Giovanni Panerai (1825–1897) founded Officine Panerai in Florence, Italy in 1860. By 1900, under the leadership of the founder’s grandson Guido Panerai (1873–1934), Officine Panerai had become an official supplier to the Regia Marina (the Royal Italian Navy), supplying watches and precision instruments. Panerai watches of this time consisted of cases designed and manufactured by Panerai and movement made by Swiss manufacturers including Rolex SA.
The Florence-based watchmaker produced wrist worn diving instruments and about 300 watches, all for the Italian Marina Militare, between 1938 and 1993. By that time, the company ceased to provide watches to the Marina Militare, as they were neither cost-effective nor met the naval specifications. It then moved to launch its products to the civilian market. The actor Sylvester Stallone spotted and bought a Panerai Luminor in a jewellers in Rome in 1995 to wear during shooting of the film Daylight. Stallone ordered a small batch of such watches with his signature on the case back, called Slytech, offering some as gifts to friends. This hugely influenced the resurrection of the brand. The brand’s rising popularity caught the attention of Richemont, which acquired Officine Panerai in 1997. Following the acquisition, Richemont rebranded Panerai as a luxury watch brand and increased prices accordingly. The core of the watches remain the same. At auction and in the collectors market, some of these older models, particularly those produced in the 1940s and ’50s have sold for high prices.
Panerai has four major lines of watches, Historic, Contemporary, Manifattura and Special Editions. Most watches are produced in a limited run (normally of 500, 1000, 2000 or 4000 units) and carry an issue number on the case back. Panerai issues Special Editions every year. In 2006 it issued the 1936 California Dial Radiomir special edition, a reissue of the first Panerai model ever presented to the Italian Marina Militare. This model was limited to a run of 1936 units. As of September 2008, the price variation within the Contemporary collection varies from $6,000 USD to $25,500 USD for the solid gold Marina.
Panerai makes many watches as either limited or special editions, intentionally producing fewer watches than the market demands in order to maintain an image of exclusivity, which allows it to command a high price. Retailers may only receive a few limited edition pieces each per year and there are long waiting lists for popular models.
When Ferrari’s contract with rival watchmaker Girard-Perregaux expired in 2005, Ferrari and Panerai entered into a five year agreement to design, manufacture and distribute Panerai watches displaying the Ferrari trademark. The collection was branded Ferrari engineered by Panerai and consisted of two product lines: the sport/elegant “Granturismo” and the aggressively sporty “Scuderia”. The collection consisted of 11 models priced between US$5,000 and US$30,000.