Living Large

2 minute read
Betsy Kroll

If fans of officine Panerai watches—an ardent bunch known as Paneristi—had a motto, that would surely be “Bigger is better.” Almost singularly responsible for the current craze for oversize watches, Panerai was all but unknown to the general public just a decade ago. Founded around 1860 by Giovanni Panerai in Florence, Italy, the company thrived for decades as a watch-repair shop and mail-order catalog. In 1936, already the official supplier to the Italian navy for precision instruments like mechanical calculators and compasses, Panerai created a prototype watch able to withstand the extreme conditions naval usage would subject it to. In 1938, the Radiomir, so named for the radium-based substance used to illuminate the dial, went into production exclusively for the Italian navy. It boasted a 47-mm diameter—practical for distinguishing numerals while diving in murky waters. Between that time and 1993, only 300 Panerai watches were made, each one for exclusive use by the Italian or Egyptian navies. In 1993, Panerai offered a limited number of the Radiomir’s successor, Luminors—named for their use of a new, nonradioactive luminous material—for sale to the public. A hit with collectors, a Luminor was purchased by Sylvester Stallone in 1995. Smitten, Stallone asked the company to make 200 special editions called Slytech. Only about 15 were ever made, but Stallone shared his find with famous friends like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The madness spread when Ralph Lauren wore a Radiomir in one of his ad campaigns. The wait to get a Panerai, produced annually in limited quantities, can be up to several years. Still, that hasn’t stopped A-list stars like Robin Williams, Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe from joining the Paneristi ranks.

1 An underwater wrist compass and Marina Militare watch

2 Actor Orlando Bloom sporting a Panerai watch at a 2007 awards show

3 Company founder Giovanni Panerai, who opened Florence’s first watchmaking shop

4 The Panerai family’s Piazza San Giovanni shop still houses the boutique today

5 Sylvester Stallone wearing a Panerai watch at a press conference for his movie Rocky Balboa

6 Pierce Brosnan attending a movie premiere wearing a Panerai watch

7 An early model of the Radiomir produced for the Italian navy

8 Luminor 1950 Regatta Rattrapante steel watch ($10,900)

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