Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire’s weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020.
Panerai is a brand that hit on a winning formula when went it public in the mid 1990s with the monster-scale dive watches it had made for 60-odd years for the Italian military. Aided by equally outsize men like Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who were amongst its early fans, the brand kick-started the trend to oversize watches that has still, 25 years later, not entirely abated. Even if 39mm watches have been a recent, vintage-inspired trend, men still wear watches several millimeters bigger than what was the norm for most of the 20th century.
With case designs from its military past as icons, it hasn’t been easy for Panerai to innovate with new case designs not derived from that fixed back catalog. Instead, the company has focused increasingly in the past decade on pioneering ways to work not only with conventional metals but with new alloys that just a few years ago seemed the stuff of sci-fi. In just the last few years, the brand has created cases in materials as otherworldly as recycled, 3D-printed titanium; alloys of carbon and steel; and even, just last year, a watch in Fibratech, a material painstakingly built up in layers of fibers derived from actual volcanic rock. All the new developments come from the house’s own Laboratorio d’Idee (if we lost you, that’s Italian for “Idea Lab”), and they are often the result of several years of development just to find viable ways of successfully creating new materials from which to make Panerai’s cases and parts.
With Platinumtech, just launched in the form of the green-dialed Luminor Marina (PAM1116), Panerai has gone for one of the most expensive materials in traditional watchmaking, one so precious it was usually reserved for elegant dress watches worn by gentlemen whose most energetic daily activity was gesturing at waiters for more Krug. Like most precious metals, platinum is more susceptible to scratching than, say, steel. The “tech” part in the Platinumtech Luminor Marina is the proprietary alloy developed at the Laboratorio to maintain platinum’s deep luster but make it harder and significantly more resistant to scratching than traditional platinum.
Here’s the odd thing. On the open market, raw platinum currently costs less per ounce that gold. Yet more often than not, platinum watches can cost double the equivalent watch in gold. How come? Historically, platinum has always been thought a cut above gold on the rarity scale, reserved only for very special editions by leading luxury watchmakers. But there are practical factors, too. Platinum is 11 percent denser than gold, which means you need more mass to create the same case shape. In the case of the Platinumtech Luminor Marina that’s whole lotta platinum. Platinum is also significantly harder than gold, which means it takes longer to mill and is much more punishing on the tools used to mill it.
This is certainly not your everyday watch—and that’s no everyday price—but Panerai’s ongoing obsession with developing new materials makes the Laboratorio d’Idee something of a bellwether of the future of watchmaking.
Nick Sullivan is Creative Director at Equire, where he served as Fashion Director from 2004 until 2019.
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