THE HISTORY OF THE LOST PANERAI PROTOTYPE
Like many others, I admire and am enchanted by the history and heritage of this brand.
The historical combination of beauty and functionality is in my opinion unrivalled in wristwatches, period.
Panerai appeals to and unite's people from so many different backgrounds and for such diverse reasons it is quite incredible.
Truly an undeniable classic Icon.
The passion, sharing, learning... the list goes on ... associated with this brand is also unique.
As an outsider, I could not understand this phenomena until fate lent a hand and provided me with some first hand experience of the people, history and watches of Panerai and it is only now that the reasons for this seem patently obvious .
I had been on the look out for a special Panerai watch for myself ever since seeing one on someonelse's wrist and sheepishly asking what is was.It complete blew me away! For me it like seeing THE watch that I had always wanted but never encountered. It was a mix of contradictions that worked perfectly together. Large and bold but restrained. Quirky but wearable. Classy but subtle.
That's without mentioning the quality...and pure symplistic Italian styling all the way...
After that there was no going back to other watch brands and I eagerly started reading as much Panerai background history as I could using the invaluable reference section and archives on Paneristi, as a guide to aid in my intended first Panerai purchase.
From then on, everywhere I went, I spent considerable time looking to buy something Panerair with an interesting history. As a little bit of beginners luck, I came across an old man who sold me some vintage straps, buckles and Panerai instruments. They where built like tanks but that's about all I knew about them. Again, I referred back to Paneristi and asked for help. After a barrage of offers to relieve me of the items, in stepped Hammer. I am to say something that I am sure most of you already know. His knowledge is second to none, his enthusiasm unsurpassed but more importantly, he is one of the few completely sincere & honest people you will come across in any field, who is willing to help and advise without a hidden agenda.
He took the time to explain what I had found and there history, sharing his knowledge and time selflessly.
To me this kind of friendship has become one of the major facets of my interest in Panerai, not solely the watches and it keeps it from ever becoming dull.
My initial success raised my spirits and I searched even more extensively to locate something very rare. I was bowled over when after months and months of fruitless effort, I stumbled upon what was described to me as a prototype Panerai, code named SLOB. I was told the owner had been given the watch as a special gift from Panerai and that it had been sitting in a draw ever since that day.
I was initially skeptical as I understood that realistically, the likelihood of it being real had to be very slim at best.
With that in mind, I was of course drawn back into touching base with Hammer and on his recommendation, the Panerai company.
Again, the enthusiasm I was met with was something very special and surprising. I received non of the cloak and dagger sentiments often associated with watch collectors or the big brand companies, but again a complete willingness to share knowledge and do research on my somewhat unlikely lead.
Even Panerai to their credit where willing to listen! and promised to help out in any way they could , I was impressed !
My sincerest thanks must be extended to Sig. Bonati & the Panerai team for the time they spent with me even when all I initially had was a few sketchy details about the watch.
Fast forward to the day I was supposed to fly out to view it, Hammer for all his efforts had not been able to get back with anything conclusive about whether it was real or not.
To add to the drama, I had not received the promised confirmation/information from Panerai as to whether or not they had produced and designed it.
It left me with an awful predicament if I decided to buy it. I would either buy one of the rarest Panerai watches in existence or buy one of the most expensive unofficial watches ever made!
I decided it was too fantastic a story to give up on straight away, so took a chance and flew out to Italy to see the watch for myself.
I had been bouncing emails back and fourth to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible before I arrived, but for all the discussion, I was not ready for what lay in store.
The watch was a real oddity in every conceivable way. An unusual matt P.V.D coating on Titanium with an applied Bronzed effect , never before or since used or documented on either a prototype or a production Panerai watch.
A luminova dial at a time when it was much more common and likely to be a Tritium dial.Luminova has of course now become the norm on todays production watches.
Plus, not only did it have a domed crystal, which was not used on the days regular production pieces, but one made from plexi-glass. A link between the crystals seen on vintage pre-1960 watches and those only recently used on Panerai watches. Oh, and it was code named SLOB?!?
In all honesty I was at a loss, the owner was so nice and seemed so legitimate.
The watch was really beautiful and different, but unaccountable and undocumented. In the end, I decided to take a huge chance and a blind leap of faith, handed over the cash and walked out with a SLOB on my wrist for better or worst!
Outside I was a real mixed bag of feelings, flitting between being the overjoyed, triumphant explorer who had found a lost treasure to a stupid, foolish and naive person without enough expertise to be buying expensive and most probably fake watches.
It was'nt until I returned to the airport and fired up my computer that my anxiety was instantly dispersed. I was happy to find an email from Panerai as they had promised,waiting in my inbox. Not only did they confirm they recognized and produced the watch in it's entirety, but also that if I would let one of their watchmakers inspect the watch, they would be more than happy to provide me with a comprehensive certificate of authenticity and it's history! I submitted it to them as quickly as possible and had the watch back within a week.
I have not stopped smiling about the whole saga since!
I don't think a person could ask for more from their watch?!?
What was a previously an unknown watch is now an officially certified part of Panerai watch experimentation history, showing several interesting links between the Vintage, Pre V and Vendome watches we see today and ideas never commercially put into production.
It was conceived and produced in the first years of the Vendome Panerai take over, giving it an overlap of both the oldest and most cutting edge Panerai ideas and styles. Amazing!
Personally it put me into contact with some fantastic passionate people who I would like to thank again for helping to bring it home. Hammer for his passion and knowledge, Kristian Haagen - the kind photographer of the watch and of course the handful of the Panerai staff in Italy who got involved. I could never possibly thank any of them enough... but thanks
It is a honor to be able to have uncovered it and to have added a tiny piece to the Panerai history jigsaw puzzle.
In the process of acquiring the watch, it has brought me a lot of pleasure and some great friends. I sincerely hope that everyone who sees the photo's and reads the story of the watch gets as much enjoyment from it as I do.
I am very happy to be able to share this find with everyone here and it is because of this online Panerai community,some hard work and a lot of luck that it was discovered! Again thanks to everyone involved...
and to quote..., it's much more than just a watch...!
by Adam Boswell