You don’t know why, because it is totally subjective, irrational and sometimes cumbersome. It’s called passion, that mixture of feelings without reason that are impulsive and uncontrollable. There is Passion with a capital “P”, which harbours Love and Friendship. But there also the smaller passions that make us so human and tell people a lot about us through our exacerbated interest for a watch, an automobile, a butterfly or a sport!
The fact that you are reading this article probably means that you are already slowly giving into such passion, or that you are already completely overcome by it. Because these small objects that beat away on our wrists often provoke such emotions. It is an immoderate taste for beautiful mechanics, for what they convey and how they affect us, eventually making us insincere about anything else.
So I warn you that the rest of this article is governed by this sentiment, which is summarised perfectly by the maxim of Chamfort (the poet, not the singer…) : ”All passions are exaggerated and they are only passions because they exaggerate.”
I discovered Officine Panerai in 1998 on a walk down the rue du Rhône in Geneva.
There were numerous beautiful timepieces in the windows of Les Ambassadeurs, and among so much finesse, gold, painted and painstakingly finished dials, there were three gargantuan watches, with dials as sad as a day without bread that were trying to make some room for themselves alongside a model of some kind of a submarine.
These grandfather clocks for the wrist were not fit for the top level of the window display, where the beautiful Swiss products were decked out in their finery to catch the eye of the passing connoisseur. No, they were on the second level, near the floor.
In other words, at rock bottom…
So I carried on, but intrigue got the better of me and I returned to enter the store and try to find out more about these watches. Surrounded by customers trying on presitigious timepieces, I was almost embarrassed to show any interest in this piece with its bizarre growth, on a gold leather strap. So, in order to hide my uneasiness, I first asked about the most visible models, eventually mumbling “and ‘that’, what is it?”
The reply was instant, “it’s a Panerai”…
A long discussion followed, along with one of the biggest regrets of my life. I left the shop without it… Paneristi will understand.
But the seed of passion had already been planted. Each time I passed the window, I looked at these ugly ducklings of the watchmaking industry, oversized and, in some cases, black, hoping one day to make my move.
And then, sometime later, I finally gave in and bought a simple model, with two hands and the logo of the brand. At the time, wearing a watch with a 44mm case was at best considered bad taste and at worst as vulgar. So I only took out my “precious” at the weekend.
On one of my weekend walks, someone approached me. I noticed he had his eyes fixed on my wrist. “Is it a Panerai?” he asked me, proudly showing me his own wrist. His had a white dial with the strange inscription “Daylight”. He said, “It’s the same one that Stallone wears in the film.” I replied with an “ahh” and, to avoid appearing too ignorant, I replied “I don’t think I’ve seen it”.
The conversation carried on for over an hour. Panerai, Stallone, Daylight, etc. It was the first time I had met one of these kindly, crazy types that we now know as “Paneristi”.
It wasn’t long before I went to buy the video of Daylight. The PAM wasn’t white, it was black. Never mind, I wasn’t alone. The story could continue.
Paneristi for… quite a while
Since then, the Florentine brand has come a long way. And I have followed it for most of that time.
I visited THE store in Florence a few years later, then started to learn more about the brand. Why? Honestly, it’s difficult to say why, but above and beyond the watches, Panerai helped me to discover a whole world of aficionados.
“Pre-V”, “non matching”, “8 Giorni”, “Destro”… none of these terms hold any secrets for me any more. They are the foundations of the “risti” vocabulary. And the Officine only needs to announce a new “Marina Militare” for the whole community to go wild.
And the brand has quite clearly grasped this.
Officine Panerai is one of the rare brands to have such an active community of fans spread around the world who are as critical as they are admiring. They have their rites, their customs, their heros and their meeting places (http://op-forum.fr for the French speakers, panerisiti.com for the English speakers).
They help to perpetuate the legend so much that the Officine has even dedicated several special editions exclusively to them, of which the last one (the PAM 532) proudly bears on its back the inscription “Paneristi Forever”, a little over the top, perhaps, but a great reminder of the links between the brand and its fans.
For the latter a watch has to be simple, functional and without fuss.
“The men at the end of the watches”
I’ve said it and wrote it countless times, I don’t like tourbillons or inaccessible complications that put watches further out of reach of genuine aficionados. The strength of Panerai lies in having allowed many everyday guys to become true connoisseurs.
And even if we are all unfaithful to the brand today (sorry!), we always end up coming back to her in the end. Or to convince ourselves that our passion is still intact.
I know that some people will not understand this obsession. For them, the PAM is too simple or not sophisticated enough. Some people are even dismissive of its Florentine origins, when the company was merely a local assembly workshop.
But that doesn’t matter. The Paneristi are a hardened bunch. And they have a good time. Because above all they like the fact that their common passion leads them to discover the “men at the end of the watches”, to quote my friend Sylvain Couthier, the Big Boss of the French ristis.
We are waiting to welcome you to the fold…