In the last issue we delved into Panerai's past, revealing the covert missions that conjured the design of one of the most important watch manufacturers of the last century. Since then we've been lucky enough to get hold of two novelties from the Panerai collection of this year, the PAM00424 and 425, which offer another interesting glimpse into the brand's history. The new PAM00388 joins us as well to give us a full round-up.
Starting with the 388, we have a very familiar arrangement; a sandwich dial with stencilled numbers, a small seconds counter, and simple, straight-cut hands. Power comes from the P.9000 automatic movement, an in-house calibre with a handy three day power reserve. The 388 sports a design that is very well known, particularly with Panerai's 'evolution, not revolution' approach, so having it next to the 424 and 425 makes it seem quite pedestrian.
The two newbies gain dominance partly through size; case diameter is up 2mm to 47mm, so it's immediately more imposing, but the real impact comes from the bulging 2.8mm-thick sapphire crystal that swells outward from the front of the case. Reminiscent of an early day in Panerai's years, the crystal mimics the original plastic versions that were made thick to withstand the crushing force of water, and as such they had a swollen aesthetic. A subtler modification is the hands - for such an understated change it makes a startling difference, particularly coated in vintage-look luminescent paint. They also have a real separation from the matt black dial thanks to their rich colouration.
Which brings us to the party piece of this pair; the dials themselves. The 424 has a California dial and the 425 an S.L.C, and both are interpretations of two very rare and fascinating designs that hark all the way back to the birth of the Radiomir. The California dial came first and was perhaps one of the original dial types fitted to the Radiomir. Panerai's brief was to make a waterproof diving watch that would be immediately legible in the murky sea at night, and so a new dial arrangement was considered. Rolex (who made Panerai's watches) had already been tinkering with a half Arabic, half roman dial, which was made by the Stern company in California, and so this style was trialled before ultimately being changed for the numerals we all recognise.
The S.L.C dial comes a little later in Panerai's tale, towards the end of the 30s. S.L.C stands for "Siluro a Lento Corsa," which means, "Slow Speed Torpedo," the devices used by the elite frogman wearing the watches, and a small relief drawing of it appears on the dial (although not on this early version pictured). How this relates to the dial pattern I'm not quite sure, but I do know that the design came about as an early prototype during the development of the famous sandwich dial, used to create a stronger, brighter glow from the luminescent paint. To keep the clarity and balance of the S.L.C dial, Panerai have forgone the date on the 425.
Both watches are, as is expected from Panerai, beautifully made, particularly when it comes to the cal. P.3000 that peeks through the back. Driven by two mainsprings, the P.3000 makes a useful three days power, which, as the movement is hand-wind only, is a welcome benefit. It is also another nod to the early Radiomirs which too had manual wind - albeit Rolex - calibres.
Owning either the 424 or 425 is akin to owning an Eagle Jaguar E-Type; all of the fun and heritage with none of the pitfalls (radiation poisoning being an example) of owning vintage machinery. Also, given that the original California and S.L.C dialled Radiomirs will cost nothing short of both arms and both legs and probably most internal organs too, our pair here are comparative bargains. At least, that's how I'd try and justify getting my mitts on one.