Panerai was founded in 1860 in Florence by Giovanni Panerai (1825–1897). It later became the official supplier to the Royal Italian Navy and expanded to building precision instruments. The company is famous for its Radiomir and Luminor watches, notable for their use by Italian commando frogmen. Mr Angelo Bonati, CEO of Panerai since their acquisition was interviwed by Lusso Magazine, “with his clipped moustache and erect bearing, I would have guessed Signor Bonati had been a military man.”
The Florence-based watchmaker produced about 300 watches, all for the Italian Marina Militare, between 1938 and 1993. By that time, the company ceased to provide watches to the Marina Militare, as they were no longer cost-effective. It then moved to launch its products to the civilian market, but remained relatively obscure until the actor Sylvester Stallone spotted and bought a Panerai Luminor in a jewellery store in Rome in 1995 to wear during shooting of the film Daylight. Stallone ordered a small batch of such watches with his signature on the case back, called Slytech. He offered them as gifts to friends, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. The watch gained rapid popularity, and Officine Panerai was eventually taken over by Richemont in 1997.
Panerai has four major lines of watches, Historic, Contemporary, Manifattura and Special Editions. Panerai issues Special Editions every year. In 2006 it issued the 1936 California Dial Radiomir special edition, a reissue of the first Panerai model ever presented to the Italian Marina Militare. This model was limited to a run of 1936 units.
Aficionados of Panerai are known as “Paneristi”, a term coined along the lines of “Ferraristi”.
When the contract between Girard-Perregaux and Ferrari expired a new partnership was signed with Panerai to develop, manufacture and distribute watches under the Ferrari trademark. A New York representative for the watch company has called Panerai the official timekeeper to Ferrari. These wristwatches, available in the US from early August 2006, have 11 models and cost between $5,300 and $26,500. Panerai Ferrari watches are divided into two collections: Granturismo and Scuderia.
Panerai watches are amongst the most scarce in the world. In fact, the watch manufacturer can lay claim to being the most elusive watch brand globally - regularly producing fewer watches than the market demands. Retailers only receive a few pieces each per year and it is not uncommon for long customer waiting lists for popular models.