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Review: Panerai Submersible Bronzo Blu Abisso

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? Three simple ingredients combined into one to create a product that is just … right. Here are those three ingredients and why, for Panerai, they’ve been a long time coming.

Submersible

You probably know the story by now: Panerai, back at the start of the 20th century, was given a contract by the Italian Navy to equip its divers with something to tell the time with. Panerai already supplied equipment like compasses and depth gauges and stuff like that, so it made sense for the Navy to ask. Problem was, Panerai didn’t actually make watches, so, using its noodle, it had this—at the time at least—little-known company called Rolex build them something.

To make it accurate, Rolex used a pocket watch movement; to make it clear, Panerai supplied its patented Radiomir paint, a radium-based concoction that quite literally had a radioactive glow. From there the stage was set for the next several decades, where the simple form of the Radiomir evolved into something entirely more technical.

One of the last stages of evolution for Panerai’s watch was built for the Egyptian Navy in 1956, and it was a monster. Sixty millimetres across, it was the Megazord of Panerais, boasting the Luminor locking crown guard debuted six years earlier, a rotating timing bezel with luminous pip at twelve and an eight-day Angelus movement. The men who wore these things must have been built like gods.

The striking look of the “Egiziano” as it was known has since been carried through into the modern-day Submersible collection, and whilst you no longer need to have the stature of King Kong to wear it, it retains many of the features that made it the tank-like diving watch it was back in the fifties. Rotating bezel, luminous paint, 300m water-resistance thanks to the locking crown guard and screw-down case back—this is no pretender, this is the real deal.

Bronze

Is it blue and black or white and gold? Actually, it’s kind of a bit of both. You do not need to adjust your set for this particular Submersible because, no, the white balance isn’t off—this PAM01074 is made from the very warm-toned metal bronze, offset by a deep blue strap and dial. Dubbed the “Submersible Bronzo Blu Abisso”—doesn’t Italian make everything sound cool, by the way—this watch strikes a balance between the built-for-purpose mentality of the original Egiziano and the innate Italian yearning to make things look nice.

Now, you may not realise this, but picking a colour is harder than it looks, blue especially. Pantone, a company largely busying itself with the standardisation of colours, chose a blue as its colour of the year for 2020, a shade called “Classic Blue”. A sure-fire hit, you would guess, from the masterminds of all things colour, to pick a hue already distinguished for its classic good looks. But no. The response was quick and brutal. “Pantone has missed the mark,” said one critic. “Tone-deaf and downright irresponsible,” said another.

So, picking one to fit this ever-changing bronze case—and it will change as it ages, growing that deep patina the alloy is known best for—wants to be neither tone-deaf nor missing the mark—and it most certainly doesn’t want to be irresponsible. Picking a nice, deep sea-esque shade probably makes the most sense then, since that’s where the watch belongs.

But the real star here is the bronze. A combo of copper, tin and phosphorus, bronze is no superficial choice; those layers of colour that build over time actually serve to protect the material from corrosion, an organic armour if you like. That’s why bronze is and has been such a prevalent mainstay of the nautical industry. Looking totally sweet is just a lucky coincidence.

Forty-Two Millimetres

Submersible … bronze … we’ve seen all that before. There’s nothing new here! But wait—there is. We’ve come a long way from the assumed giants who wore the very first 60mm Submersibles. For us normal sized folk, we’ve been waiting for something a little more … normal sized. For Panerai, for a long while, that’s meant 47mm. Wearable for sure, but you need to really own it when it’s that close to the big five-oh. There are many, many people who’ve been praying to all the gods and wishing to Santa and even leaving a note with the tooth fairy to get a 42mm version of the Bronzo, and we have seen in recent years the Submersible released in that size in steel—but now Panerai has finally done it. We can have our cake and eat it too—so long as it’s a 42mm Submersible cake made of bronze.

Some might say, “Sacrilege! This watch should only be as big as a house,” and I understand that perspective, I really do. The original was enormous, and that stature is part of the watch’s DNA. But for everyone else who’d quite like to be able to fit through a doorway whilst wearing one, the 42mm is just about perfect. It’s still a beastly thing, don’t get me wrong, clocking in at just over 14mm thick despite the 4mm calibre P.900 inside, but it carries that weight in a more approachable manner. If the original was a Lamborghini Aventador, built for those few perfect roads, the PAM01074 is a Huracan, which you can actually fit into a parking space and use like a standard human being.

It seems like a big deal to make over a handful of millimetres, but really the experience is worth it. The Submersible has long been a watch I’ve admired but never dared to try, for fear of feeling like a child wearing his dad’s shoes—but now it’s a concern no more for all those people who just want to enjoy the sweet, sweet tone of bronze carved into the shape of a Panerai Submersible.

Like all things Italian, the beauty is often found in the simplicity. Three simple elements brought together into one long-awaited watch. And I haven’t even told you the best bit yet. Usually, the sting in the tail of a model like this is that there are only five of them and they’ve all already been sold to the same billionaire—not this time. Granted, only a thousand per year will be made—just 500 numbered editions in the first year—but as far as I can tell it’s a permanent fixture in the Panerai catalogue. The only catch is you have to specifically go to a Panerai boutique to get one. There are worse ways to spend a day …

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