Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro Carbotech Blu Abisso PAM 01232
Panerai, Panerai, Panerai.
A brand that has had more ups and downs than a heart rate monitor, some of which have been scandalous, but whose watches remain firm favourites with many collectors due to their instantly identifiable designs.
I’ll get this bit out of the way early doors - I’m a Paneristi.
The style of both the Radiomir and Luminor, are right up my alley and as a consummate changer of straps, the sheer number of quality aftermarket offerings means that I never get bored.
As much as I’m into Rolex and AP amongst others, I often feel like my collection is missing something when there isn’t a PAM amongst the troops.
That said, I’m not a fan of the brand as a whole, and I’m going to be honest about that from the outset because I believe that when reviewing and discussing watches, if you gloss over the negative, you cant really be trusted when you’re being positive.
I think in order to get to “Present Panerai” eg this Carbotech Submersible that I’m busy fondling, we need to take a look back over the years so lets go from the beginning.
Panerai first began in 1860 when Giovanni Panerai opened his watchmaking shop on Ponte Alle Grazie, Florence, Italy, where he sold and serviced quality pocket watches and established a watchmaking school.
By the end of the 1800s Giovanni’s son Leon Francesco had become involved in the business which had expanded and was now fabricating parts and tools for the Swiss as well as selling their timepieces.
Crucially, the Swiss were also supplying father and son with parts such as cases and movements, something which would become useful in later years.
Leon’s son Guido joined the business in the early 20th century and under his guidance Panerai diversified into mechanical engineering and instrument design supplying items such as wearable depth gauges, timing and contact triggers for mines and submersible navigation tools for the Italian Navy (Regia Marina).
In 1914 Guido began adding luminous markings to his military equipment made from a paste which used the highly glowing and equally toxic Radium. Panerai used it to create “night sights” on guns and named it “RADIOMIR” which is a combination of RADIO (Italian for radium) and MIRE (sight, as in night sight).
It was patented in 1916, but the patent refers to the glowing gun sights, and NOT the creation of a Radium compound as is often claimed. (Cough, Richemont)
In 1936, Panerai received a request from the Regia Marina to build watches for their divers which were visible in the low light conditions of the waters in which they were to be used. They needed to be big, legible, and tough. Although they were highly adept at creating military equipment, watches were to be a step into the unknown, so Panerai turned to one of the established Swiss companies known for their expertise in waterproof watches… Rolex.
The first Panerai dive watch, the “Radiomir” was made by soldering wires on to the the case of a Rolex pocket watch and utilising the movement within it while adding what would become the trademark luminous dial.
The first Panerai was reference 2533 which was a prototype made in 1936.
Panerai/Rolex continued to make Radiomir watches for the Italian Navy and began to introduce different dial variations such as the “California” dial, which was a mix of Arabic and Roman numerals.
Panerai began to hone their dial manufacture and were two overlapping dial sheets. One which was coated in radium sat below a black dial which contained cut-out markers which the luminescence glowed through. These are known as “Sandwich” dials.
By the 1940’s production was going well and the Italian Navy requested improved specifications as their watches were spending more and more time underwater. They wanted pieces which were even more resistant to the tension and flex of heavy underwater use and considered that the wire lugs on the current Radiomir’s were a weak point on the watch, an issue which they wanted resolved. Panerai’s solution to this was to reshape the case to incorporate horn style lugs rather than the traditional soldered wires. This evolution is known as the ’40s case. On a side note, the OG Radiomir wire lugs are actually as strong as an ox.
Throughout World War II, Panerai watches and instruments were seeing a LOT of use from the Italian Navy, particularly the frogmen divers who were manning the Maiali submersibles, known as “pigs”or “hogs” due to being difficult to steer. These were two-man assault vehicles which were launched from the naval submarines with the express purpose either attaching explosive charges to the hulls of enemy ships, or dismounting the “pigs” and letting them drive into the hulls of ships or submarines.
As the front of these vehicles were packed with explosives, they were basically “ride on” torpedos.
There is a mystery which has not yet been resolved/confirmed/or denied surrounding WW2 Panerai. We know that they were made for and used by the Italian Navy, but we do not know why so many unbranded Panerai began appearing on the wrists of German “Kampfschwimmers” (divers). They could have been supplied by either Panerai themselves or the Italians. It is unlikely that this will ever be known. However, we do know that they were definitely worn, in number, by kampfschwimmers as well as the Regia Marina.
What can be said with some degree of confidence is that Rolex would have been unaware of this situation as they were watchmaking for the allies and considered themselves to have a special relationship with Britain having been founded there in 1905.
In 1949 as the risks and radioactivity of Radium was becoming highly publicised Panerai switched to a new a hydrogen isotope based compound that they trademarked in 1949 as “Luminor”.
Panerai used this name when they released a new line of watches featuring a crown locking mechanism.
The patented Panerai crown guard has become synonymous with the brand and is still used by them today. It exists to protect the winding crown in two ways. Firstly the crescent moon surrounding the crown protects it against knocks and accidental damage, something which was absolutely a risk when under water, and the locking lever which is raised when winding and closed to seal pushes the crown into the case and snug to the gasket which creates a watertight seal when when the lever is closed. This mechanism significantly reduces wear to the crown as it no longer needed to be screwed into the case, the threading of screw crowns can wear with regular use and eventually sacrifice water resistance or suffer from cross threading. Since Panerai were still producing hand-winders, preserving the life of the crown was important.
In 1954 Rolex issued an edict regarding ongoing collaboration with Panerai, likely due to the volume of watches that ended up in the hands of the Germans during WWII –
“In clarification of the agreement already existing between G. Panerai e Figlio company of Florence and the Rolex company from Geneva, it is clearly agreed that the underwater watches using case models G.6152 and G.6154 (or similar models) made for over fifteen years at the request of and exclusively for the Panerai company are absolutely exclusive to the G. Panerai e Figlio company and they MAY NOT BE SUPPLIED to any other customers, either with a Rolex movement or with any other type of movement. This exclusivity agreement for the aforementioned models is valid in any other foreign country as well as in Italy.”
This instruction coincided with Panerai being commissioned to supply equipment to the Egyptian Navy and being asked to create and supply a diving watch just as the Suez tensions erupted and Egypt were becoming an emerging military power in the Middle East.
Panerai had to engineer their own case and use a non Rolex movement or risk falling foul of the agreement. That is exactly what they did and instead of using Rolex supplied cases/movements, they used their wrist mounted compasses and depth gauges as a muse instead.
This led to the creation of the “Egiziano Grosso” (Big Egyptian). A 60mm sized beast with a rotating bezel and an 8 day Angelus movement.
The Big Egyptian was a truly transitional model for Panerai as it marked both their move away from Rolex, and the beginning of their twilight years as a supplier of tactical watches to the military as the world was beginning an era of relative peace. The company’s instrument manufacture entered a period of decline until 1972.
That year, Giuseppe Panerai, Guido’s son who oversaw watch production and manufacture died, and for the first time Panerai was managed by former Italian naval officer and non-family figurehead, Dino Zei.
Under Zei, Panerai’s watchmaking activities were suspended until the early 1990’s as the company concentrated on continuing the manufacture of aerospace components, dive tools, and tactical equipment.
The 90’s changed Panerai’s fortunes. The watch world was beginning to take a more than passing interest in mechanical watches again and notably, Rolex was riding very high on its wave of dive watches for consumers with the Submariner and Sea-Dweller lines, not to mention IWC with its pilot watches and the emerging popular theme of tough mechanical watches with military history.
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that one fine day in Rome 1995, as he was preparing to shoot the Daylight movie, Sylvester Stallone was having a lovely walk in the cool breeze under warm skies and just happened to see a watch, a Panerai, in a store window and that it was an instant love affair. He adored the watch, bought it instantly, wore it while filming, bought more Panerais, gifted them to his equally muscled friends Arnie and Bruce, and the brand launched into the stratosphere all because of that one fateful day of window-shopping in Italy.
Im not going to tell you that at all, because it is absolute catmuck.
A false history contrived by the Richemont group (or Vendome as they were when they purchased Panerai for a mere $1.5 million dollars)
Stallone was wearing a Panerai in 1994, a year before he signed up for Daylight.
The real story is much less dramatic and involves a photographer and lover of all things sartorial and luxurious, Monty Shadow.
Monty got into Panerai in 92 having read a huge article about Panerai and their history in a Japanese magazine called World Wrist Watch. It was this article and the subsequent interest from Japanese enthusiasts that pushed Panerai to carve themselves a niche in this emerging market, so they duly set about raiding their previous watches and prototypes with a view to selling to the public rather than the military.
Shadow, who was resident in Italy bought the newly released Luminor and said of it “I liked it because it was simple, clean and I wore it all the time.”
Monty knew that Panerai had the potential to be big, so being a man who had an eye for the rather wonderful set about testing responses to the watch, so took himself and his Luminor off to Hollywood to do some hobnobbing.
He introduced the watch to Sylvester Stallone and told him all about the history of Panerai.
Sly was hooked.
This prompted a fantastic marketing idea which Monty shared with Bruno Latini, Panerai’s chief Operating officer and which was grudgingly approved by Dino Zei who felt that putting a watch on the wrist of an action man was somewhat.. undignified.
Sunbsequently Panerai and Shadow would put the Panerai Luminor on the wrists of Hollywood big hitters including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis who were launching Planet Hollywood along with Stallone.
These celebrities would make the brand visible, and Panerai could indulge in some serious product placement.
Where would they place the product to perfectly show its ruff tuff manly muscular case and ample water resistance?
On the wrist of Stallone while he was saving multiple damsels in distress and a dog, while filming Daylight in Italy.
Boom, as we often say.
They had achieved lift-off, and they even named watches after the man who helped it happen with the Panerai Sly-Tech.
The brand had been successfully resuscitated and was gathering fans across the world because the watches were really REALLY cool and completely different from other offerings. They had a dedicated fan base nicknamed “Paneristi” who collected watches, straps, and anything Panerai related that they could get their hands on. Panerai were genuinely booming for a good few years and were set to be on the up and up.
You can forgive Richemont a little bit of manipulation on the history front, if that was the only “little issue” to have ever plagued the brand.
But it wasn’t. Worse things have happened at sea. The most notable of which was the “Brooklyn Bridge” scandal which drove fans of the brand up the wall and tanked their reputation.
The Panerai “Brooklyn Bridge” was a 150 piece limited edition released in 2009 and sold through the New York boutique which featured the bridge engraved on its caseback.
The edition sold like the proverbial hot cakes to fans. It was only when one opened up the case-back that it was discovered that Panerai had slung in a poorly finished un-decorated low end Unitas movement and hidden it with the engraved rear.
Panerai were not using “Manufacture” movements at the time anyway, they were always using Unitas but in their mainstream models the movements were nicely finished, decorated, and bothered about. The raw bead blasted and completely unfinished lump in the Brooklyn Bridge led collectors to claim that Panerai were both capitalising and taking the proverbial pee out of their loyal fans by selling them limited glittering editions powered by poo because they thought nobody would see it or care.
You shouldn’t do that to your customers and the reputation of the brand took a Mariana Trench level dive.
In 2017 Shadow reached out to Stallone who is undeniably one of the architects of the brands success with a view to reviving his relationship with Panerai and was met with an utterly curt response which can be boiled down to -
“What have Panerai ever done for me? I cant even get a discount at Cartier (another Richemont brand), I helped them become a billion dollar company and for that I have been ignored. Did they make me a brand ambassador? No. I havent been treated with any respect”
Sly revival refused. OUCH.
Popularity went from bad to worse as Panerai introduced snap backs and spring bars on their base models to cut production cost as opposed to the traditional screws. Bad form given that the watches were still in the 5k arena.
Ditto quietly removing hacking seconds from their 9010 movement, and ditto yet again for confidently declaring that their P9200 movement was “in house” without bothering to remove the 2982A2 engraving from its baseplate - an engraving which appeared on the movement because it was an externally sourced ETA.
These misdeeds were all highlighted by Perezscope and swiftly set fire to the internet.
I don’t have an issue with externally sourced movements, in my book it means that they can be serviced and maintained by independents which is always a good thing, but what I do have an issue with, is dishonesty and sneaky downgrades, and throughout the life of the brand under Richemont group, this is something that Panerai have been caught out with time and again.
So, given that this review is turning out to be a bit of a moan, what is it that Panerai gets so right that their wrongs are overlooked and post slump their sales are on the rise once again.
The answer to that is pretty simple -
For all the flaws of their parent company, Richemont, theres nothing else on the market that looks and feels like a Panerai.
You really have got to have something special in able to avoid tanking yourself with tales of pee taking, and genuinely, despite all of the wrongdoing over the years, Panerai are still one of my favourite brands.
The simplicity and absolute legibility of the dials, the (standard) oversized cases which are just so comfortable, and the ability to change the look around with a different strap in under a minute make them a joy to own and wear. I appreciate that they’re not to everyones taste, but what is?
Size issues have been addressed with smaller models reaching the market from the with 38mm Due models and 40/42mm Submersibles as well as the traditionally sized 44 and 47mm Luminors/Subs and the 45 / 47mm Radiomirs. There is quite literally something for every wrist these days.
Panerai have also pushed sustainability and have worked to develop new materials with an eye on the environment, such as E-Steel, which is made from 95% recycled steel collected largely from the Swiss watch industry as a carbon and waste reducing effort.
They are also using BMG - Bulk Metallic Glass, a substance with a disordered atomic structure, obtained through a high-pressure injection process at a high temperature, followed by a cooling process lasting for only a few seconds. The end result is a material which is lighter, stronger, and more shock resistant than steel due to its arrangement of atoms.
Along with case innovation, we’re also seeing more straps and parts made from recycled materials, which is no doubt appealing to customers with an environmental conscience.
Panerai have also started to invest in partnerships geared towards ocean preservation. They are working with UNESCO and Conservation International to support their work and raise awareness.
In short, it would appear that efforts are being made from the brand, and i’m all for that under the circumstances. Long may effort continue.
I suppose now we’ve done the good the bad and the ugly of Panerai past and present we should probably get around to this little cracker thats supposed to be todays subject - The compactly named Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro Blu Abisso.
Or the Blue Abyss as it translates to with QuarantaQuattro referencing the 44mm size.
This is a superb offering from the Submersible line which is made from Carbotech - a trademarked composite based on Carbon fibre and Polyether Ether Ketone which has a wonderful matte black grained finish which looks not dissimilar to striated wood.
It is light as hell, tough as boots, and resistant to corrosion.
No case has the same pattern due to the uneven nature of the composite so each case is unique, and we all love a bit of that.
This wears (as they all do) really well for a 44mm thanks to the short lugs and 50s style cushion case. I tire of pointing out that its actually lug length rather than watch diameter that can push a watch into the “nope too big” range but Panerai are thankfully broad but squat which keeps the size completely manageable.
The dial is as it says on the tin, representative of a blue abyss finished in a rich dark blue colour which in some lights takes on an almost violet tint which works well against the black/charcoal case.
Its typically ultra legible with bright white hour markers and hands which have been generously applied with luminova. Panerai’s are like torches when you light them up which is great if you’re going to head into the water with them rather than the water cooler. As much as they’re pretty, they are still tool watches.
300m water resistance thanks to the crown mechanism which acts like a sealed plug as well as existing to protect the crown from accidental disasters and finished with an incredibly comfortable and supple rubber strap in the same abyss blue tone as the dial, I wont linger on the strap because OBVIOUSLY the first thing anyone does when they lay hands on a PAM is start raiding custom makers and RubberB for changes of outfit ;-)
Movement-wise, Im delighted to alleviate any “twitchy-bum” by informing you that this piece runs the calibre P9000 which is nothing to be concerned about and is a based on a Valfleurier ebauche.
Its robust, reliable, and supplies a date along with 72 hours of power reserve. Its a very capable movement and can be serviced either through the manufacture or an independent should you so desire. The movement is hidden behind a black titanium case-back but this is not a case of hiding anything unspeakable, but purely down to ensuring water resistance as sapphire backs present more opportunities for weakened seals.
All in all, this is an absolutely stonking piece from Panerai, and one that I’d happily chop in a Submariner over. Opinion of course will vary, so feel free to let me know what you think in the comments. I’ll have a fire extinguisher on standby!