The Italian Connection

Are Old Panerai Watches Really Rolex?

There is a litteral connection between Panerai and Rolex. Today we would complain about product piracy. But back then in the 1930s… Italy wasn’t exactly the China of the time, but sort of.


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In the 1920s Rolex introduced the first waterproof watch and a lady from England tried to swim across the channel wearing it, which was of course a big marketing hit for Rolex.

Later in the early 1930, Rolex developed a diving watch with a, at that time, immense case diameter of 47 mm. But the watch didn’t make it to the market and Rolex soon stopped its development completely. Later after the war they gave that idea another try and presented the Submariner…

luminescent: Panerai Luminor Marina

About the same time, when Rolex dropped the diving watch project, a small company from Florence, Italy, who made nautical instruments for the Italian army for decades, suddenly presented their first diving watch: a diving watch with an immense case diameter of 47 mm fitted with a Rolex pocket watch movement, they sourced from Switzerland.

So in my book, there is a litteral connection there. Panerai had close bonds with Rolex and the Panerai store in ‘Firenze’ proudly featured a sign that said: ‘Swiss Watches’. Perhaps some Panerai official caught wind of the development and decided to do something similar… so far the lore.

Everybody says that the Rolex Submariner (at that time basically a Explorer with a rotating bezel), the Omega Seamaster and first and foremost the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms are the first diving watches, all released in the early 1950s when scuba diving was invented.

However, everybody also knows that Rolex already in the 1930s worked on a diving watch which somehow (in dark and not too good documented and a little bit silenced ways) mutated into the Panerai Radiomir featuring a rugged Rolex pocketwatch movement. So now: which one is the first proper diver? The Rolex Submariner or the Panerai Radiomir?

So, if you add one and one, none of these first mentioned divers actually were the first real diving watches as the Panerai already in the 1930s and later during the war supplied their Radiomir watches to Italian navy divers. It lateron mutated to the Panerai Luminor from about 1946 onward.

And there is more…


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