Panerai: Surprisingly Affordable

Posted by Jason Swire on January 13, 2021

Officine Panerai was founded in Florence, Italy in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai, initially as a watchmaking school, repair workshop and point of sale for imported Swiss watches. By the early 1900s Panerai had secured contracts with the Royal Italian Navy, supplying them with watches and precision military instruments. Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of radium in 1898 led to its use in the watch industry as a source of illumination, which Panerai incorporated into their first “Radiomir” watch.

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By the mid 1930s Panerai and Rolex had collaborated to use Rolex “Oyster” waterproof cases fitted with Panerai radium dials in a new value proposition for the Royal Italian Navy; a self-illuminating waterproof divers watch. All Panerai watches from this era were assembled by Rolex, and Panerai’s Italian office were allowed to modify them to meet military requirements, which included soldered-on wire lugs, large bezels, waxed leather straps and two-piece “sandwich” dials with radium on the bottom layer and cut out numerals on the top layer for high visibility and luminescence. World War 2 saw Panerai watches used in combat by Italian “frogmen”, underwater demolition specialists.

Within a decade the negative health impacts of radium had become known, and so Panerai moved to the use of a new luminous substance called tritium, which they trademarked as “Luminor”. A crown guard was introduced for the new models to reduce the wear of a screw-down crown, which to this day is still a distinctive design element of the Luminor collection. By 1956 Panerai’s relationship with Rolex ended, and with it watchmaking activities from the company virtually ceased. Panerai focused on manufacturing components for diving, aerospace and radio until 1993 when Rolex’s ongoing commercial success with divers watches inspired the company CEO of the time, Dino Zei, to re-release some of Panerai’s historic wristwatch models to the private sector. 

Initial sales were poor, as the company was virtually unknown to consumers at that time. Their surprising reprieve came from actor Sylvester Stallone, who discovered the brand whilst shooting the film “Daylight” in Rome. He became enamoured with the brand and placed bulk orders for custom “Slytech” branded Luminors. This unpaid celebrity endorsement increased awareness – and demand – for Panerai watches and led to their acquisition by the Richemont group in 1997 (then known as the Vendrome group) who repurposed them as a luxury watch brand. The cost of ownership of a Panerai watch has steadily risen ever since, but here are 5 notable models that can be obtained on the second hand market for much less than you might expect.

Radiomir Base Logo, reference PAM753

Dealer Average

$4,088

Market Average

$3,327

Price Confidence

Watch Overview Browse Listings

Dealer Average

$4,088

Market Average

$3,327

Price Confidence

Model Specifications
Crystal Sapphire crystal
Water Resistance 100 meters
Case Diameter 45 mm
Power Reserve 72 hours
Movement Caliber P.6000
Case Material Steel

The Radiomir Base Logo hearkens back to Panerai’s early military watches, with the distinctive wire lugs and two-piece sandwich dial offering strong luminescence and legibility. Although this is a large watch with a 45mm dial, the short lugs and cushion-shaped case make the Radiomir Base Logo wear much better than one would expect. The lack of a second hand and an uncluttered, symmetrical dial makes this reference surprisingly capable at fulfilling dress-watch duties, while a brown leather strap can just as easily dress it down to wear more casually.

Powering the Radiomir Base Logo is the hand-wound mechanical P.6000 calibre, which offers three days of power reserve and beats at a somewhat leisurely 21,600 vph. Water resistance is a capable 10 Bar (100 meters), making this suitable for its original purpose as a divers watch, albeit one without the now-ubiquitous timing bezel commonly associated with the archetype. Perhaps most importantly, this reference offers the most affordable entry point into Panerai as a brand, costing $4,300 USD at retail or an average market price of $3,289 on the second hand market.

Luminor Marina Automatic, reference PAM01048

Market Average

$4,900

Price Confidence

Model Specifications
Crystal Sapphire crystal
Water Resistance 300 meters
Case Diameter 40 mm
Case Thickness 13.2 mm
Case Material Steel

Easily the best value proposition of all modern Panerai references is the PAM01048 Luminor Marina Automatic. This watch has a very modest case size by Panerai standards at 40mm, which coupled with the distinctive large crown guard will suit pretty much any wrist while still maintaining that “Panerai” presence. The small seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock is nicely balanced against a date window with cyclops magnifier at 3 o’clock, a fitting element for a brand whose history is linked with Rolex. Even the dial branding is symmetrical, with two lines of text at both 12 and 6 o’clock.

The mechanics within this watch are also impressive, utilizing the chronometer-certified OP XXX calibre with Glucydur® balance and a modern beat rate of 28,800 vph. Power reserve for this calibre is 50 hours, which is fine for a daily-wear automatic but is something to keep in mind for those who wear multiple watches in rotation. Water resistance is rated to 30 Bar (300 meters), which is entirely overkill but also a welcome assurance that this watch can handle any sort of water sports with confidence. The retail price for this reference is $6,800 USD, but the average second hand price is a much more palatable $4,854.

Luminor California 8 Day DLC, reference PAM779

Dealer Average

$6,780

Market Average

$5,526

Price Confidence

Watch Overview Browse Listings

Dealer Average

$6,780

Market Average

$5,526

Price Confidence

Model Specifications
Crystal Sapphire crystal
Case Diameter 44 mm
Water Resistance 300 meters
Movement Caliber P.5000
Power Reserve 192 hours
Case Material Titanium

If the previous two references were on the modest side for you, look no further than the Luminor California 8 Day DLC for a real statement watch. Particularly when paired with the “Bund” style leather strap pictured, this watch exudes massive wrist presence. Early Rolex and Panerai watches from the 30s and 40s often used half-Arabic and half-Roman numerals, a style that became known as the “California dial” due to its immense popularity in the state of California at the time.

This distinctive dial layout has been paired with blued hands for contrast, and encased in 44mm of diamond-like carbon coated titanium for high durability. The hand-wound mechanical P.5000 calibre offers an impressive 8 days of power reserve, so this watch will only need to be wound once a week to keep on ticking. Water resistance is also stellar at 30 Bar (300 meters), so you could swap the Bund strap for a nice sailcloth or rubber and be ready for any sort of water sports as well. The sticker price of $8,100 USD is a bit of a stretch for this watch, but thankfully the used prices are much more affordable at around $5,430.

Luminor Submersible 3 Days Automatic, reference PAM973

Market Average

$6,208

Price Confidence

Model Specifications
Crystal Sapphire crystal
Water Resistance 300 meters
Case Diameter 42 mm
Power Reserve 72 hours
Case Material Steel
Frequency 28800 bph

While most Panerai watches are inspired from their early divers, the Submersible collection goes a step further and offers proper modern dive watch functionality. This includes a uni-directional divers bezel for immersion timing, large hour and minute hands with generous amounts of lume for underwater visibility, the use of luminous dots for hour markers and a double-index at 12 o’clock to easily orient the watch at depth, and the inclusion of a rubber strap. The case size is also quite restrained for a Panerai at 42mm, so this reference should wear well for all but the slenderest of wrists.

Water resistance is still stellar at 30 Bar (300 meters), fittingly for such a diving-oriented timepiece, and the automatic mechanical P.900 calibre should offer reliable timekeeping with its modern beat rate of 28,800 vph and 3 days of power reserve, although this calibre is not COSC certified. The retail pricing of $8,700 for this reference is frankly far too expensive, pitting it against the likes of the Rolex Submariner, but thankfully second hand prices are more forgiving at around the $6,252 mark.

Radiomir 1940 3 Days Automatic Titanium, reference PAM619

Market Average

$6,651

Price Confidence

Model Specifications
Crystal Sapphire crystal
Water Resistance 100 meters
Case Diameter 45 mm
Power Reserve 72 hours
Movement Caliber P.4000
Case Material Titanium

Last but not least, we have the gorgeous Radiomir 1940 3 Days Automatic Titanium, a reference with vintage vibes but a thoroughly modern execution. Unlike the Radiomir Base Logo we looked at earlier, this watch eschews the historic wire lugs and onion-shaped crown for solid Luminor-style lugs and a flat crown, creating a more streamlined and less archaic look. The matte brown dial and brushed titanium case is also much more subdued than the typical Panerai high-polish look, making this a more understated watch and also one that will be less prone to visible scratches. Although the dial is the typically large 45mm for the Radiomir collection, the combination of lightweight titanium and the mostly matte finish should help this watch wear smaller than its measurements would suggest.

Water resistance is 10 Bar (100 meters) for this reference, which honestly is more than enough for anyone but a professional diver. The automatic mechanical P.4000 calibre is a modern workhorse with a 28,800 vph beat rate and 3 day power reserve, as well as a very cool looking off-centre micro-rotor that is visible through a sapphire exhibition case back. Manufacture micro-rotor watches are never cheap, and this one is no exception with a sticker price of $10,700 USD. But this is a Surprisingly Affordable article, and although the Radiomir 1940 3 Days Automatic can hardly be called inexpensive at retail, the second hand prices for this watch are almost 40% cheaper at an average of $6,543, which is a more compelling value proposition indeed.

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