Buying Your First Panerai
Believe me, I know how you feel. You have built up a respectable timepiece collection. Your collection includes a few fairly expensive pieces — possibly a Rolex Submariner or an Omega Planet Ocean, but something is missing. You realize it when you’re at a cocktail and some guy shows up wearing a Panerai Luminor. Sure, there are many more expensive pieces at this cocktail- plenty of Rolex Daytona and a couple of Patek Philippe Aquanaut pieces. But that Panerai steals the show. It looks…awesome. You don’t know exactly which model it was, but you know you cannot rest until you have your own Panerai.
So with the decision made to acquire your own Panerai, many questions arise. Which model should you buy? New? Or Pre-owned? Luminor or Radiomir? Manual or automatic? Let’s explore these questions. I won’t get into any Panerai history and general Panerai commentary — you can Google that stuff or check out my other blogs on Panerai.
Let me end the suspense right now and tell you which model you should look for. If your goal is mainly to acquire a Panerai that just tells the world you have a Panerai; a piece that will look and feel so satisfying because it just screams, “Panerai,” when you strap it on, then you need a PAM00112. Now, the 112 is a Panerai Luminor Base 44mm. In my mind, this is the quintessential Panerai. If I had to start my collection all over, I would begin with a PAM00112. The 44mm case is large on most wrists and is the classic Panerai size and shape with that signature crown protector.
A Panerai “base” dial has only two hands, hours and minutes, with no seconds hand and no date. This allows that gorgeous, bold and simple dial with 4 cool numerals: 12, 3, 6 and 9. Absolutely classic. The 112 also has a sandwich dial where the numerals are cut out of the top layer, exposing the luminous layer underneath. The sandwich dial is a Panerai hallmark. The 112 uses Panerai’s famous OP X caliber movement, which is a higher-end modified ETA Unitas movement. Although not a true in-house movement, this is the movement that really says, “Panerai,” because it is simple, high-quality, robust and solid. You can view the movement through the back of the 112 and it looks fantastic. To me, this is the Panerai to have; it is basic, simple, uncomplicated and classic. The 112 is one of the very least expensive Panerai models, but it is also one of the most desirable. Consquently, it is VERY hard to find a 112. You may have to buy a pre-owned piece or order from an authorized dealer and wait.
A very close runner-up would be the PAM00111. Now, the 111 is a Luminor Marina, as opposed to a Luminor Base, which means it has a small seconds hand at 9 O’Clock. Aside from that, it is really the same as a 112. I prefer base dials, but a seconds hand can be useful. Never worry about the strap on a PAM because they can be changed so easily and there are so many gorgeous options for any PAM. When buying a PAM, focus on the piece itself and find your ideal strap later.
To the untrained eye, all PAM look exactly the same. And that’s one reason why a basic 112 is almost as good as a higher end model to many people. I currently have two PAM in my collection and, last week, my wife inspected them side-by-side. They are completely different pieces, but my wife kept saying they were exactly the same. You see, different Panerai are all about subtle differences- different movements, base dial versus Marina, brushed case versus polished case etc. A fellow Paneristi and I were discussing collecting in general recently- not just watches, but collecting stamps, models cars or anything. He said a real collector doesn’t need to collect every item made by a company, but rather every variation of a specific model. He would collect a very specific model car, for example, in every colour and version. I feel the same about Panerai. The Luminor Base is so different to a Luminor 1950 PAM00312. Even my Luminor 1950 PAM00359 is totally different to a PAM00312 because of its 11-numeral “dirty” dial as opposed to a standard 3-numeral Marina dial. When you’re fanatic about Panerai, you really get excited about the subtle variations between all the models.
For sure you want a Luminor to start your collection. But if, for some reason, you prefer a Radiomir, then try a PAM00183, which has a very similar movement to the 111 and 112. The basic Radiomir models are 45mm versus the 44 mm Luminor models. They look very nice and wide on the wrist and are slimmer than the Luminor. The wire lugs give them a vintage feel and they look dressier. Instead of that Luminor-type crown protector, they have an onion-shaped crown which I find to be fantastic to wind. I had an old 210, which had a base dial. This was replaced by the 183, which has a seconds hand. There is also a 380 with a solid caseback and a Panerai logo on the dial. One disadvantage of the Radiomir with wire lugs is that it so much harder to change the straps. On the Luminor, it so easy to do within a couple of minutes- you could change straps all the time for different looks and uses. You can definitely change a Radiomir strap yourself- I even had a tutorial. But it’s way trickier.
So you’re not convinced? A manually wound entry-level Luminor or Radiomir won’t do it for you? You need something a little more exotic? You need a true in-house movement and more up-market piece? Well, now we need to look at the Luminor 1950 range. The 1950 case is cushion-shaped and sits huge on the wrist. It is a work of art. Most of these pieces use Panerai’s own in-house movements and come in 44 mm, although there are a couple of mind-blowing 47 mm models. You should look at the PAM00351, which is a Luminor Marina with a date display. It has a titanium case!!! It uses the Panerai P.9000 movement- an in-house automatic movement with 3 days power reserve. You cannot quick-set the date on the P.9000. Instead, you can set the hour hand independently of the minute hand and wind it until the date is correct. Pretty cool. Different variations of this piece are the 312 and 359. These Luminor 1950 are certainly more high-end and look stunning on the wrist.
And if you need to start off even more high end, check out the 47mm Luminor 1950 PAM00422, which has an in-house manually wound movement with 3 days power reserve and… a power reserve indicator on the back. I have tried on this beauty before and it is just sensational. For something slightly less obvious, look for a Radiomir 1940 PAM00514. Also a 47mm case, but much slimmer and using a similar movement, the 514 is one gorgeous piece.
Pre-owned or new? Tough question. The problem with pre-owned Panerai is that they retain their value so well. I often see 6 or 7-year-old pieces selling at barely a 20% discount relative to the price of a new one. The problem with brand new Panerai is that you will get virtually zero discount on the price. I have found some good deals on virtually new pre-owned Panerai. These are pieces that were originally purchased within the last 6 months, have full warranty, and offered good value. If you are lucky enough to find such an opportunity, then go for it. If you have to purchase brand new, at least you know that you can resell the piece after 4 or 5 years and recover a lot of your original investment.
Here is a piece of advice that I ignored. If you acquire a PAM with its original strap unworn, either because the piece is brand new or the original owner never wore the OEM strap, don’t wear the original strap. If you need to resell a PAM, it will sell better with an unworn original strap. It’s hard, I know, because some of the original straps are so gorgeous. But if you can find another great strap to wear and just keep the original strap in the box, you may do better on a resale.
I assume, of course, that you were planning to acquire a Panerai before reading this blog. I hope that this blog has at least given you some insight. I can guarantee one thing — no matter which model you buy and no matter which model you buy after that, your favourite model will always be the next PAM on the horizon.
If you enjoyed this story, check out TimeCaptain’s list of ten great Panerai watches.