Panerai may have had a few missteps in the eyes of their extremely passionate fanbase, from the use of snap-on case backs and standard spring bars on recent models to the re-issue of cult variations with small changes to make them a new reference, but from time to time, the brand continues to tug at the heartstrings of old school “Ristis”. The Panerai Radiomir 3 Days Acciaio, references PAM 720 and 721, that were initially shown discreetly at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in 2017 before being officially revealed at Design Miami/ fair in December, show clearly the DNA of Panerai and are something of a return to the company’s roots. Here we will take a look at the PAM 721 with “anonymous” dial.
Having been through a meteoric rise under the leadership of Angelo Bonati since the acquisition of Richemont (née Vendôme) Group in 1997, the brand has tried in recent years to transition from the hardcore oversized offerings to a more lifestyle orientated affair, with smaller case sizes, increased range in precious metals and an added emphasis on complications. While this may have alienated some of the early adopters of brands, it has also allowed the company to satisfy a wider audience, thereby increasing sales, something which is an inevitability for a publicly listed organisation.
With the hit parade of reissues of their vintage references, it’s clear that the brand’s management have not forgotten the importance of satisfying the very vocal minority of dedicated supporters who spread the good word of Panerai. In the early days, these über-collectable fan favourites based on the 47mm Radiomir reference 3646 produced in the 1940s consisted of the platinum cased PAM 21, with Rolex movement similar to the version fitted originally. The series then moved on in 2006 to the PAM 232 and 249 with the Arabic numeral and California dial respectively, powered by the venerable OP X calibre based on the Unitas 6497. In 2012, the PAM 448 and 449 were released with the California (again) and so-called “S.L.C.” dials, this time powered by the in-house calibre P.3000. There have been a few other variations in precious metals, or modern concessions like date wheels and sapphire instead of mineral crystals, as well as some models featuring Minerva movements, easily distinguished by a subsidiary seconds at 9 o’clock, but those references listed above are the closest to the original design.
Which neatly brings us up to the most recent releases: the PAM 720 (which bears a striking similarity to the 232 of yore) and the watch on hand here, the PAM 721. Of course, the major talking point of this watch is the starkness of its dial; devoid of any printing (except for the required “L Swiss L” at 6), it is the only model in recent times to not feature a name on the dial, if we preclude the California dial watches such as the previously mentioned PAM 249 and PAM 448. Yet it still retains the distinctive Panerai identity with its “sandwich” dial made up of faux aged luminous Arabic numeral and baton hour markers, although they have made a small concession to pure minimalism by subtly engraving the name to the rehaut at 12 o’clock and the reference between the lugs at 6, details that perhaps might feel a bit superfluous to aficionados of the brand.
The design of the dial without the familiar “Radiomir Panerai” text is directly inspired by versions of the reference 3646 that were used by the German Navy’s Kampfschwimmer combat divers during the latter part of World War II. Having been trained by the elite Decima Flottiglia MAS combat frogmen of the Royal Italian Navy from 1943, it is not surprising that the Germans adopted the watches of the Axis partners, although it appears they were issued with a version that had no text to the dial. There are a few theories as to why the watches were devoid of names: whether it was requested by the Kriegsmarine to ensure that their suppliers would not be revealed as these precision tools provided an advantage in combat, or because Panerai did not want to be known as a supplier to the Nazis, will be lost to history.
On the wrist, there is no shying away from the fact that this is a 47mm diameter watch, but thanks to the combination of its small wire lugs and relatively thin manual wind movement, the in-house calibre P.3000 with 3-day power reserve, it wears well even on smaller wrist sizes. As already mentioned, even without the name on the dial, this watch is unmistakably a Panerai, and due to its presence as well as the fact that it is impossible to hide under a shirt cuff, it attracts a lot of attention from people drawn to the unusual design. One of the downsides to the proportions, other than the fact that this is not exactly a day-to-day office or black tie watch, is the penchants for the plexiglass crystal to pick up scratches due to inadvertent collisions while you are getting used to the overall dimensions. Rather thoughtfully, Panerai does include an additional crystal in the box should you need to replace it, but a bit of Polywatch will get out light marks fairly easily.
The strap supplied with the watch is pleasant enough with decent thickness and nice contrasting stitching, but I personally feel it is let down by the Panerai logo embossed into it and would quickly replace it with one from Kostas Veni with knife buckle, which is closest to the design fitted to the original 3646.
Overall there is a lot to love about the PAM 721, and as an enthusiast of the brand it feels something of a return to form for Panerai after a period in the doldrums, giving some rays of hope for the future of such a storied marque in the post-Bonati era. The watch is a limited edition of 1,000 pieces and available now for HKD 69,200 (at the time of writing), although many pieces are already spoken for due to strong demand.
With thanks to Ralph Ehlers & Volkers Wiegmann, whose book “Vintage Panerai: The References, 1930’s – 1940’s” was used in researching this article. This particular publication together with their other books can be ordered here.