Many Paneristi, especially those who also count themselves among the ranks of diving enthusiasts, likely applauded the company’s recent decision to spin off its Submersible series – traditionally a sub-brand of the Luminor family – into a more independent, stand-alone collection within the Panerai portfolio. As I had the opportunity to tell then-newly minted Panerai North America Brand President Philippe Bonay, during a brief encounter at the Geneva Airport, both of us exhaustedly awaiting a flight home after SIHH 2019, I believe it allows the brand to tell a new story that it frankly, and somewhat oddly, had not been telling much in its modern incarnation. Quite simply, while Panerai’s roots are firmly planted in military diving – going all the way back to the 1930s and the first watches the Florentine firm provided for Italian naval frogmen – it had been quite a while since Panerai timepieces had really been regarded as “dive watches” in the way that, say, the Rolex Submariner or Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or Omega Seamaster are.
Part of the reason for this was Panerai’s vaulting to its current identity as a masculine luxury item rather than a tool watch (thank you, Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger); another was the incontrovertible fact that most modern Panerai watches, which do not include a unidirectional rotating divers’ bezel (the Radiomir models, based on the company’s earliest pieces, don’t even have the patented crown protecting device that helps ensure waterproofness), don’t actually pass muster as ISO-approved dive watches today. The only ones that would are the erstwhile Luminor Submersibles, which are equipped with both a divers’ bezel and a crown protector and boast an unapologetically militaristic, utilitarian look, but these models had been emphasised less in recent years than the two main families. With Submersible as its own collection, Panerai can both embrace its nautical past and – this, Bonay agreed, was key – establish itself as a brand for serious divers and those engaged in other active outdoor adventures.
All of which is an admittedly long-winded way to introduce this close-up look at the first of the 2019 Submersibles we were able to get our hands on at WatchTime, the Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech – 47MM, a jet-black bruiser of a timepiece that nevertheless looks really sharp under a dress shirt cuff (so long as it’s not buttoned too tight, of course; the watch has a fairly substantial girth in addition to its wide proportions). Released as one of the flagships of the revamped Submersible collection, which are distinguished on their dials by the use of “Panerai Submersible” at 12 o’clock rather than the previous “Luminor Submersible Panerai,” is the latest model with its bezel, case middle, lugs and even the patented crown-protecting bridge made of Carbotech, a material that Panerai introduced to the watch world in 2015.
Drilling down a bit on Carbotech: its structure is designed to optimise both the aesthetics and the performance of the material. To form the plates that give it its distinctive look, thin sheets of carbon fibers are compressed at a controlled temperature under high pressure together with a high-end polymer, PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone), which binds the composite material, making it even stronger and more durable. The carbon fibres used are very long, to ensure aesthetic uniformity, and the sheets are superimposed and pressed together in such a way that the fibers of each layer are set at a different angle to the ones above and below it. The resulting material boasts mechanical properties much higher than those of similar materials used in watchmaking, such as ceramics and titanium. Carbotech, according to Panerai, is lighter than both and more resistant to corrosion as well as being hypoallergenic. Aesthetically, the material has an uneven, matte-black appearance with an almost wood-grain-like texture that varies according to the cutting of the material. This means, in essence, that each object made of this material is a unique piece.
In its use of this material for its outer shell, the Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech succeeds admirably in each of the areas it is engineered to enhance. The light weight makes it comfortable on the wrist despite its imposing size and one gets a sensation of both hardness and smoothness running one’s fingers up and down the barrel-shaped case middle. Interestingly, “in the metal” (or should that be “in the material?”) as opposed to in the many photos Panerai has released of its Carbotech models, the wavy, layered texture is fairly subtle – again, a positive trait if you want to wear this Submersible as a dress watch. The lugs are sharply curved, the caseback is flatter than I tend to prefer but still nestles nicely on the wrist, and the bezel produces a pronounced clicking – precisely 60 clicks, one for each minute of dive-scale time – that is likely to echo quite audibly throughout the room.
The bezel’s design is one of the most defining elements that separate it from other dive watches (and not only because this one bears the signature swirling pattern common to Carbotech). The studded relief dots that rise from its slightly curved surface are punctuated by a luminous-filled dot at 12 o’clock, tiny numbered dots at the 15-, 30- and 45-minute markers, and blank dots at the other 5-minute points. These dots are a throwback to the now-famous historical Panerai watch that inspired the Submersible design: the so-called L’Egiziano, a massive 60-mm divers’ watch commissioned by the Egyptian Navy in 1956. In that watch, the studded surface served a utilitarian purpose, using the numbered points to indicate immersion time and allowing hands in thick dive gloves to grasp the rotating bezel from the front; in this incarnation, they are largely ornamental, superseded by the grooved edges.
Fingertips of all sizes can easily grasp the grooved edge to turn the bezel in its counter-clockwise direction to set dive times. The screw-down crown is similarly fluted and easily turned (not as much so when it’s actually being worn on the wrist due to the large crown protector). It’s held in place securely by that patented protection device, also made of Carbotech, whose hinged locking mechanism extracts easily but firmly from its locked position to allow winding of the watch. After the watch is wound, simply push the lever back into place to firmly anchor the crown and thus secure the Submersible’s water resistance of 300 meters.
The carbon dial continues the watch’s ebony-tinted “stealth” look, with an etched carbon particle pattern exposed nicely under a loupe (albeit with some glare in certain lighting). A double bar index marks 12 o’clock, a single one rests at 6 o’clock, and bubble-like white dots identify most of the other hour stops. The only exceptions are at 3 o’clock, where a date window sits – nice and small and subtle, with a white date numeral on a black field, an attractive detail that maintains the watch’s monochromatic charm – and a seconds subdial at 9 o’clock, with a small hand orbiting a circle of four tiny bar indexes and eight dots; all the hands and indexes are, judging by the powerful glow my review watch emitted in the dark after a day in the sun, all fairly drenched in Super-LumiNova. The little teardrop-shaped seconds hand traverses the subdial at what appears to the naked eye to be a slow, leisurely pace but nevertheless tracks the passage of time with admirable precision.
Behind the solid caseback, which is constructed not of Carbotech but of black-coated titanium but nevertheless looks perfectly coordinated with the ensemble, Panerai’s Caliber P.9010 does its duty. Produced entirely in-house at Panerai’s manufacture in the picturesque Swiss town of Neuchâtel, the movement is self-winding by means of a bidirectional rotor, and stores a power reserve of 72 hours, or three days, in twin barrels. Like other Panerai in-house movements, it is fitted with a device for stopping the balance wheel to more precisely synchronise the watch while setting it, as well as a system for quickly adjusting the hour hand forward or backward without interfering with the running of the seconds hand – a useful feature when changing time zones or in the event one needs to quickly adjust the date.
The caseback’s host of engravings includes the brand name, model name, water resistance level and, decorating the centre circle, a rendering of a military diver with the Submersible collection’s new tagline, “Survival Instruments” – another indication that Panerai is attempting to imbue the series with a healthy dose of its military diving history. The watch is mounted on a segmented black rubber strap, emblazoned with the historical “OP” (Officine Panerai) emblem on both its top surfaces, and fastens (as previously noted) very comfortably to the wrist with a large pin buckle, presumably made of the same blackened titanium as the caseback, subtly engraved with a tone-on-tone Panerai logo.
The Panerai Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech – 47MM retails for $19,400. That’s a bit steep by almost any standard for a timepiece that proudly embraces a “tool watch” identity – by comparison, the steel-cased 42-mm Submersible starts at $8,900 – but the watch will certainly appeal to a segment of well-heeled Paneristi, especially those who appreciate the technical stride for the brand that Carbotech represents. As Bonay and his team have pointed out, Panerai’s history has been one not only associated with military diving but with innovation – from its invention of luminous material for deep-sea diving visibility, to the emblematic crown protector, to materials like Carbotech and BMG-Tech. And the Submersible, as in the past, remains the ideal template for showcasing even newer breakthroughs in the future.
All images used in the story is from WatchTime US. The artcile first appeared in the November-December 2019 issue of WatchTime.