For once, more than whatever minor layout tweak has already spawned a brand new Panerai Watches Pam 90 Replica reference, it is how the watch is being sold which is most notable. The Panerai Luminor Submersible Automatic Acciaio PAM731, with its limited-edition blue dial, is most certainly a handsome and competent dive watch. But, as the very first Panerai to be provided exclusively online, it’s representative of several pressing current issues and the way the watch sector is, quite slowly, adapting to change.Panerai already sells watches on line, but also the Panerai Luminor Submersible Automatic Acciaio PAM731 “E-Commerce Micro-Edition,” restricted to 100 pieces, cannot be purchased in stores – and that’s a first for Panerai. Time and again, we have discussed the systemic problems of the watch industry here on aBlogtoWatch, especially in connection with distribution and sales, and the watch business’s failure to take, utilize, and adapt to the modern reality of internet buying. This implies in relation to advertising and media in addition to moving toward direct online sales instead of relying solely on third-party retailers. You may find a number of posts on these and related topics on our Watch Business topic page here.So, while the Panerai Luminor Submersible Automatic Acciaio PAM731 “E-Commerce Micro-Edition” watch may look like one degree in the 90-degree turn that’s crucial for the industry, it is at least in the ideal direction. And it’s in the business of other indicators which more brands are now waking up. The convenience, competitiveness, and comfort of the internet buying experience for customers makes the transition into a proper online presence necessary for any watch brand that wishes to survive.
One of the most unusual watches we’ve seen in a while is this bronze prototype – rated to 1000 meters’ water resistance – made by Officine Panerai in the mid-1980s, as part of a project to develop dive watches for the Diver Corps of the Italian Navy; the watch is going up for auction this week from Christie’s. It’s a pretty rare bird, but for our money what really takes it to the next level is that it’s a fantastic example of how utilitarian design can, when pushed far enough, transcend itself and produce something really exciting aesthetically, which is fundamentally what the appeal of Panerai is all about.
Before getting into aesthetics, just from the standpoint of objective rarity and historical importance, it’s a pretty remarkable piece and would probably attract a great deal of attention. The story goes that in the early ’80’s, Panerai’s chief of mechanical engineering, the famous Mr. Alessandro Bettarini, started work on a series of prototype watches intended to fill modern requirements for combat diving.
The watches would have to, according to lot notes from a Christie’s auction of one of the titanium prototypes in 2014, fill requirements to be “waterproof to great depths, antimagnetic, and easy to read,” and the notes also tell us that a total of eight prototypes were made – four in bronze, and four in titanium, with many changes made to the designs as the prototyping process progressed (one change, for instance, was the substitution of tritium filled glow tubes for the luminous baton markers used in earlier prototypes).
The final, definitive prototype was actually submitted to the Italian Navy but the latter did not, ultimately, decide to order the watch. This was a somewhat challenging time to be getting into the mechanical diver’s watch business anyway – the project was completed in 1988 when the last prototype was finished, and by that time the first generation of full-fledged digital dive computers were just starting to appear. As with John Harrison’s H4 marine chronometer the Panerai 1000 represents both the pinnacle of evolution of a certain technology as well as its dead end.
The bronze prototype we got our hands on at a Christie’s preview is 48 mm in diameter, with amazing articulated lugs, each of which has two big screws fastening the clamps that hold the strap in place – this thing isn’t going anywhere. The dial is brass, and there’s a massive 5.1 mm sapphire crystal (as well as, oddly enough, a display back through which you can make the discovery that the movement inside, a caliber 2789-1, is totally uninteresting to look at, but hey, expecting a beautifully finished, artisanal movement on a watch like this is like expecting hand-rubbed walnut veneers and a vanity mirror in an Abrams tank – it just ain’t that kind of a thing).
One of the most wonderful things about this watch is how the patina has developed – the case has rather sharper edges than not (in fact, overall it’s got a pretty darned Soviet/Brutalist thing going on, in a good way), which means that where the patina’s thinner you have these wonderfully crisp areas of exposed metal that – accidentally but beautifully – outline the geometry of the case.
These prototypes don’t come up for auction very often, for fairly obvious reasons. One hammered for 1,060,00 HKD on an estimate of 850K-1,000,000 HKD at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, in 2013; and in 2014 Christie’s sold one of the titanium prototypes in November, in Geneva, for CHF 281,000 (at the time, $292,402) on an estimate of 80K-120K CHF. Estimate on this one – which comes with a letter of authenticity signed by Alessandro Bettarini – is $100,000-200,000, but obviously it could easily do better than that. Still, with these things showing up so rarely it’s really anyone’s guess what it’ll go for – but it’ll be worth watching. And whomever does get it will be getting not only a rare and historically important Panerai prototype, they’ll be getting a dandy piece of design as well – the more so because making an aesthetically foxy watch was obviously the last thing on the designers’ minds (I think – with Italians, though, you never know). The auction’s this Wednesday and here’s the listing.
There’s an Italian phrase – “brutti ma buoni” – which means “ugly but good” – and if there ever were a watch that fit the expression, it’s this one. We wouldn’t mind a bit if this case made a comeback – it’s that sexy.