Shane C Kurup
Tales of military might aren’t in short supply in the watch world. But Panerai – the Florentine-founded house that marries its Italian lineage with Swiss precision – has more Forces clout than most. The brand, which began as a small workshop in Florence in 1860, developed its trademark Radiomir model in 1935 at the behest of the Royal Italian Navy. This marked the start of Panerai’s role as the official supplier to its national merchant marine.
Originally, Panerai timepieces were one of the Italian military’s best-kept secrets. Its iconic models – the Luminor and Radiomir – were the preserve of Forces men; the designs were kept under lock and key by the State Secrets Act before being made available to the civilian market in 1993. As a result, both vintage Panerais and newer, technically refined models are coveted by a loyal squadron of collectors, dubbed the “Paneristi”.
‘Pre-1993 Panerais are either a prototype or a mission-worn military watch,’ explains Andrew Morgan, an expert at Watchfinder & Co., which specialises in vintage and pre-owned luxury watches. ‘Collectors of vintage watches prize those worn by the armed forces above all others as they carry a unique legacy, playing a role in the turning tides of world history.’
Panerai is now paying tribute to its association with elite frogmen with its most comprehensive range of models inspired by the revered US amphibious unit, the Navy SEALs. This limited-edition collection of five boutique-exclusive Luminor and Submersible models is built for the job. ‘With their specialist diving spec and athletic styling designed with the Navy SEAL life in mind, each model combines Italian design and Swiss technology, emphasising robustness, legibility and a distinctive design language,’ observes Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO of Panerai.
The Luminor Marina Navy SEALs PAM01412 revisits an archive design, but this new iteration has a hand-burnished 44mm steel case – or “Brunito” finish in the brand’s language – so no two are the same. Two 44mm Luminor chronograph models are also part of the roster, the PAM01409 with a “Brunito” case and the PAM01419 in Carbotech™. Both models incorporate a chronograph with a tachymeter scale that can be used to clock the speed of waterborne craft. At the burlier end of the scale is the Submersible Navy SEALs PAM01323, with a grained, shaded black dial and alternative strap that references the camouflage pattern of the SEALs’ uniform.
Recently, Panerai has been emphasising its pedigree in adventure with experiences that enable owners of special-edition watches to join the Italian Navy’s SOE unit – the Comsubin – and explorer Mike Horn for experiential field expeditions. Now, it offers a fresh concept with the zenith of this collection, the Navy SEALs Submersible Experience Edition, PAM01402. Buyers willing to part with £53,200 will not only get a watch for life, but the chance to join the Navy SEALs in a series of tactical exercises. ‘It offers participants a genuine taste of the Navy SEALs’ life. Expect challenges, adrenaline and an insight into what makes the SEALs one of the toughest forces in the world,’ explains Pontroué.
The watch itself clocks in at a brawny 47mm and embodies the spirit of the SEALs through its uniform-inspired Velcro patch strap, flyback chronograph and “Time to Target” countdown functions. It’s limited to 50 pieces, so you’ll need to move in a timely fashion and enlist at a Panerai boutique if you fancy yourself as an elite frogman.
Panerai, 30 New Bond Street, London W1S 2RN; panerai.com