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The Complete Panerai Buying Guide: Every Current Model Line Explained

A guide to and brief history of one of the most notable dive watch manufacturers in the world and its timepieces.

panerai brand survey
Henry Phillips

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Giovani Panerai opened his first watch shop in Florence, Italy in 1860, and his operation soon expanded to include a bustling workshop and Florence’s first horological training center. By the early 20th Century, Panerai had taken on contracts for the Royal Italian Navy, and in 1916 Panerai secured a crucial patent for Radiomir, a radium-based glowing paint.

Like so many firms stuck in fascist countries, Panerai developed watches for the wrong side during WWII, but Mussolini’s dictatorial mandates and deep pockets spurred Panerai to innovate at a rapid pace. They developed the Perspex crystal (1936), massive luminous sandwich dials (1938), integrated lugs with spring bars (1940) and a movement with an 8-day power reserve to reduce wear on crown seals (also 1940). After the fascists fell, Panerai developed their renowned tritium-based lume called Luminor (1949), and their signature lever-activated crown lock (1950).

the early panerai storefront
The early Panerai storefront.
Panerai

Panerai’s wrist watches didn’t reach a wider audience until they offered a civilian collection in 1993 and attracted the endorsement of Sylvester Stallone. By 1997, Panerai had become so successful that the Vendome Group (later the Richemont Group) acquired the firm, moved production to Switzerland, and transformed Panerai into the luxury sport watch company we know today.

It took Panerai some time to shed Sly’s Rocky/Rambo bravado and tell its own story more directly, but once it did, the company offered up a subtler form of badassery that’s all about oceangoing adventure. Italy is almost entirely coastline, and their Navy is famous for innovative maritime technologies and techniques. Panerai was right there making the dive watches, gauges, and compasses for these pioneers of the deep. Meanwhile, the company has maintained a close relationship with yacht racing, including on vintage wooden yachts.

Despite the relocation of its manufacturing to Switzerland, Panerai’s style remains faithful to the original Italian designs of the early to mid-20th Century, and today’s collection is far more diverse than ever before.

sylvester stallone’s panerai luminor 5218 201a
Sylvester Stallone’s Luminor 5218-201A.
Panerai

      A Vast and Diverse Catalog
      Broken into four collections, Panerai offers over 20 in-house movements as well a slew of movements built on third party bases, and these calibers are found in well over 200 individual watch models available in steel, bronze, titanium, gold, platinum, and proprietary case materials such as BMG-TECH (bulk metallic glass), Carbotech (polyether ether ketone), and Panerai Composite (synthetic ceramic using micro arc oxidation).

      Sometimes the distinction between models is merely a matter of case material or dial color, but it’s common to grow frustrated shopping for a Panerai because one’s preferred look and fit don’t always come equipped with the movement/functions one prefers—or vice-versa. We aim to make navigating this dense catalog as easy as possible.

      Panerai Numbers
      Each watch is assigned an individual reference or PAM number: PAMxxxxx. Colloquially, the reference numbers are often referred to without the zeros between the PAM and the numbers at the end.

      Panerai’s in-house movements carry calibre numbers in this format: P.xxxx.
      The company’s movements built on a Unitas/ETA base have Roman numeral calibre numbers that start with OP (e.g., OPXXII).

      Panerai’s Four Model Categories

      The best way to divide and conquer the vast Panerai catalog is to start with the collection you're interested in followed by the case size that'll fit you best (keeping in mind that Panerais are meant to wear boldly). Using a filter on the brand's site, you'll see that while there are 150 models in the Luminor family, so if you know that 42mm is the size for you it handily narrows it down to just 6 (at time of writing). Then, you've just got some dial colors and complications to consider.

      However, much of the variety in Panerai comes from its movements and complications. The quintessential Panerai experience is quite possibly a Luminor at 44mm, but there are over 100 models that fit that description so, in addition to narrowing down your choices by case material, you'll also have a slew of features available. For the most basic and entry-level options, check out the range called Base Logo.

      Panerai Luminor

      Beginning in the late 1940s, Panerai moved away from Radiomir lume to the tritium-based mixture patented as Luminor. In 1950 Panerai introduced its signature crown lock. The Luminor line features this crown lock, integrated lugs, and a cushion case shape that has its roots in the past but was also modernized a bit for 1993’s first civilian collection. This is easily the most recognizable Panerai look today.

      SHOP PRE-OWNED

      Panerai
      Panerai Luminor Base Logo PAM01086
      panerai.com
      $5,000.00

      This is he classic Panerai look for the least money possible, and it even comes with an in-house movement. The Base Logo is the brand's most basic, with several options in the Luminor and Radiomir collections. You get two-hand time telling via a simple manually wound movement — and a painted dial rather than the brand's signature "sandwich dial." Newer models have in-house movements but older ones were sourced.

      Diameter: 44mm
      Movement: Panerai P.6000 manual

      Panerai
      Panerai Luminor Marina PAM02392
      panerai.com
      $7,900.00

      The headline here is 42mm. A lot of people find the bulk of the Panerai catalog at 44mm, 45mm and 47mm simply unwieldy despite loving everything else about the watches. So many rejoiced when this new version was introduced in TKTK, offering the complete package — only in a smaller and more wearable one. Note that it's water-resistant to 100m, rather than a traditional dive watch's 300m, but more than sufficient for most needs.

      Diameter: 42mm
      Movement: Panerai P.9010 automatic

      Panerai
      Panerai Luminor Power Reserve PAM00423
      panerai.com
      $10,200.00

      The PAM 432 is a good representative of the brand's big-boy 47mm watches, as well as an example of complications. Here we have a power reserve indicator, as you'll find on many other models, particularly useful since the movement here is manually wound. Other complications you'll find are the likes of GMTs and flyback chronographs, often in combination.

      Diameter: 47mm
      Movement: Panerai P.3002 manual

      Panerai
      Panerai Luminor Marina Carbotech PAM01118
      panerai.com
      $16,400.00

      Panerai is strong on style, but the brand shows it horological substance with forward-looking and experimental watches using avant-garde materials, high-end complications and finishing as well as exotic techniques. Here, the brand combined its proprietary carbon composite material Carbotech with lume embedded in the case at unexpected and unconventional places.

      Diameter: 44mm
      Movement: Panerai P.9010 automatic

      Panerai Luminor Due

      Though generally smaller, thinner, and feeling a bit "fancier," the Due ("two" in Italian) feels like a sub-collection of the Luminor line and features the familiar design and crown guard locking mechanism. It's understandable that the brand wanted to separate it from the famously rugged Luminor with its dive watch origins, though, as the Due has only a dress-watch-level of water resistance at 30m and a slimmer profile. The Due line premiered in 2018 and is Panerai’s answer to demands for both smaller and more feminine models.

      SHOP PRE-OWNED

      Panerai
      Panerai Luminor Due PAM00927
      panerai.com
      $7,400.00

      Offering a similar look and size to 42mm Luminor models, it might at first be hard to tell what makes this a Due. It's got less water resistance and a thinner case, and this particular model offering features like brushed titanium and an automatic movement with 3 days of power reserve — and an overall elegant execution based on vintage models.

      Diameter: 42mm
      Movement: Panerai P.900 automatic

      Panerai
      Panerai Piccolo Due PAM01029
      panerai.com
      $15,700.00

      These petite Panerais at only 38mm in the Luminor Due collection are called Piccolo Due. The smallest Panerai you're going to find, it still has the captivating look (minus the presence) and shows that the brand's charisma doesn't rely on its size. This one is fancied up in the brand's Goldtech gold alloy, but there are more affordable versions in steel as well.

      Diameter: 38mm
      Movement: Panerai P.900 automatic

      Panerai Radiomir

      Referencing Panerai’s earliest military watches from the 1930s, Radiomir models stand out from the rest of collections for a couple of reasons. First, they lack the prominent crown guard and locking mechanism that nearly defines the brand and is a feature of every other collection. They also have a couple of case styles with either wire lugs that detach for strap changes or the Radiomir 1940 models with integrated lugs and spring bars. Radiomir watches might look relatively classical and retr0-feeling — but remember that many are sized to offer a very prominent presence, mostly at 45mm or 47mm diameters.

      SHOP PRE-OWNED

      Panerai
      Panerai Radiomir Base Logo PAM00753
      panerai.com
      $4,500.00

      Like the Luminor Base Logo above, this is the most basic and affordable Radiomir model — as well as the brand's overall entry point. No "sandwich dial" or automatic winding, but you do get an in-house movement, 100m of water resistance and a bold wrist statement at 45mm.

      Diameter: 45mm
      Movement: Panerai P.6000 manual

      Panerai
      Panerai Radiomir California PAM00931
      panerai.com
      $8,700.00

      No logo or dial text, just a whopping 47mm steel case and a California dial. The brand plays around with dial designs a bit in its Radiomir collection, and Panerai is one of the watchmakers known for California dials (half Roman, half Arabic numerals). This particular model features wire lugs, onion crown and a gradient effect for its light brown dial. Inside, it runs on a manually wound in-house movement offering only hours and minutes but nicely decorated and visible through a display caseback.

      Diameter: 47mm
      Movement: Panerai P.3000 manual

      Panerai
      Panerai Radiomir 1940 Tourbillon GMT Oro Rosso PAM00558
      panerai.com
      $123,300.00

      This is an example of the Radiomir 1940 case with its integrated lugs — as well as showcasing the brand's take on classical, high-end horology. Although it's got a relatively traditional look, a couple stand out features aren't readily apparent: First is that its caseback reveals a tourbillon and a power reserve indicator, while its straightforward dial displays GMT and day/night functions. Finally, it's in a massive 48mm case in the brand's Goldtech alloy.

      Diameter: 48mm
      Movement: Panerai P.2005 manual, tourbillon, GMT, power-reserve, am/pm, 6-day power reserve

      Panerai Submersible

      In 2019, Panerai separated out its dedicated dive watches into this new category, and doing so vastly simplified its catalog. While other Panerai watches might technically deserve to be called dive watches due to their origins and water resistance, these have features like rotating bezels we tend to associate with modern divers. It also differs from other collections due to elements like its dial design and skeletonized hands.

      SHOP PRE-OWNED

      Panerai
      Panerai Submersible PAM00973
      panerai.com
      $8,900.00

      Like other collections, many of Panerai's Submersible dive watches are imposing in size, so when the brand introduced a new version at 42mm a lot of people were pleased. It's sized right, is water-resistant to 300m and features an excellent automatic movement with 3 days of power reserve. It's priced to compete for your Submariner money, but incontrovertibly offers a stronger and more distinctive personality.

      Diameter: 42mm
      Movement: Panerai P.900 automatic

      Panerai
      Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Bronzo PAM00382
      panerai.com
      $10,200.00

      Another feature Panerai is known for is its early use of bronze — and the seductive way it names watches made from it: Bronzo. Looking like it came from a sunken wreck and and is ready to go back to explore it, this massive 47mm dive watch will only look better and more rugged as its bronze case patinas. It also features one of the brand's most compelling movements offering a 3-day power reserve and automatic winding.

      Diameter: 47mm
      Movement: Panerai P.9000 automatic, 3-day power reserve

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