The Panerai Radiomir California
Officine Panerai is without doubt a phenomenon in the world of horology. A brand that was practically unknown to the general public up to 1997, when it became part of the Richemont Group (at the time Vendome Group), it has rapidly climbed the ladder of success to be classified as one of the most prestigious and desired of timepieces. Actually, Panerai originated in Florence in 1860 when Giovanni Panerai opened a watch making and mechanics shop in the city. His first creation was the Radiomir, a name attributed because of the high level of luminescence of its hands, thanks to a patent that envisaged the use of radium in its time markers. Shortly thereafter the watch, along with other military instruments, would be used by the Royal Italian Navy.
Its recent history is the result of an attentive strategy in positioning a trademark that witnessed a constant increase in its value and in the number of aficionados. As proven by the extremely high prices reached by time pieces of the era at some of the best known international auctions (please check the astounding result at Sotheby's last may ). Why California? The name refers to the first Radiomir, made in 1936, whose dial had luminous Roman numerals in the upper section and Arab numerals in the lower section:
Historical sources indicate that Panerai was probably not the first to use this type of dial for its Radiomir, but rather that it “inherited” it from Rolex, which introduced it in Art-deco period watches with the “Bubbleback". Thanks also to the privileged relations that existed between the two houses (the "Orologeria Svizzera" founded by Panerai was an official dealer for the Geneva based Manufacture).
The nickname California or “Cali dial” seems to have referred to the patent deposited by Rolex for this type of dial in the early 30s and to the fact that its Bubbleback models were very popular from the 30s to the 40s (photo courtesy of The House of Majd).
Panerai re-proposed this model at the SIHH 2012, in a limited (PAM448) and a “normal” (PAM424) version. What distinguishes them is the colour of the hands, the plexiglass on the 448, loved by purists of the brand and horologists in general, and the date aperture set at 3 o’clock. In common they have the movement of a P3000 manufacture, which was first introduced on this particular model. Their technical characteristics are the same: a generous cushion case with a 47mm diameter in AISI316L steel, a P3000 manufacture calibre, 16 ½ lines, manual winding, running at 21,600 alternations per hour, an Incabloc protection and a 3 day power reserve.
To this we can add such complications as the date that “jumps” instantaneously upon the sounding of midnight and the possibility of moving the hours hand separately from the minutes' one, a useful feature when travelling from one time zone to another. In addition to its functional technical features, what is most attractive in a Panerai, and especially in its latest manufacture, is the level of details. The case has an elaborate design but is never heavy, with the aim of being as faithful as possible to the original: the maniacal care taken during the design phase is evident: the convex sapphire crystal that is 2.8 mm thick is simply spectacular and gives it volume and personality; and the OP logo on the dial and the winding crown is absolutely stunning. There is a mirror finish on the entire case, incisions on the bottom to indicate impermeability and year of production (Panerai labels all annual productions). Reference 424 is etched on the carrure at 12 o’clock.
You may ask yourself, “Why buy a Panerai Radiomir California?” Well, first because it is an exceptional and highly distinctive timepiece. A Panerai watch is a collectors’ item: even the so called ‘normal’ Panerais are exclusive because they are produced in a very limited number compared to other watches. This limited production, added to its manual assembly and incomparable finish is a guarantee of high quality. And, like I said, the details are there for all to see. In a world where you would pay a comparable price (we’re in the area of €7,000) for a timepiece that is mass produced, buy something that is truly exclusive. Defects? We should speak rather of developments and progress that increase its technical value even further, such as the use of 904L steel, which has set the standard for the construction of steel cases. But it would be useful to have a second watchband, as with the Luminor, and a screwdriver to replace it, making use of the patent for removable lugs.
(Photo credit: Panerai, The House of Majd, Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Federico N. @Horbiter®