While the Radiomir design was born over eighty years ago as a dive watch for the Royal Italian Navy, it was only in the late 1990s that it became available to the public. Over the last three decades, the Radiomir has grown to become one of Panerai’s core models, offering a slew of variations. Despite the variations, however, the Radiomir always retains its signature style, making it one of the most recognizable watch designs in today’s market. Yet, unless you are well-versed in subtle Panerai details, what isn’t always apparent are the differences between the Radiomir and the slightly different Radiomir 1940 models. Join us as we compare Panerai Radiomir vs Radiomir 1940 watches and layout all the details.
Brief History of the Panerai Radiomir Design
Officine Panerai was founded as a watch workshop and watchmaking school in Florence, Italy, in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai. By the early 20th-Century, Panerai began supplying the Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina, with high precision instruments. To improve the legibility of these instruments, Panerai patented a radium-based self-luminous material in 1916 the company trademarked as “Radiomir”.
Two decades later, the Regia Marina put out a bid for a specific watch for the frogman commandos of the First Submarine Group Command to wear during underwater missions. And in 1936, Panerai unveiled ten prototype watches featuring massive 47mm waterproof cushion-shaped cases (designed by Rolex) with welded wire lugs, highly legible dials painted with the patented luminescence, long water-resistant straps, and manual-winding movements inside (supplied by Cortébert for Rolex).
In 1940, Panerai updated its military diving watches with design modifications to improve durability. Rather than welded wire lugs, the case and thicker lugs were now crafted from the same block of steel. Furthermore, instead of a large flared winding crown, Panerai replaced it with a shorter cylindrical crown.
While the Radiomir name was first coined for Panerai’s luminous material in the early 1900s, the Radiomir name would resurface again over eighty years later when modern-day Panerai launched the first Radiomir watch model in the 1990s.
Panerai Radiomir vs Radiomir 1940
The Panerai prototypes from 1936 serve as the design blueprint for today’s Radiomir watches. In 1997, Panerai launched the very first Radiomir watch in the form of the limited-edition PAM 21 as a tribute to the earliest Panerai watches for the Italian Navy. Limited to only 60 examples, the Radiomir PAM 21 not only featured a 47mm cushion-shaped case crafted from platinum but they were also fitted with vintage hand-wound Rolex movements. As legend has it, when Richemont bought Officine Panerai in the 1990s, a box of 60 new-old-stock Rolex movements from WWII was found on the premises. These movements were then cleaned up and encased in the platinum Radiomir.
In 2012, Panerai debuted the first two Radiomir 1940 watches, one in red gold (PAM00398) and one in stainless steel (PAM00399), both with 47mm cushion-shaped cases inspired by the ones Panerai made in 1940. These two models paved the way for a vast assortment of Radiomir 1940 watches that would soon follow.
The main difference between the Radiomir and Radiomir 1940s watches are the case details. While they both have cushion-shaped cases, Radiomir watches have thin wire lugs while Radiomir 1940 watches have thicker lugs. Furthermore, Radiomirs have large conical crowns similar to the 1936 prototypes while Radiomir 1940 models have stouter cylinder winding crowns just like those found on vintage Panerai watches from the forties.
Today, Panerai makes a wide range of Radiomir and Radiomir 1940s models, available in a host of materials, sizes, and complications. Whether you opt for the thin-lug Radiomir or the thick-lug Radiomir 1940, these are striking modern interpretations of vintage Panerai diving watches once made for the Italian military.