Officine Panerai aka PAM watches have been an infatuation of mine for quite some time. This is an account of my personal quest to learn about, choose, search for and find my very first PAM...
Most reading this post are quite familiar with OP but for the sake of completeness, I'd like to skim over some of the historical highlights. Panerai built various nautical instruments for the [Royal] Italian Navy in the late 1800s and early 1900s and around 1936, the Navy commissioned OP to make a dive watch for their frogmen. Said frogmen would man an S.L.C. (Siluro a Lento Corsa - aka "PIG"), a slow-moving, torpedo-shaped underwater vehicle used to approach enemy ships undetected, plant explosives on their hulls and retreat. In order to assure their success, timing was critical. Panerai turned to Rolex for this and that is how the PAM came to be...
- 1864 - Guido Panerai & Sons, Firenze, produce instruments for the Royal Italian Navy
- 1926 - Rolex introduces their 47mm Oyster pocket watch (pillow-case form / future Radiomir format)
- 1936 - 1939 - Rolex commissioned to make 2533s for OP (dot-dash dial, later followed by 3-6-9-12 "Radiomir" dials)
- 1940 - 1942 - Rolex-built 3646 (3-6-9-12 - with and w/o labels aka Kampfschwimmer & California dials*)
- 1938 - 1949 - Sandwich dial / crown-protection bridge / 200M resistance / first application of "Luminor"
- 1952 - 6152 w/integrated lugs (fits Rolex mvmt only)
- 1953 - the Luminor aka "1950" case is introduced
- 1954 - 6154 3-6-9-12 Radiomir Panerai - last Rolex-made PAM!
- 1955 - 1956 - 6152/1 3-6-9-12 Radiomir Panerai and w/SecsSubdial Marina Militare, w/bridge (now fits either Rolex or Angelus mvmts)
- 1956 - 2/56 Egyptian Radiomir Panerai 3+TM-6-9+SecsSubdial-12 (60mm!)
- 1972 - Giuseppe Panerai hands over OP to Panerai Engineer Dino Zei
- 1983 - Mario Paci joins OP
- 1993 - 1st commercial release by OP / start of "Pre-Vendôme" period (1993~1997)
- 1993 - The Mare Nostrum chronograph, first prototyped in '43 is now released along with their Luminor Marina model
- 1995 - Sylvester Stallone commissions own variations of the PAM, known as "SlyTech"
- 1997 - "Pre-A": Vendôme (now Richemont) acquires OP but watches still made in Firenze (1998-2001 were made in Vendôme plants).
- 2002 - OP Neuchâtel Manufacture opened
- 2005 - P.2002 released - OP's first all in-house movement "inspired by" Angelus...
*The California dial, which consists of a mix of roman and arabic numerals, was a "sample" dial used by Rolex to show their customers how the dials might look, given one or the other format. OP was under deadline pressures and thus Rolex used some of these dials to fulfill OP's order... .
The above are most of the "vintage" milestones as well as a few of the post-vintage ones. In summary, OP turned to Rolex as one of the leading houses to build the first "PAM". Subsequently, OP went public and enjoyed an accelerated start thanks to Stallone. Like many small companies, a larger "Group" bought them and brought them into the Int'l mainstream as well as modernized the production process. Fortunately for us, the Group(s), initially Vendôme and subsequently, Richemont, saw the real attraction of the OP name - it's history and has (tried to) preserve the essence that is Officine Panerai... .
click-the-pics for hi-res goodness
Search for the right PAM
Like many, I was first attracted to PAM when "oversize" watches were still the minority and the unique Crown-bridge that characterized the typical PAM. But this initial attraction soon faded when I noted the price tag... . Several years later, my good friend Charles sent me a photo of his new 372 and my interest in OP was rekindled. To my amazement, the prices had skyrocketed beyond belief, but nonetheless, I decided to learn more about Panerai and it's origins. In doing so, I became more and more appreciative of Panerai's history and the fact that a PAM still held much of it's unique and individual characteristics today. That's when I decided I wanted a PAM. Then the hard part came... finding the right one! Charles got me started in the right direction with a few suggestions:
- Simple is better
- Aim for Special Editions or "firsts"
- 44mm is good, 47mm even better
- The aged-Tritium-patina look rocks.
But even using some of these points as a rough guideline, the list of possible candidates was still impressive. As it turns out, OP has been very busy in it's Vendôme-Richemont days, issuing roughly anywhere from 3~6 SEs annually. This along with their standard catalog which consists of no less than 24 in their "historical" line, a few dozen in their "contemporary" line and a half-dozen "specialties", like their Tourbillion. Each year, a few new models are introduced to the catalog and a few are retired. I'm not certain how many versions of PAMs have been made, but you can believe the number is indeed impressive (unless, of course, you're a Rolex historian... ) Putting a price limit certainly narrowed the list down; For example, I looked up the PAMs that I liked, such as the 203 and 127... . Well, once I put a price tag to the face, roughly €90K and €25K respectively, I soon realized that price would play a critical role in narrowing down my list...
Here's my final list of contenders, based on my own following requirements:
- Seconds Sub-dial; A question of personal taste, my PAM needs to have seconds and the corresponding accuracy certification (COSC or in-house)
- Sandwich dial; although not the original "stuffed" dial, the sandwich has become the de facto PAM dial!
- Exhibition case; again personal taste, I want to see, to enjoy the heart and soul of the watch - it's movement
- Unique movement; Preferably in-house, or a unique third-party movement (Angelus SF 240 / JLC 8-day, etc)
- Luminor case with crown protector, preferably a 1950 case, preferably with a domed crystal!
- Contrary to Paneristi philosophy, complications are not a bad thing in my book
Given the above criteria *and* taking price range into consideration, my short-list was down to...
- 345 - A Special Edition (SE) Ti Destro Monopulsante (Monopusher) Chronograph with the PR indicator on the movement's rear side and no date or GMT complications (a la Paneristi style)
- 368 - An SE Ti Destro Luminor 1950 8-days with the PR indicator on the mvmt's rear side and no date or GMT complications (a la Paneristi style)
- 275 - a Monopulsante Chronograph equipped w/their P.2004 mvmt using a "classic" column-wheel mechanism, 8-day reserve with PR indicator and 24hr GMT complication
- 422 - a 47mm nod to vintage Panerai, secs sub-dial, in-house 3-days P.3000 with a power-reserve indicator on the mvmt's rear side, unique & elegant new case
- 233 - OP's first Luminor to use their in-house P.2002 movement, 8-day reserve with PR indicator and 24hr GMT and date complications
- 320 - An in-house P.9000 3-days automatic equipped 1950 Luminor with pr indicator on the mvmt's rear side and 12hr GMT and date complications
- 111 - Luminor Marina, secs sub-dial equipped with a venerable Unitas/ETA 6497 manual mvmt
- 177 - The Ti version of the 111
I would have been happy with any of the above, but price and availability notwithstanding, my short-list is also in order of preference. So with the list in hand, I started my search. Some of the models were available, but not in the condition and/or in my price range I wanted. The 422 is not even on the market yet, having made it's debut in this year's Baselworld. The 320, 111 and 177 were available in several local ADs but I kept going back to the 233, having labeled it as my Goldilocks of PAMs. I couldn't afford the AD's price for one, but I looked and I looked and I looked... until there it was, a 233 in NIB condition at almost the price of a 320!!
My PAM 233
- PAM00233 Luminor 44mm 1950 8 day GMT
- Year: 2011 "N", limited to 1000 units
- Completed in Neuchâtel , Apr 24, 2012
- Case: OP6660 - 44mm, 1950 style, brushed 316L stainless steel, Bezel, polished, crown-protector, brushed, sapphire-exhibition case-back
- Dial: Black Sandwich w/green Super-LumiNova layer
- Hands: stainless-borders, green Super-LumiNova
- Crystal: 2.6mm anti-reflective-coated "domed" sapphire crystal
- Movement: P.2002/1 in-house - hand-wound, three-barrels, 8-day reserve, zero-reset secs, 21 jewels, 247 components, KIF shock system
- Functions: Hrs, mins, secs, 12-hr GMT hand, 24hr GMT indicator, numerical date, power reserve indicator
- Other: Water Resistant to 100M (10ATM), rubber "OP" straps, calf leather "fluted" straps, brushed screw-in buckle, quick-release strap system, pear-wood case
The 233 debuted in 2005 and was one of a few PAMs to use an iteration of the new P.2002 in-house movement. The movement was given the designation of P.2002 in honor of OP's first own manufacture opened in Neuchâtel (CH) in 2002. The 233 uses all of the P.2002's functionality while other PAMs, such as the 368, use only a subset thereof. Most Paneristi would prefer to do without many of the P.2002's functions, such as the date, 24hr GMT and power reserve indicator. Most agree however, that the 44mm 233 is one of the more "adaptive" PAMs, wearable in all situations. The fact that I like complications and that I can only afford one PAM makes the 233 the perfect PAM for me!
The 233 has all my prerequisites and then some; I get a brushed Luminor 1950 case, sandwiched with polished bezel and (polished) exhibition case-back; brushed crown-protector with the classic "Reg. TM", a sapphire "domed" crystal, a sandwiched dial with brilliant green Super LumiNova, stainless-framed, Super LumiNova hands and last but certainly not least, an elegant and capable 8 days in-house movement! Like many PAMs, the 233 comes in an elegant (and rather large) pear-wood case, two straps, one screw-in buckle, a screwdriver (for said buckle) a quick-release* tool (strap removal) a user guide and personalized owner's book that includes the unit's specifications, serial numbers as well as the in-house accuracy certification. OP verifies the watch's accuracy in six positions. It is critical to note here that although PAMs are oversize watches, they are not necessarily exclusive to oversize wearers... . This is made readily clear by the fact that the supplied straps are 115/75 (!) Another interesting fact is that the 233's unique "fluted" calf strap is actually more or less a copy of OP's rubber strap - something that I really like. For those less enthused, please see my "straps" annex below
*OP's quick-release system is a combination of push-lock and a specially-shaped strap bar. Pushing a button located on the back of the lug releases the bar. Extremely convenient, however do note that the bar has a thinner, weak section which allows for the push-pin to interlock with the bar.; many would prefer to stick to screw-in bars.
- Eight-Day Reserve; while many might not consider a watch's power reserve as a complication, you have to appreciate a manually-wound watch that will last eight days. OP chose this amount in homage to the venerable Angelus SF 240 (and perhaps even the JLC 1877) movements.
- Seconds sub-dial; I've always considered a three-hand watch as the norm and a PAM is no exception. Additionally, all PAMs with secs complication are certified chronometers. When you are dealing with watches in this price range, I believe chronometer certification is a must... .
- The power reserve complication is simple; either you like it or you don't. My preference is to have it on the back of the movement (as in the 345 and 368 for example) but I'd just assume have it than not.
- The date is a big no-no for Paneristis. I don't need a date on a PAM, but I do admit the date is a useful complication and certainly don't mind having it. Quick: what date is it today? I thought so... Additionally, the P.2002 uses a "gradual-change" date mechanism which essentially allows you to set the date by moving the hour-hand only - both forwards and backwards!
- GMT: another Paneristi no-no, but I actually use GMT and therefor welcome it. There are two types of GMT complications offered by OP; the first is the simpler 12hr "hand" - a simple solution that relies on one additional hand to denote the hour (1-12), but without 24hr indicator. This is what you get on the 320, for example. Furthermore, you can hide the GMT hand underneath the hour-hand. This is a very cool feature that is sure to please even a hardcore Paneristi, a less-cluttered dial The 233 however uses the 24hr version. The original 233s (2005~2008) used a simple circle which was green or black, corresponding to day or night. The latter 233s, such as my 2011 "N" unit, use an additional hand on the seconds sub-dial that either points to an AM/PM label. Alas, this version adds unnecessary "traffic" to the dial.
- Zero-Reset; while not a complication, per say, this is a value-added feature in that it allows you to easily set the time to the second.
The PAM is a unique watch with an exciting history that occupies an own niche; I have an elegant 38mm "dinner" watch, a robust sports watch and the PAM completes my horological trilogy, a bold, yet equally elegant watch. The 233 is my Goldilocks of PAMs, offering a nice mix of history with it's 1950 Luminor case and domed crystal as well as contemporary function with it's modern movement with ample complications. Is the 233 right for you...? Only you can answer that and only after you've gone on your own PAM quest. Truth be told, the search for the perfect PAM is half the fun of owning one! Perhaps the fact that there are so many PAMs makes the search all the more fun
Annex - Straps!
Just when you thought your PAM couldn't look any better, you can dress it up with a myriad of aftermarket straps - fondly known as shoes! The Panerai watch is one that easily allows you to tweak the look simply with a change of straps! From classic alligator to a smooth calf to what's known as "ammo" straps (made from Swiss and French leather ammo satchels) to even baseball-glove leathers and everything in between! Straps come in all assorted colors, finishes, thicknesses, straight or tapered, plain or boxed stitching, small or larger keepers, tapered or flat tails and so on.
I've already started a strap collection with my recent acquisition - a Toshi Strap from Rich in the UK. This particular one is his Storm Grey calf and natural stitching, 4.5mm thick with one single large keeper. Oh yes, it also comes with a Pre-V polished screw-in buckle... . Did I not mention buckles? You can customize that aspect of your PAM too...
EDIT 29th Aug '12 - Another Toshi strap, this time in cocoa. I also asked him to only punch four holes...
Annex 2 - Quick Release
As shortly discussed in the body of my post, the 233 is one of many newer PAMs to make use of OP's "quick-release" solution. Here are a few macros so that you can see how it works and why some may prefer the old-fashioned screw-bars which have a consistant diameter... .
Annex 3 - Super-duper LumiNova...?
One of the things I've read about PAMs is their amazing lume, readable into the wee hours of the night... . I can now confirm this; the PAMs are readily legible in the dark! However... there is no super-duper-Lume involved - it is the same lume that all the respectable Swiss Manufactures use; RC Tritec's Super LumiNova. What makes the PAMs [imo] more readable than most is the clean dial and the generous application of lume thanks to the lower level of the sandwich-dial composition. Keep in mind though that the "stuffed" dials may be a notch better in this department, simply because the depth of the sandwich dials most likely causes some minor occlusion, particularly at a shallow POV.
Here is a comparison of three watches known to use RC Tritec's Super LumiNova. Please note that the human eye is more sensitive to green than any other color in the spectrum. The Mühle therefore appears to be dimmer but it will glow just as long as it's green counterparts.
30s exposures @f/8
Please note that all three are visible down to the 30min mark;
If you cannot see them, your monitor may need adjustment.