The history of Panerai began in 1860, when Giovanni Panerai opened a small watchmaking workshop and school in Florence, Italy. However, because a flood in 1966 destroyed all original documents from this time, it's difficult to reconstruct the company's exact history. What is known for sure is that the company's sign bore the words "Orologeria Svizzera" (Swiss watchmaking) at the beginning of the 20th century.
Initially, the company focused on importing and selling Swiss watches from companies like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin, and Rolex. To keep import taxes as low as possible, the watches were delivered disassembled. Once the components reached the workshop, they were reassembled and adjusted by professionals who had trained at Panerai's watchmaking school. The brand's customers included prominent, rich Florentines and the Italian royal family.
Working with the Royal Italian Navy
The Italian military has belonged to Panerai's clientele since 1910, and initially, they delivered pocket chronographs. Between 1910 and 1914, Panerai teamed up with Lieutenant Carlo Ronconi to research glow-in-the-dark devices using a radium-based luminous material. The term "Radiomir" first appeared in 1916 on a French registered patent. The word is a combination of the Italian words "radio" (radium) and "mira" (sight or goal). In the years that followed, Panerai delivered compasses, barometers, depth gauges, underwater lamps, and other instruments to the Italian military.
Over the course of the 1940s, Panerai developed their iconic crown-protecting bridge. It remains an unmistakable trademark of every Luminor model to this day. Panerai invented the luminous material Luminor in the late 1940s. This material is made from tritium and replaced radioactive Radiomir.
Panerai's cooperation with the Italian Navy meant that their products were subject to strict military secrecy starting in 1936. Thus, they weren't available for purchase by the general public. This would remain the case until the early 1990s and the lifting of the confidentiality provisions.
Large and distinctive timepieces define the luxury watch manufacturer Panerai. Consistent designs and their crown-protecting bridge create a steadfast image that every watch enthusiast recognizes at first glance. The watches impress with their functionality and easy-to-read dials. They take their inspiration from the demands of the military, and more recently, action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have helped the watches achieve cult status. The company received new financial resources after joining the Richemont Group in 1997. These funds opened doors to new marketing and technological development possibilities that led to Panerai's first in-house calibers. Today, the Radiomir and Luminor models are no longer pure military watches: They're beloved by city dwellers, creative minds, star chefs, and managers of all kinds.