“You are crazy, Mr Bonati. You are asking for too much.” Panerai’s long serving CEO Angelo Bonati says this is how the team at the brand’s Laboratorio Di Idee reacted when told what he expected from the brand’s first chiming watch. Bonati and the team can smile now – four years on, Panerai has unveiled its most complicated haute horology timepiece yet, the Radiomir 1940 Minute Repeater Carillon Tourbillon GMT.
“I told them it needed to be different from everything else out there. And it had to stick to the principles that have defined our brand DNA over the years. Did you know I rejected the tourbillon three times before they presented the current version? As far as the development of the minute repeater was concerned, I told them that I’ll be happy even if we sell three pieces. Haute horology is not our main business. We are only looking to showcase of our technical know-how here,” says Bonati, during our chat at the brand’s spiritual home in Florence in May 2016.
A select few media, under oath of secrecy, first got a glimpse of Panerai’s minute repeater during a visit to the manufacture in January 2016. This isn’t Panerai’s first foray into the world of haute horology, but the unveiling of an entirely new type of chiming watch, developed in-house, was always going to be big news. This is an important watch for Panerai. In the 10 years that it has been a manufacture brand, Panerai has developed 26 in-house movements and now only five percent (its entry-level watches) are fitted with ETA movements. “We could go completely in-house if we want to, but we prefer to keep a small percentage of watches more accessible to buyers,” says Bonati.
A minute repeater is such departure from Panerai’s tool watch roots that we had to ask, why is Panerai dabbling in haute horology? Is there a risk of moving away from its brand DNA? “When you are a manufacture brand like Panerai, you need to do things to create awareness that is linked to the manufacture. The only way to do this is create products that showcase our technical know-how. We have 26 in-house movements but we need to show our collectors that we were capable of more. Our collectors want chaos, they want something different. Of course they are willing to buy limited editions based on existing models but they have been asking us for something exceptional. And if they want that, we need to deliver an exceptional piece or we risk losing them,” says Bonati.
“There is clearly a clientele for our haute horology pieces. To give you an example, we still get buyers requesting the L'Astronomo (Ed’s Note: The Luminor 1950 Equation of Time Tourbillon Titanio, limited to just 30 pieces and costing close to $250,000). It’s not a huge demand, but we constantly get inquiries about this watch. Our Brand DNA comprises our history, our relation to the sea and Swiss watchmaking. The Minute Repeater is still within this realm.”
This new watch is powered by the new P.2005/MR manufacture movement – a hand-wound skeleton caliber fitted with a minute repeater and Panerai’s patented tourbillon regulator. What sets this watch apart from any other minute repeater in the market right now is the innovative double hour and minute repeater mechanism. The product development team zoned in on some of the characteristics of modern Panerai watches – GMT function, power reserve, simplicity of design and function – and used them as reference points in the creation of the movement.
The ability of the watch to select home time or local time to chime was the most challenging bit of the design. A patented security system was built into the movement to avoid the accidental activation of the repeater function. So the carillon can be operated (by the push-piece at 8 o’clock) only when the winding crown is rotated slightly. Apply pressure on the pusher to turn the crown to chime local or home time. The red HT/ LT indicator at 8 o’ clock marks which of the two time zones is going to be chimed.
The minute repeater mechanism has three hammers that strike an equal number of gongs fixed to the movement and case. The choice of three hammers, instead of the traditional two, ensures that three different sounds can be combined so that the carillon can play a melody, like that of a bell. The first gong strikes a low note and identifies the hour, the third gong strikes a high note and indicates minutes. Unlike a traditional minute repeater which marks the quarters, this is a decimal repeater. So the second gong sounds a combination of notes, each triple chime corresponding to 10 minutes instead of the traditional 15.
It’s easy to forget that this timepiece is also fitted with a distinct tourbillon. Unique to Panerai, this patented design sees the tourbillon cage rotate on an axis that is perpendicular, not parallel, to that of the balance wheel. It also completes a rotation every 30 seconds as opposed to a minute. The faster rotation and unique arrangement of the tourbillon enable it to compensate for any deviations in rate effectively. Despite all technical wizardry, the movement still has a healthy power reserve for four days (96 hours).
As far as looks go, the watch is unmistakably Panerai – the Radiomir case measures 49 mm and is actually made by soldering two pieces of 18-carat red gold made with a percentage of platinum in the alloy. This construction enables more hollow areas inside the case and enhances the quality of sound, and also makes it more resistant to corrosion.
A skeletonized dial offers glimpses of the P.2005/MR movement. The hour markers are attached to the movement directly. Notations like ‘Radiomir 1940 Panerai’ and ‘Minute Repeater Carillon’ are engraved on the inner flange. The triple hammers and gongs are visible courtesy of a sapphire crystal caseback. A power-reserve indicator is also placed on the caseback. Panerai offers this watch with customizable options, so you can choose between red and white gold for the case, and also change the color of the hands and lume.
This movement has 633 components and it takes a dedicated team more than six weeks to assemble one of them. Despite the presence of a minute repeater and a tourbillon, this timepiece is water-resistant up to 3 bar (equivalent to a depth of 30 meters). Bonati says Panerai’s haute horology division has been growing. “We have been hiring people to this division, it’s not complete yet but we are going in this direction. For me, everything from a split-seconds chronograph right up to the minute repeater falls in the haute horology category,” says Bonati.
He says the initial reaction from collectors has been very encouraging and there have already been some bookings. It’s easy to see why – the PAM 600 has all the makings of a grail watch for the Panerai faithful. It retains the brand’s distinct identity, has a unique and sweet sounding minute repeater, a technically brilliant tourbillon and is water resistant up to 30 meters. Not that any sensible person would wade into the pool with a $400,000 minute repeater but hey, you never know what some people will do for a viral Instagram post these days.
(This article originally appeared in our Fall 2016 print edition)