminor Due. The sizes vary but start at a reasonable 38 mm. It is not just the diameter that changed either, but they are housed in thinner cases. Overall, they took a Luminor and decided to make it into more of a dress watch. You lose water resistance, but take the best of the Luminor design and lean into the beauty of the watch.
It is hard for me to say which of the 4 models I would go for, let alone the exact reference! There are so many small details on different ones that I like, it would come down to what felt best on the wrist. And I don’t have a large wrist! What you have on offer though is a set of very capable watches that offer a lot for the money.
As we have seen above Panerai has a strong history, design and following: so where is the problem? There isn’t one necessarily, but over the last few years we have seen exponential growth in mechanical watches. There are more publications, YouTube videos, Instagram and Blogs that have all helped in bringing new consumers to the market. Brands have been aware of this, even if sometimes they like to think they are bigger than trends.
We are seeing tougher competition at all price ranges. You have never had better options for a watch, whether below $1,000 or over $100,000! On top of this, we are seeing an evolution in design. Yes, the backbones of brands are remaining pretty similar, but you are seeing some venture into new areas to create excitement and bring in new customers. I cannot see into the future, but from a pure business point of view, it makes sense. As long as brands retain their identity and classic models, I am all for it.
Panerai, however, has maintained the status quo apart from adding the Luminor Due line. As more people are interested in watches, more will end up loving Panerai. However, interest in other brands has risen much faster. I am going to try and show this with hard facts to start, and then move on to more anecdotal ways you can see this.
Firstly, I will look at Google Search trends. This may not be the most accurate when compared to metrics like sales figures and footfall in shops, but it does allow us to get a general sense of overall awareness and interest. This is important because it indicates the whole range of people looking at Panerai – it might be a potential customer, or someone discovering Panerai for the first time. This is what I want to capture considering the new number of watch enthusiasts out there!
As we can see on the charts, Panerai very much had the advantage back in the early 2000s. This is to be expected as it was the time larger watches were in fashion. It was also after they had partnered with Sylvester Stallone in the late 1990s. He wore a watch in Daylight in 1996, and with the help of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also fell for the brand and wore a Luminor in Eraser that same year, popularity picked up.
However, over the last decade, there has been an adjustment in tastes. No longer is the mentality of the bigger a watch, the better it is. There has been a shift to smaller watches where a 40-42 mm case diameter is now sitting on the larger side of the scale, rather than the smaller side. There have been other trends as well. An increase in interest in vintage-inspired watches (no issue for Panerai here), but in addition, there has been a drop in attention span and new collectors want the latest shiny new things. I am not a behavioral scientist, but this most likely stems from social media, and we are now in a position where having the newest model of a watch matters to some. A brand that is not reinventing itself is in a tougher position.
When we consider the top watch brands by sales from 2021, produced by Morgan Stanley, it confirms the wider trends. We can see that between 2017 and 2021 Panerai declined from 14th to 16th. On the other hand, some of those brands that have been gaining include Breitling, Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, Tudor and Hermes. There are going to be many more factors that led to why this has been the case, but it confirms that Panerai has been steady declining compared to many other brands.
Finally, and this is more anecdotal, there are other ways of seeing interests change. Let’s take the recent Hodinkee series on YouTube – Spec Sheet. These are short videos of well-known watches that touch on the specifications of watches. Recently for example: there was a video on the Radiomir PAM210 with 10k views, IWC Mark XVIII with 17k views (read my thoughts here), and Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch with 25k views. I don’t need to break down what this tells us, even if we factored in an extra week of views for the Panerai, it would still be some way behind the IWC.
What if we now consider how much engagement the releases from 2022 generated in the Hodinkee comments section? The Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro has 23 comments, whereas the Oris ProPilot X has 116 comments and Tudor Black Bay Pro has 300 comments. All figures are correct as of 11 October 2022. This is by no means scientific but highlights that, while there is consistent demand for Panerai, others are capturing more interest from consumers.
I think that Panerai should consider expanding and creating a fifth collection. It might sound like a daunting task, but many other brands have successfully added a new collection to a historic brand. For example, the Omega Aqua Terra and Planet Ocean are now staples in those brands’ collections, but were only launched in the early 2000s. A. Lange & Söhne recently began producing their first sports watch collection – the Odysseus. This came in 2019 and the reception was initially mixed, but they now command large premiums.
There are many other examples of success stories. The two most sought-after Zenith watches currently are the Chronomaster Spot and Defy models, but that doesn’t that mean Zenith does not focus on its classic El Primero Chronomaster Original. Even Rolex is not immune to expanding! The Sky-Dweller only joined the rest of the collection in 2012. The point is that heritage and design language do not have to be compromised when creating something new.
What would I do if I was Panerai? Firstly, I believe that for a new collection they should move away from the cushion case. Panerai make beautiful cushion case watches and always have, but now is the time to add some variation to the collection. It should be a stainless steel, round case with a combination of brushed and polished surfaces. It would be offered on both a strap and a bracelet, and this could be the opportunity for Panerai to finally improve the chunky (unattractive to me) bracelet they currently sell.
The big question is what they could do with the dial. I have thought about this for some time. Would it be better to try something like a field watch similar to the Tudor Ranger? Maybe, but I’m not convinced. But they already have a viable base – the Panerai Mare Nostrum. Previously, this name and model have come up as a special edition and has always been a chronograph. It is based on the prototype presented to the Italian Navy in 1943. However, I would not limit the new model to just a chronograph, but I would use inspiration from the historic Mare Nostrum and create a whole collection. A time-only, chronograph, GMT… it is limitless.
And in various sizes so it caters to all wrist sizes. The case is also round so you have that desired variation to the collection while maintaining the nod to the original. Some case-work would need to be done to create a bit more depth compared to the slab-sided Mare Nostrum models we have seen before, but it is a good base to start with. There is potential here while retaining a historical connection and the much loved Panerai aesthetic, as well as opening the door to new consumers.
Launch the first models blue, white and black dial variations in 40mm and go from there!
Panerai is one of the most iconic brands out there. Not many are recognized across a room just from their case shape and dial font. They have a rich, deep history and are able to use that to build emotion into their watches. Panerai has created a strong devoted following and ultimately, a strong brand reputation. However, as trends change and consumer interests shift, it feels as though Panerai is somewhat stuck.
Attention is being drawn towards other brands that are pushing in various ways for recognition. To bring some of that interest back to Panerai, I believe a new collection should be created giving collectors more variety and options in terms of case and size, while maintaining the true Panerai emotion. It might cause some backlash amongst the die-hard fans of the brand, but I think in the long-run, a more successful Panerai is only better for everyone – especially Panerai!
For more information, please visit www.panerai.com/en/home.html
You can read more articles by Raman Kalra at www.thewatchmuse.com.
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Talk about missing the point!
It’s hard to believe this was written by a watch journalist. Panerai’s reputation has become mud in the watch community since their parent company decided we were all idiots who wouldn’t notice their disgusting cost-cutting.
I came close to buying one. Then I checked them out.
Maybe Raman should do the same.
Panerai are still one of the top 20 watch brands by sales Tam, so they still have a lot of fans. But as Raman points out, they are fading against the competition so there are many that feel as you do.
MacDonalds is one of the most popular “restaurants” on Earth. Doesn’t make it good quality.
Hi Tam – yes well aware of the changes they made and the way they handled the situation hardly helped. It definitely ruins the view from the watch community, but I wanted to take a different approach here from a higher level. From speaking to people who are less into watches than we are, Panerai as a brand holds some weight. Equally, this is shown by them still being a top 20 Swiss brand as shown. In that context, what can they do to improve their broad appeal? That is what I wanted to tackle.
Appreciate the comment!
Thank you for your courteous reply. The first priority of any company should be quality. This is not first for Panerai anymore. It is dead last. It is a barrier to their goal, which is to con ignorant people.
I find it distasteful to think that a new marketing campaign or case shape would ever forgive or paper over the disgraceful behavior of Richemont and as far as I am concerned, they no longer deserve a place in this publication.
So agree with you Tam,Panera I just from an ethical view point has no place on a legitimate watch blog,proven bad behavior should automatically DQ them from being anything but shamed.
Serious question…why are Tudor and Panerai in the same article? With IWC, I get it, but Tudor?! Tudor is a brand for people who cannot afford a Rolex, and it has nothing to do with Panerai. You are giving suggestions to Panerai about what they could change in comparison with a Tudor watch (such as the Ranger or something). I wonder if this is a paid article meant to spread FUD because otherwise, it doesn’t make any sense. Panerai should not change its DNA by creating a new collection, as you suggested. The only thing they need is better marketing. This is why a simple Swiss watch with almost no complications, like Rolex, is the best-selling one. At the end of the day, the majority of people buy watches as social statements rather than timepieces, so marketing is the answer. They should change their marketing strategy instead.
Agree. I was wondering too why is Tudor being mentioned here? It’s like comparing a Mercedes Benz to a Toyota/Honda. The better advertising could help them.
I agree. Tudor make far better watches than Panerai these days. 😊
Tudor is just the poor brother/sister of Rolex. That’s it.
You are categorically wrong. Someone should conduct a study of Rolex owners. They seem to be predisposed to a certain mental derangement. No other brand is embraced by such close-minded, arrogant “alpha males”
I totally agree
Hi Alex – Tudor is included just as a comparison. I am not saying they are in the same brand category, but rather I wanted to highlight the rise of others, especially as Tudor tends to listen to consumer demands. They are a brand that may have had that reputation before with Rolex, but now they stand on their own two feet in my eyes.
I would never say Panerai should move away from its core DNA, and in that sense, I agree extra marketing will always work. But my opinion is they should expand to make a new range that can bring new customers in. This would follow their design language and use a name that they have used before. Rolex is not immune to this and created the Sky-Dweller for example. It doesn’t mean the Submariner/Daytona/GMT is not their core. All just my opinion!
I appreciate your comment, thanks!
The comparison is wrong from the beginning. Tudor can be compared with brands like Breitling, Longines, etc. Panerai is way above Tudor in terms of prestige as an example. As I mentioned above, IWC is a brand that can be compared with Panerai. When you put Tudor in the same article with Panerai is like having Patek with Rolex in the same article. Totally wrong.
Prestige? Are you joking? Panerai has always been seen as the “style over substance” watch. The handbag for men watch. And that was before they became a disgrace. Horologically, Tudor are making great strides. They have far more substance than Panerai. I suspect that you need to do some reading.
You should do the reading my friend. You are comparing Tudor with Panerai! What a joke! Honestly you know nothing. If it was just about the movements JLC would be a top 3 brand. When you know that they are the cheap copy of Rolex, conversation ends there. At least buy something genuine and unique.
Rolex is not the best selling watch. In terms of number of watches sold, there are far better.
It’s just that they’re expensive.
Thankfully, they are genuinely good.
So which is the best selling Swiss luxury watch if not Rolex? They are good watches but with no complications. Is not a brand suitable for watch enthusiasts.
Cartier is next after Rolex (by sales) Alex, but we don’t know how many of those are quartz. Omega was No.2 (by sales) but has dropped to the No.3 slot.
That’s due to being in Heavy rotation a the top watch blog. Its a joke really.
Oh I see. It has to be Swiss-made AND luxury does it?
So you can discount any other brand?
Ranking by amount of cash generated is one way to do it. But the real measure of popularity is by number of watches. That’s what “best selling” means. Longines make twice as many watches per year as Rolex. That means they are MORE POPULAR. I suppose you will now discount them as irrelevant, eh? Rolex Derangement is a powerful disorder
There was no reference to either ‘most popular’ or ‘best selling’ watches or brands in the article Tam, only brands ranked by sales revenue. Popularity among those biggest revenue might be judged by number of watches sold, but that’s naturally going to go to the brands selling the cheapest watches.
Looking at the progression of Google Trends graphs gives a good indication of if a brand is going up or down in popularity/awareness. If your potential clients are not looking for information about your brand as much as they are relative to your competition, that is a strong indicator you are either doing something wrong or not doing something as well as your competition. That’s a strong signal that a brand should consider changing something.
You know you are doing something wrong when you discount watches sold as a measure of popularity.
As an owner of a new Panerai (Luminor Due) I feel that it’s this exclusivity that is one of the main reasons I just bought one. I didn’t want a watch that so many others have. Like a Rolex. Every time I wear my Panerai outside I get looks. I get compliments. From all kinds of people in all walks of life. (One guy working in a grocery store as a checker noticed it right away and told me he loves Panerai and wants one). I love the way it looks too because of how masculine it looks. Why these certain movie stars wear it too. Jason Statham, Arnold, Sly, Pierce Brosnan, etc. So you see, to some of us wearers of this very cool looking watch, we like it that it is NOT so common. Then it would become too cliche. That’s not being special to me. Why I will keep buying Panerai. It’s my favorite brand of watch.
You prefer a timepiece (panerai) instead of a social statement (rolex). Good taste 👌
Take a look inside your Due.
First of all, congratulations for your article that tries to be objective on a sensitive subject! (paneristi are sensitive :-))
A few comments from a watchmaking historian:
– Panerai did not invent a radium-based compound. The “Radiomir” were “radio-mira” which means sightingdevices using radium. See patent GB 191512270 from 1915, among others.
– Rolex did not invent waterproof watches. There have been many inventors before (Borgel for example) but the most successful waterproof watch (and tested by the US army) was the watch of Dépollier/Jacques in 1917.
– Sandwitch dials were not invented by Panerai. Lipmann in France did it in 1909. See patent FR 49457
– Panerai did not develop 8-day movements: they were supplied by Angelus. Probably modified but not developed.
Yes, Joel, exactly.
Panerai basically never did anything truly original on their own, however, they have been masters at faking their ‘horological history’ to watch lovers for years through the technique of repetition, as well as glibley papering over their material support for a fascist government in WW II.
Thank you for debunking their PR myth with the clear examples you cited here.
The majority of the brands are masters at faking their horological history as you mentioned above. It is not just Panerai.
I have 5 panerai and love wearing then,
Wouldn’t touch a Rolex with a barge pole over produced 2 million made in 2022, quality must be an issue but no one finds our about it.
Oh my! That’s priceless! 😊
Panerai has a number of issues. From their falling movement and WR quality, to their issues with fakes. Those in the know, know better than to buy a used Panerai, unless they are 100% sure where it’s from. I guess they’re lucky that they still have a lot of fans who don’t read watch forums.
Panerai are So easy to fake, there are far more fake than real in places like chrono24 and eBay ,etc.
You would have to be nuts to not buy from a AD and then only new.Facts.
Now that being said , if your 5k watch can be faked to perfection and sold Retail, for a few hundred,that should teach you something as well !
Just say NO to Panerai.
You can thank me later.
I would like to be able to buy an IWC or Panerai. I love their designs. I tried a MkXVIII in January. It’s exactly my kind of watch. But it is lunacy to pay those prices for such a basic item. I literally walked 50m and bought a GS spring drive for less money.