Panerai Luminor Watches


Panerai is a modern success story, a marriage of history, machismo, utilitarianism, design, and collectability all in one brand. Like many historically cool things Panerai watches remained relatively unknown in the modern era until the 1990s when collectors began to re-popularize the Italian watchmaker. American actor Sylvester Stallone is often accredited as being one of the major reasons why Panerai resurfaced as a horological force to be reckoned with. Today Panerai is owned by the mega luxury company The Richemont Group and while it has Italian roots is produced in Switzerland with a factory in Neuchatel. An Italian instrument maker at first, what made Panerai the success it is today was a partnership with Rolex starting in the 1930s. While I needed to offer some history, my discussion today is not about Panerai at large, but of the Luminor style case which has origins back to the 1950s, which was also around the tail-end of the company’s important relationship with Rolex.

Panerai had worked from the beginning with Rolex to develop underwater diving watches that met the expectations of the Italian military – which the watches did for several decades. The prompt was to create highly legible, water-resistant, and durable timepieces. Rolex of course would supply the movement and the original “Radiomir” style Panerai cases (as they are known today) are little more than large-sized versions of Rolex’s original Oyster case from the 1920s.

The Luminor-style case brought forth the now iconic Panerai style crown protector system which was their take on what Rolex developed as a screw-down crown. The crown protector includes a folding lock that was meant to secure the crown in place to prevent water and dust from entering it. From a visual standpoint the almost half-circle addition to the side of the Panerai case was highly distinctive. I don’t have any information on whether the Panerai-style crown securing system worked better than a screw-down crown, but the latter is employed today almost universally among diving-style watches while Panerai is more or less the only company to use its crown protector and deployant system in the Luminor family. Panerai has a design patent on the special system but no traditional “invention” patent rights remain on the locking lever hardware.

The cushion-shape style large case of the Luminor and new lugs introduced a further development beyond that of traditional Panerai cases. The idea was to continue making the cases more water-resistant and durable. While Panerai watches remained an attractive and highly legible choice, their military service ended soon after the release of the locking lever crown protector that is widely considered to be their last major developments as a company. The Luminor case represents the most advanced item from the historical Panerai that today’s brand seeks to emulate in both ipresentation and marketing.

What the “Marina Luminor” case took with it from existing Panerai models was a lume-painted sandwiched dial, large size, minimalist dial, and for at least the first models Rolex movements. Rolex ended their relationship with Panerai in the mid 1950s and the historic Panerai ended its operation as an instrument maker in the early 1970s. In the 1993 Panerai returned with some new models under new ownership and of course with the Luminor. Today the Panerai Luminor watch collection remains the trademark look of the brand even though it is represented in countless minor variants.