In this continuing series ‘Iconic Watches’ we bring you the world’s most enduring and popular timepieces that have achieved ‘cult’ status. This will include watches from long-established classics from legendary manufacturers, such as Patek Philippe to contemporary icons, from the likes of Audemars Piguet.
Next we ‘dive’ into the professional world of ‘tool watches’ with Panerai’s Radiomir that was issued to the Italian navy during World War II – used by the incursori, (frogmen) that rode on mini-torpedoes to attach bombs to battleships.
During the 1930s, Panerai a Florence based, Italian company was producing high-precision mechanical and optical instruments. It was during this tumultuous time that the Italian Navy was seeking reliable, dependable and accurate water-resistant wristwatches.
In 1935 they handed the task to Panerai. The following year they delivered a prototype, called the Radiomir, to the Italian navy submarine group, who were also based in Florence. After a series of modification and further innovation, including the ‘sandwich’ dial with large ‘arabic’ numbers lit up by luminous [radioactive] radium.
The ‘Radiomir’ name first appeared on the dial of the production version that first appeared in 1938. This inaugural model featured a large 47mm cushion-shaped case with screw-down crown that gave the watch a water- resistance level of 200m (660ft). The hand wound, mechanical movement was supplied by Rolex, 16-ligne, made using a Cortébert ebauche (often referred to a ‘grail’ watches – I’ve been fortunate to handle a genuine ‘Rolex Panerai’ which is very special indeed!)
After World War II the production of wristwatches virtually ceased, however, they continued to supply the Italian navy until the the late 1960s. It took the intervention of Sylvester Stallone to accelerate the growth of the brand, as he wore a Panerai Mare Nostrum in his film, Daylight in 1996.
Stallone liked it so much that he ordered hundreds of additional watches with ‘Panerai Slytech’ on the dial and his signature on the case-back. It was at this time that the brand came to the attention of the Richemont Group which bought the company in 1997.
The rest as they say is ‘history’, but this was the moment that Panerai re-established itself as a brand that discerning collector’s seek out and enjoy.
For more information please visit https://www.panerai.com