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Luminous legacy

Italian luxury watchmaker, Panerai, has unveiled the latest update to the classic Luminor Marina. Concierge takes a deep dive into the history of this iconic timepiece

The early 20th century was a critical point in time with the second industrial revolution well underway and war on the horizon. Although challenging, these decades saw rapid advances in technology. Warring nations invested much of their time and resources in developing their military operations, especially naval command units, given their position of prominence on the frontlines.

In Italy, this led to the creation of a highly exclusive frogmen programme, which saw the bravest naval officers tasked with perilous underwater missions. Harsh marine conditions made extremely reliable equipment a basic necessity for these ocean-faring commandos. Naturally, the development of precision instruments, including depth gauges and compasses, became a primary focus. As a result, dive technology underwent a major transformation.

At the turn of the century, one name leading the way as a supplier of precision tools to the Royal Italian Navy was Panerai. Although the equipment provided to these valiant frogmen was not invented (only developed) by the Italian Maison, the luminous material found on the dials of their wristwatches was a Panerai discovery.

The Panerai Radiomir has the distinction of being the brand’s first dive timepiece that was manufactured exclusively for the Italian First Submarine Group to enhance underwater legibility during WWII. Invented in 1916 by Guido Panerai, the grandson of founder Giovanni, the timepiece used a radium-based powder, from which the Radiomir derived its name.

Its development revolutionised the underwater world, giving the frogmen a fighting chance in the depths of the sea. Timing was obviously a matter of life and death, and they relied heavily on these novel luminous devices created by Panerai as it allowed them to read the dial-in murky water, or during night-time operations. On the wrists of these brave men, Panerai watches illuminated the darkest corners of the ocean.

In the years that followed, the Radiomir continued to evolve to better fit the Royal Italian Navy’s requirements. Several features were altered to implement the functions of the prototype. But one of the biggest updates came in 1949, after the radium-based powder proved to be radioactive. It was replaced with a new, self-luminous substance, which rechristened the Radiomir to the Luminor.

Also called luminor, the new tritium-based compound was not only safer than the radium-based powder, but also brighter. It was patented in January 1949 and by the early 1950s, the transition from Radiomir to Luminor was complete.

At this point, even the Egyptian navy was using the technology. But all of the company’s models continued to remain classified even after the war. It was only in the early ‘90s that Panerai decided to change course and start producing civilian timepieces. After spending years focusing on post-war dive tools, the brand made three limited-edition models available to the public. The Luminor, Luminor Marina and the Mare Nostrum became the first watches to go on sale. It was a historic moment, which paid tribute to the brand’s seafaring past, while also paving the way for a bright future.

Today, the Luminor’s historical roots remain obvious. Military heritage will always be in the DNA of the brand, but its luxury appeal is undeniable. The watches now use smaller, in-house movements but their defining style has been maintained and celebrated through several new iterations of the original, which continue to evolve and retain their value.

In 2014, a vintage Panerai set a record at a Sotheby’s auction of ‘Important Watches’, in Geneva. An extremely rare stainless steel Luminor from 1955 was acquired for a record sum of AED1.6 million. The unique Luminor featured a rotating polycar- bonate bezel with small luminescent markers. The removable bezel, a fixture never seen before with Panerai, suggests this was probably a prototype that never went into production.

The Luminor, with its fascinating history, will be forever recognised as one of the brand’s most important watches of all time, continuing to inspire future timepieces. Earlier this year, Panerai released the Luminor Marina CarbotechTM – 44 mm (PAM01661), a smaller, simpler version of the original. The slickest model yet? Possibly. Weighing just 96 grams, it still goes to 300 metres below sea level, not losing any of its military might.

What makes this timepiece extraordinary is the brand’s use of its proprietary materials and trademark features all in one piece – the CarbotechTM case, SandwichTM dial and blue Super-LumiNovaTM markings. It reinforces the brand’s commitment to constantly innovating its creations through the use of materials not ordinarily brought into play in the world of watchmaking.

High-tech materials for extreme performance

Panerai stays at the top of their game with the use of several lesser-known, yet incredibly innovative materials in its timepieces, which are enhanced every year through the work carried out by the maison’s Laboratorio di Idee at the Neuchâtel manufacture in Switzerland. CARBOTECH™ A composite material based on carbon fibre, CarbotechTM was introduced to the world of watchmaking by Panerai. Known for its exceptional technical performance, the material has an uneven, matt black appearance, which varies according to the cut, giving every timepiece a unique aesthetic. To form CarbotechTM, thin sheets of carbon fibre are compressed at a controlled temperature under high pressure together with a high-end polymer, PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone). This binds the composite material, making it lighter, stronger, more durable and resistant compared to other materials used to manufacture watches. BMG-TECH™ The element of wonder lies not in the sleek appearance of BMG-TechTM but in its core. The material is bulk metallic glass with a disordered atomic structure that makes it extremely light, incredibly robust and resistant to corrosion, shock, scratches and magnetic fields. It’s also reliable underwater and never loses its sheen. Essentially a metal alloy with the amorphous properties of glass, Panerai became the first manufacture to use the compound in watchmaking. It is formed as a result of a high-pressure injection process at a high temperature, followed by a cooling process lasting only for a few seconds so that the atoms do not have enough time to become arranged in an ordered, regular structure. ECOTITANIUM™ Panerai made headlines at SIHH 2019 by introducing the world’s first luxury timepiece made entirely of recycled titanium. Dedicated to the renowned world explorer and environmentalist, Mike Horn, the Submersible Mike Horn Edition symbolises Panerai’s commitment to protecting the planet by reducing waste. Every part of the timepiece’s complex case structure is rendered in EcoTitaniumTM. The material is aviation-grade recycled titanium, sourced directly from the scrapyards of major aircraft manufacturers. The strap is also ecologically sourced, made out of recycled plastic. CERAMICA A synthetic ceramic based on zirconium oxide powder, the ceramica used by Panerai is both aesthetically appealing and incredibly functional. With an even matte finish, the material is extremely robust, up to five times harder than stainless steel. COMPOSITE Used in the brand’s more sporty timepieces, the Panerai Composite is a synthetic ceramic material obtained by an electrochemical ceramization process of aluminium, which makes it resistant to wear and tear and extremely light.

Timepieces to watch Discover a fine blend of creativity and avant-garde materials in these iconic timepieces crafted by luxury watchmaker Panerai

LUMINOR MARINA CARBOTECH™ – 44 MM – PAM01661 The latest timepiece to join the newly relaunched Luminor Marina collection, this striking new model boasts a CarbotechTM case and the brand’s iconic SandwichTM dial with blue Super-LumiNovaTM markings. The timepiece features Panerai’s well-known P.9010 calibre with a power reserve of three days. It’s fitted with the function for rapidly setting the hour hand, a process which simultaneously adjusts the date. Tough yet surprisingly light, it weighs only 96 grams and is water-resistant to a depth of 300 metres. The timepiece pays tribute to the rich heritage of the iconic Luminor Marina which was first launched 70 years ago.

SUBMERSIBLE BRONZO – 47MM – PAM00968 One of the brand’s most iconic pieces, Panerai surprised the world when it introduced this new diving watch with a case made entirely of bronze. A fascinating choice of material, bronze matures with the passage of time and acquires a patina which gives it a unique character. Weighing 161 grams, this automatic, mechanical timepiece features the P.9010 calibre with a three- day power reserve. Luminous hour and date markers make the dial legible in extreme conditions, even 300 metres below the water’s surface.

SUBMERSIBLE BMG-TECH™ – 47MM – PAM00799 Featuring two of the most innovative Panerai materials in one watch – a BMG-TechTM case with a CarbotechTM bezel – this timepiece boasts extreme strength, scratch resistance and lightness. The uneven, matt black appearance of the CarbotechTM makes this piece aesthetically appealing. An incredibly functional diving watch, the unidirectional rotating bezel enables the times of immersion to be accurately calculated. Legibility in the dark is ensured by the Super-LumiNova® coating applied to the markers and the large skeletal hands.

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