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The Italians are known for their style. From Ferrari to Valentino to Bulgari to Vespa, they have the magic touch when it comes to aesthetics. They are, in general, a people that are unabashedly romantic, always seeking the beauty in things. So it comes as no surprise that even something as utilitarian as a former Italian military issue watch has developed into one of the most stylish men’s luxury watches available today. Here we delve into the origins, history, and current status of the Italian designed, yet Swiss made, Panerai Luminor watch. And of course, don’t miss our catalog of used Panerai Luminor watches available at Gray & Sons.

Used Panerai Luminor PAM 630
Used Panerai Luminor PAM 630

Brief History of Panerai

Giovanni Panerai opened the doors to his watch shop and watchmaking school in 1860. By the turn of the century, the company became an official supplier of precision instruments to the Royal Italian Navy. This was thanks to the founder’s grandson, Guido Panerai.

In 1916, Panerai filed for a patent for an innovative substance dubbed “Radiomir”—a radium-based powder that glows in the dark. In 1936, just ahead of the World War II, Panerai releases ten prototype diving watches for the divers of the Italian Royal Navy using the Radiomir substance on its dial. The watch was massive—especially for its era—at 47mm. The Radiomir material gave the face of the watch much-needed luminosity for the divers while they were deep underwater. Furthermore, the water-resistant cases and movements were produced by none other than Rolex—the pioneers of water resistant watches.

Used Panerai Luminor Marina PAM00177
Used Panerai Luminor Marina PAM00177

Unbeknownst to the company at that time, the radium power used to give the watch its glow was highly radioactive. As a result, it caused severe medical ailments to both the people who painted the dials and to the frogmen who wore the watches.

In 1949, Panerai files yet another patent for a glow in the dark matter, but this time calls it “Luminor”. A year later, the Panerai Luminor watch is born. While the Luminor timepiece was similar in size and dial design to the Radiomir watch, what differentiated it from its predecessor was the crown-protecting bridge.

For the following four decades, Panerai continues to be exclusively available to military establishments. In addition to the Italian Navy, it also supplied diving watches to the Egyptian Navy. The company also dabbles in wrist depth gauges and compasses for professional military divers.


The Modern Era of Panerai

In 1993, Officine Panerai finally unleashes its watches to the public with three models—the Luminor, the Luminor Marina, and the Mare Nostrum. All three of these Panerai watches proudly displayed their military diving heritage. The enormous cases and straightforward dials of the now publically available Panerai timepieces captivated Hollywood superstar Sylvester Stallone. He even commissioned some custom made pieces—aptly named the Slytech. The high-profile celebrity endorsement caught the attention of the Vendome group (Richemont Group today) who ultimately bought the brand in 1997.

Used Panerai Luminor PAM 219
Used Panerai Luminor PAM 219

Today, Panerai is one of Richemont Group’s flagship luxury watch brands. In addition to a rich history and fantastic design, part of the brand’s secret sauce is limited production, selective distribution, and the insatiable appetite of loyal Paneristis worldwide.


The Panerai Luminor

As the signature timepiece of the brand, the style of the Panerai Luminor is unmistakable. Not much has changed looks-wise from the inaugural Luminor from 1950. While there is some versatility within the Luminor collection, such as case materials, dial colors, and function options, all of them carry certain traits that are fundamental to the line.

First, there’s the iconic crown guard. Rather than just two shoulder-like pieces flanking the winding crown as seen on many watches, the Panerai Luminor includes an entire bridge-like piece that opens and closes with a lever. Closing the bridge seals the case, thus making it water resistant enough to plunge as deep as 300 meters.

Used Panerai Luminor OP6616
Used Panerai Luminor OP6616

Second, there’s the large and distinct case shape. Ranging from a bold 40mm to an insane 60mm, the Panerai Luminor is not a discreet watch. The majority of the models, however, hover around the 44mm mark. The lugs are thick and sturdy, and to the delight of many, also allow for easy strap changes.

Finally, there’s the minimalistic dial. An important component of the Luminor for the military divers was the high legibility of the dial. Thus, the dials had to be simple and uncluttered. The oversized four Arabic numerals at 3, 6, 9, and 12 are interjected with stick indexes. Of course, these hour-markers, along with the center hands, emit a strong glow for optimal legibility even in low light. The Luminor base models only include the hour and minute hands, while the Luminor Marina includes a small seconds indicator at 9 o’clock. There are also date and GMT versions of the Luminor Marina available.


The Panerai Luminor Calibers

To position themselves as serious watchmakers, Panerai established their watch manufacturing facility in Neuchâtel, Switzerland in 2002. Today, Panerai produces in-house movements. Although there are Panerai Luminor watches that wtill run on ETA-based movements, Panerai is steadily increasing their in-house movements across all their collections.

Used Panerai Luminor Marina PAM 468
Used Panerai Luminor Marina PAM 468

The movements driving the Panerai Luminor models range from modified manual and automatic ETA calibers to manual and automatic in-house movements.


Used Panerai Luminor Watches

At Gray & Sons, we are particularly knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with Panerai Luminor watches. Not only do we carry a solid inventory of pre-owned Panerai Luminor timepieces, but our team of highly trained watchmakers also regularly service the ones that come through our door. If you’re in the market for a used Panerai Luminor base model or a secondhand Panerai Luminor Marina reference, don’t miss our collection.


Written by

Celine Simon

Celine is a freelance luxury watch writer who has enjoyed working in the horology industry for over ten years. Like many of the high-end timepieces she writes about, she comes from Switzerland—the heart of fine watchmaking. From Singapore to Montreal to Geneva to Dubai, Celine has lived all over the world but now calls Southern California home.