There are those in the watchmaking community who hear the word ‘Tourbillon’ and immediately think of French nobility, sitting in a stuffy parlor, reading the time from a delicate porcelain-dialed watch (Marie Antoinette).
Now, place that delicate 18th century escapement in Panerai watch. (Marie Antoinette, holding a machine gun, screaming “LET THEM EAT LEAD!”). Introducing the Panerai model PAM00396 – the Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Ceramica.
There are essentially two kinds of people in the world: People who LIKE Panerai watches and people who DON’T. Shocking, but true, there are people out there who think that the Panerai watch is a throwback to distant ancestors on the horological evolutionary time-line. To those folks the cases are bulky. The functions are simple. The movements are crude and worse bought-in. (Why can’t all watches be slim and refined?)
Case In Point:
Based on the PAM00306, the 396’s 48mm, black case has all of the same styling cues that other 1950 cases have: the bowl-shaped sides with downward sweeping lugs that when juxtaposed with the deeply domed crystal, give the overall appearance of a downward curved design. The trademarked Panerai crown-locking device sits proud on the right hand side of the case. Yes, it is very large, but it is also extremely comfortable and even, dare I say, elegant looking on a medium to large wrist.
The ceramic employed is not the product of the time-honored tradition of throwing clay, glazing and firing in an oven… Instead, Panerai mill a case out of aluminum and then ELECTROCUTE it while bathing it in chemicals! The process is so strong and so violent that the surface composition of the aluminum is changed and it’s outward appearance takes on a matte black color. Mind you, this is no mere ‘coating’ this is aluminum that is turned into black ceramic. So, unlike Physical Vapor Deposition (aka: “PVD”) coatings that can scratch – the 396’s ceramic will not show base metal through all but the deepest gouges.
Moving in the Right Circles:
The case-back display on the model 396 is not an idle option – it has real purpose. The outward color adaptation is not reserved exclusively for the case; model 396 has a blackened movement as well! Panerai have taken their standard P-2005, in-house caliber, 31-jewel, manual winding movement and blackened the plates, bridges and screws. This alters the caliber from P-2005 to P-2005/B (B for “BLACK”). The stylistic effect, when viewed, with the reddish gold gears and ruby red jewels of the movement is very striking.
Consisting of 239 separate components, the P-2005/B designated caliber has 3 barrels providing power for 6 days, a power reserve indicator (viewed on the back of the watch, through the display back – which I think adds an appealing intimacy [yes – for those of you still reading the word “intimacy” was just used to describe a feature on a Panerai watch!] to the relationship between the owner and the watch) and a 30 second, axially rotating tourbillon. The tourbillon’s presence is highlighted by way of a mirrored plate on the under-side of the movement. This allows for the owner to view the rotation of the tourbillon carriage from all sides.
Panerai dials are famous for their sparse use of decoration. They are straightforward and very legible. Therefore it should come as no surprise that in spite of the fact that the 396 is a complicated watch with a host of functions, it is still uncluttered and easy to read. The black sandwich dial is offset by creamy, ‘vintage’ looking lume, encased by matte black hands. The famous 5-minute graduated Panerai dial does the job of dispensing the time with little frippery.
The 396 allows for display of time in hours, minutes and seconds (at 9 o’clock), as well as a second time zone hand that circles the dial every 12 hours. There is a separate 24-hour, Day/Night indicator (3 o’clock) that allows the owner to keep track of what time it is in his or her primary time zone. Possibly the most whimsical aspect of the dial is the small inner dial within the subsidiary seconds dial at 9 o’clock. The comet-like array of circles whirl around the dial every 30 seconds! They keep track of the position of the tourbillon carriage on the underside of the movement. So even when you can’t see the tourbillon it will not be too far from your mind.
Mister Bonati, Panerai’s CEO, seems to have used the auspice of the 10th anniversary of Panerai Manufacture’s commencement in Neuchâtel, Switzerland to deploy a subtle piece that will prove his brand’s naysayers wrong! Mister Bonati and Co. sought to prove that when they flex their technical muscles, Panerai can craft watches that are as complicated and refined as any in the industry. From groundbreaking case construction to über-sophisticated complications, every aspect of the new Panerai 396 is executed in the very highest traditions of watchmaking technology and advancement.
I would like to thank Martin Wilmsen very kindly for the use of his extraordinarily beautiful photography! You can see more of Martin’s photos at his Panerai Wristwatch Blog. Contact me off-line and I’ll send you my photography – you’ll see why I chose to use Martin’s!
This article is written by Mario Squillacioti, editor for Monochrome Watches.