Review: Panerai Luminor Chrono Monopulsante 8 Giorni GMT Blu Notte
Some of you may know already that I’m a bit of a fan of Panerai. I’ve owned a 312 and a 177 and I still miss them both. It’s a brand that’s very difficult to explain; like marmite, it goes well with toast, and as you well know some people are a fan of toast, and some people are not. So, it’s not always so easy to determine what makes a watch like a Panerai so appealing, but yet it is a breeze to see why someone might think otherwise. On the basis that this is making no sense whatsoever, here’s five reasons why the new 1135 from Panerai is my favourite yet.
There’s something incredibly rare about the Panerai Luminor: it’s a watch that looks out of the ordinary that isn’t just like that because, well, design. Some sweater-wearing art college kid didn’t put pen to paper and think, “watches would be cooler if they were styled like this”; the Luminor appears like it does because of reasons of practicality and circumstance.
We think of the Italians, where the design originates, as being incredibly stylish, and being one-eighth Italian myself I tend to agree, but in reality, the Luminor is a hodgepodge of practical evolution and make-do that yields the net result of charm. That bulging square shape comes from the pocket watch cases to hand at the time, styled for the Art Deco period; the twin layer numerals scribed to give the long-lasting but dim radioactive luminous paint more hope of being seen at night underwater; the crown guard is pretty much a bodged solution to avoid dealing with field repairs on stripped screw-down crowns, because the military budget could only stretch to manually wound movements.
Like a building might have extensions growing out of it from many different periods in time, it seems on paper that the Luminor should feel muddled, awkward and ugly. But, like the buildings, something remarkable happens: each addition and modification adds a chapter to its story and another dose of character that makes it all the more endearing. The Luminor’s shape just feels right, and that’s the best I can do to explain it.
Do you remember that question in school? “What’s your favourite colour?” Oh yes, that’s right, of all the millions of incredible colours in the world, the deep oranges, sparkling greens, powerful reds, dusky pinks to name but a few, I have to pick a favourite. Why do I need to pick a favourite? Is this going on a school census or something? Fine—it’s blue.
Blue is a pretty dominant colour in our day-to-day existence. The sky is blue and so’s the sea. Well, sometimes. In England it’s mostly all grey, but you know what I mean. It’s not the Côte d’Terracotta. Sapphires don’t sparkle in deepest beige. Eiffel 65 didn’t have a number one hit in 1999 with the song Burnt Umber. And if we’re talking natural colours, we’d have to consider green … except green was the house at school all the loser kids were in—myself included—so that’s a hard no from me. Blue it is.
The cherry on the cake is that this blue shimmers in sunburst rays very much like the Côte d’Azure—which none of us have been able to visit for a year, so perhaps my preference is a little bias …
As you can imagine, being strapped up by a military budget, Panerai isn’t traditionally known for complication. At a stetch, the 8-day Angelus in the Egiziano is about as fancy-pants as past Panerai got, and that makes for a good start for the 1135, which can merrily tick along without another wind for the same week and a day.
But you can’t say no to a good complication, can you? Especially a linear power reserve display that looks just like a fuel gauge. Now you can play fuel light bingo with both your car and your watch. And the GMT hand, sneakily blending in with the main display and complimented by the day/night indicator at nine, cleverly avoiding the addition of a dedicated bezel and able to be tucked away when not in use; if and when I ever get to set foot across the channel again, it’s a genuinely useful function.
And of course, the chronograph. There was a Panerai with a chronograph, a prototype deck watch that never saw the light of day called the Mare Nostrum—one of my favourite chronograph designs of all time—and so I think it’s fair that it gets to sneak its way into a Luminor. But it’s not just any old chronograph—this is how they did it old school, with just one pusher for start, stop and reset. Quaint, yes; less practical, maybe. Did you really need both pushers?
If there’s one thing that puts off a potential Panerai candidate, it’s size. And not necessarily even the physical dimensions—this 1135 is a solid 44mm in diameter and almost 20mm thick, sitting tall with that deeply convex sapphire—but the weight that comes with it. In steel, this watch would be a noticeable thing to wear, turning your arm into a wrecking ball to wreak havoc on the nearest doorframe or table edge.
Not for the 1135, because the 1135 is made from ceramic. That’s no great achievement in this day and age, the first ceramic watch debuting all the way back in 1962, but in a watch this chunky, it is a revelation. That’s because ceramic weighs less than half what steel does, making this watch more akin to wearing one half the size. With my build like it is that, were it a house, would be condemned as unsafe, that’s very welcome.
For reasons unknown, and despite having a screw-down case back, that yields just 100 metres of water resistance, not 300—but then you’re not getting this watch to go deep with anyway and, if we think back to the divers who wore this watch’s ancestors, neither did they. Those ridable torpedoes someone convinced them to pilot had a maximum operating depth of about 30m.
The 1135 is powered by the calibre P.2004, which is by sheer coincidence the same year that Rolex—the watchmaker that actually built Panerai’s watches in the early part of the 20th century—finally bought out Aegler—the company that Rolex paid to make movements for the watches it was paid to make for Panerai—to officially become an in-house manufacturer. With the calibre P.2004, Panerai continues to demonstrate its longstanding independence from Rolex with an in-house movement of its own.
Based on the P.2002, an 8-day GMT movement, the P.2004 racks up 321 parts with the addition of the monopusher chronograph. A column wheel controls the feed to the central chronograph seconds and three o’clock thirty-minute hand, just two of the eight hands the dial somehow manages to accommodate without feeling overwhelmed.
Panerai calibres can often appear very functional—how they should be, really—but the P.2004 lets its hair down just a little with its unusual arrangement of snaking bridges that expose a little of the chronograph’s mechanism. It’s no hand-wound A. Lange & Söhne calibre, but it’s still a uniquely impressive thing, both to use and to look at. Panerai does actually make a skeletonised version of the P.2004, but the sleek black case and inky blue sheen of the dial may have stood a little at odds with it.
Sadly, as if to underpin my chances of ever seeing a deep blue sea again, only 200 pieces of the 1135 will ever exist. But I’d rather end on a high note for this gem of a Panerai, and that’s with the name. The 1135 is officially called the Panerai Luminor Chrono Monopulsante 8 Giorni GMT Blu Notte—and that ridiculously Italian title just might be the coolest thing about it.
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