Officine Panerai (also known simply as Panerai) is an Italian luxury watch manufacturer, and a wholly owned subsidiary of Compagnie Financière Richemont S.A.
Officine Panerai designs, manufactures and markets watches through authorized dealers and company-owned stores worldwide. Giovanni Panerai (1825–1897) founded Officine Panerai in Florence, Italy in 1860. The company is headquartered in Geneva and manufactures watches in Neuchâtel, Switzerland using both movements manufactured in-house and movements manufactured by ETA S.A. Panerai watches, designed and manufactured by Rolex SA, played a role in assisting the frogmen of the Decima Flottiglia MAS in their operations during World War II. Notable products include the Luminor and Radiomir wristwatches.
Panerai offers watches across four marketing lines: Historic, Contemporary, Manifattura and Special Editions in runs of 500, 1000, 2000 or 4000 units—each carrying an issue number on the case back. The company issues Special Editions by year. For example, in 2006 issued the 1936 California Dial Radiomir special edition, a reissue of the first Panerai model presented to the Italian Marina Militare with production limited to 1936 units.
When Ferrari's contract with rival watchmaker Girard-Perregaux expired in 2005, Ferrari and Panerai entered into a five-year agreement to design, manufacture and distribute Panerai watches carrying the Ferrari trademark. The collection was branded Ferrari engineered by Panerai and consisted of two product lines marketed as "Granturismo" and "Scuderia". The collection consisted of 11 models priced between US$5,000 and US$30,000. The Panerai-ferrari partnership ended in 2010.
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Giovanni Panerai (1825–1897) opened up his first watch shop in Florence, Italy in 1860. Giovanni's grandson Guido Panerai (1873–1934) expanded the watch shop "Orologeria Svizzera" and took over his wife's family business, a mechanical workshop. In 1915, Guido Panerai invented gun sights that were illuminated by a radium-226/zinc sulfide powder enclosed in small, hermetically sealed vessels. Radiomir, the name for the radium-based luminous mixture is derived from "radio mire", which is Italian for "radium sights". Panerai became an official supplier to the Regia Marina (the Royal Italian Navy), supplying a variety of technical equipment and precision instruments. All Panerai watches, except for the GPF 2/56 were designed and manufactured by Rolex SA using pocket watch movements made by Swiss manufacturer Cortébert. The main driving forces behind the production of the first professional diving watches were Hans Wilsdorf of Rolex and Giuseppe Panerai.
The Florence-based workshop produced wrist-worn diving instruments and, between 1935 and 1970, delivered around 1,600 watches (c. 35 2533s, 1000 3646s, 24 6152s, 36 6154s, 500 6152/1s, and 60 GPF 2/56s), most of them to the Italian Marina Militare. All watches, except for the GPF 2/56, were made by Rolex, and G. Panerai e Figlio produced only the dials for these watches. Panerai dials were rendered luminous with Radiomir, a highly radioactive radium-based self-luminous compound, and later in around 1965, with Luminor, a harmless compound activated by tritium.
The GPF 2/56 (Egiziano Grosso) was produced for the Egyptian Navy in 1956. By 1970, the company ceased to provide watches to the Marina Militare, as they were neither cost-effective nor met the naval specifications. In 1993 it then moved to launch its products in the civilian market. Following its acquisition of Panerai, Richemont repositioned Panerai as a luxury watch brand and increased prices.
One of the rarest Panerai watches is a Second World War Military Diver watch. This historic watch was acquired by a British soldier named George H. Rowson in WW2 where he obtained it via a German frogman during a thwarted attempt by the Germans to destroy the Nijmegen Bridge in the Netherlands, in September 1944.