Panerai Revisits Early Design with New Radiomir 1940

By: Michael Thompson   November 1, 2013

Modern 1940 Vintage

In the annals of Panerai lore, Radiomir predates Luminor, which was developed in the late 1940s with its characteristic crown protection device fully intact and its lugs solid. The vintage Radiomir and its success with the Italian Navy was the Italian brand’s illustrious past, with its retro wire strap attachments deemed potentially less secure by mid-century design standards.

But Panerai’s switch from one case style to another is not as sudden as the brand’s popular mythology might imply. As its designs evolved in the 1940s, Panerai developed a Radiomir case that sported the solid lugs and updated strap attachment system we today identify with the Luminor case style.

Panerai during the past year has revived that case design, offering fans a sort of middle ground for those who enjoy aspects of both designs. Called Radiomir 1940, the new ‘vintage’ case design can today be seen on several new models, including the Radiomir 1940 Chrono Monopulsante 8 Days GMT Oro Rosso (shown on the cover of this issue in an exclusive U.S. debut).

But before we look at this watch and other new Radiomir editions, let’s recall the Panerai case evolution as a backgrounder to understand its place in Panerai history.

The Protector
Aside from its large size, which today is no longer the unique characteristic it was in 1998 when Panerai began to be seen on wrists in the United States, the Italian-designed, Swiss-made brand distinguishes itself with, among other ‘tells,’ its crown protector, or “tight seal device,” as Panerai originally called it. It’s possibly the most visible element on the Panerai Luminor case.

Patented in Italy by Maria and Gioseppe Panerai in 1955, development of the protection device dates back to the early 1940s when Panerai’s designers sought to mitigate the potential threat to water resistance that could occur during frequent crown winding and unwinding.

The company researched a compression system that used a small bridge with a lever attached by screws to the side of the case, which proved successful under water as early as the 1940s. Panerai nonetheless waited until 1960, fully fifteen years after creating it, to obtain a patent that included many countries in Europe and the United States.

According to Panerai, by Giampiero Negretti and Simon de Burton, the company waited to patent it fully because “it was a device for an instrument used exclusively by the military, it was not deemed appropriate to present a patent application in countries which, at the time, were at war with Italy, or in neutral Switzerland.”

And though Panerai began to place the protective device onto cases as early as the late 1940s, there were several years between the lever’s finalized development and its addition to fully realized Panerai Luminor cases. In those pre-Luminor years, Panerai created an ‘evolved’ version of its Radiomir case on which the strap attachments were no longer formed from a strong piece of steel wire bent and welded to the case, as they had been previously. PAM 00514

Solid Lugs
In this new 1940s design, the lugs were larger and much more solid, being milled from the same block of steel as the case, of which it was an integral part. In addition to the new lugs, Panerai also changed the system of attaching the strap, making it much simpler and more secure. While previously it had been necessary to sew the leather around the wire strap attachments, the new construction had small holes in the lugs themselves in which strong small tubes could be fitted, having been inserted through the loops at the ends of the strap.

This modern solution meant that the leather strap could more easily be replaced. At the same time, Panerai reduced the size and proportion of the cushion-shaped case outlines, expanded the size of the now-cylindrical crown and expanded the overall thickness of the watch, increasing it from about 15 mm to almost 17 mm.

During this ‘missing link’ period, which spans only the short time between Panerai’s Radiomir and later 1940s Luminor designs, Panerai spawned a hybrid case design now called the Radiomir 1940.
In addition to the Radiomir 1940 Chrono Monopulsante 8-Days GMT watch pictured on this month’s cover, Officine Panerai debuted several Radiomir 1940s models.

Panerai 1940

U.S. Debut
The newest launches from Panerai that feature this Radiomir 1940 case include two new Special Editions, the Radiomir 1940 Chrono Monopulsante 8 Days GMT Oro Rosso (PAM00502) and the Radiomir 1940 Chrono Monopulsante 8 Days GMT Oro Bianco (PAM00503). Panerai has created these models by combining the case design of that Radiomir 1940 with a specially skeletonized edition of the P.2004 manufacture movement with a column wheel, vertical clutch and a long, eight-day power reserve.

This 45 mm red gold or white gold model features a winding crown with the Officine Panerai logo in relief and a single push-piece at eight o’clock that controls the start, stop and reset functions. The caliber also has the second time zone function, with the a.m./p.m. indicator on the counter at nine o’clock, and a device that automatically resets the seconds hand to zero when the time is adjusted.

These two new manual-wind Radiomir 1940 models differ from each other not only in case material, however. Their dial color and designs are specific to the case metal. In the red gold version the brown dial with satiné soleil finish has large figures and bar-shaped hour markers, historic early Panerai features. The white gold version has a black dial, also with satiné soleil finish, but without the large Arabic numerals and with fewer bar-shaped hour markers. The nicely skeletonized caliber is visible via the clear sapphire caseback on both models.

Panerai Radiomir 1940

Also in 1940

As first seen earlier this year, Panerai debuted this new collection with two 47 mm models, the Radiomir 1940 3 Days (PAM00514) and the Radiomir 1940 3 Days Oro Rosso (PAM00515), and with two 42 mm editions. All of these debuts are manual-wound models offered in both red gold and in steel.

These new members of the Panerai Historic Collection are fitted with the P.3000 caliber, a hand-wound mechanical movement with a power reserve of three days.

The dial, with the small seconds hand at nine o’clock and the date window at three o’clock, of course maintains Panerai’s famed sandwich dial structure that features two superimposed plates with luminous material between them, its light being visible through the holes made corresponding to the hour markers in the upper plate.

Panerai enthusiasts are well aware that this type of dial construction had already been designed by the brand by the late 1930s to provide greater brightness and legibility. For the new models, dial colors include black for the steel version and brown for the red gold model. The new model also features a specially made red gold alloy made with a high percentage of copper, which gives the color greater intensity, while also adding a bit of platinum, which helps to eliminate oxidation. In both versions the finish of the case and bezel is polished.

Inside the 47 mm models, the manual-wind P.3000 movement is a fully in-house affair that can be admired through the large sapphire crystal window in the back. Hand wound and with a diameter of 16½ lignes, the P.3000 calibre has a power reserve of three days achieved by means of two spring barrels in series. It has wide brush-finished bridges with chamfered edges and a variable inertia balance with an unusually large balance wheel (13.2 mm in diameter) that oscillates at a frequency of 3 Hz. Interestingly, the P.3000 calibre also has the device which enables the hour hand to be adjusted in jumps of one hour forward or backward, so that its adjustment does not interfere with the progress of the minute hand or the running of the watch.

The 42 mm models utilize caliber P.999, a manual-wind model movement that is the smallest and thinnest in the wide range of calibers produced by the Officine Panerai manufacture in Neuchâtel. These two watches, the Radiomir 1940 (PAM00512) and the Radiomir 1940 Oro Rosso (PAM00513) are supplied with a black or brown alligator strap.

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