When you’re this good at making watches, you don’t need to make a song-and-dance about it. Every day, since their establishment in 1860, the fine folk at Officine Panerai have gone about the creation of primarily functional and latterly desirable timepieces in a style befitting the brand’s Italian / Swiss heritage. Passions Arabia’s Simon Balsom got a rare opportunity to visit their extraordinary (yet understated) manufactory in the town of Neuchâtel.
Let’s be clear. Although Panerai may not have the glitz associated with some in the world of fine watches, they more than make up for this in very many other ways. For years essentially unchanging and (as we’ve already mentioned) above all else practical pieces – as endorsed by the Italian Navy – recent years have seen an increasingly enthusiastic nod towards the more stylish Panerista. They’ve been enduringly stylish since forever, but never fashionable. One senses this is a state of affairs that quite suits the Florentine watchmakers. However, to wear a Panerai on the wrist speaks volumes about the owner. He, and increasingly these days she, is likely to be someone who doesn’t follow convention, but instead treads his own path. A Panerai has always been the mark of someone with an inate appreciation of fine engineering, and someone with a sense of measured adventure. Someone who is at peace with their place in the world. Someone who knows that it is the small gestures, rather than the grand, that people remember us for. Someone just like you and me perhaps?
A thread of restraint runs through the company – nothing happens unless there’s a damn good reason for it to – yet a more telling trait is that of the quiet pursuit of excellence. So, the creation of Panerai’s new(ish) manufacture took its own time in consideration and creation, but when it opened its doors in 2014 it was clear that it was well worth the wait. Remember that this is a company with valuable heritage – nearly 160 year’s worth. Yet it walks a fine line in embracing today’s world while retaining an importance awareness of its past. The manufactory is as far from an archetypal traditional Swiss watch factory as one can be removed – it’s white, there’s an air-lock on entry, it’s proudly carbon-neutral and recycles rainwater. What does this have to do with making some of the world’s most discretely charismatic watches? Quite a lot actually – it’s a mark of the men and women who carry the Panerai torch firmly in their hands through these frenetic 21st century times in which we live. To look around the factory is to get the sense that all remains good in the world.
While some brands involve themselves in constant ‘arms-race’ mentality-driven challenges to deliver the most exotic of creations, Panerai’s approach is reassuringly realistic with a continuing focus on real-world practicaility. There are exotic materials, but they’re in there for valid reasons. There’s nothing rock’n’roll about a Panerai, other than the knowledge that it’s going to be the watch of choice for those in the know. The manufactory has opened doors to measured changes – and pretty soon Panerai will be making all their own movements. Considering it is only a decade and a half since they made their first, it’s a sign of how far they’ve come while maintaning their true sense of self. Revolutionary? No. Evolutionary? Completely. And to the point of perfection.