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Panerai - Strength and Performance

Panerai Strength and Performance

Carbotech, as seen in the new Panerai Luminor Marina Carbotech 44mm, is the most prolific of the many innovations presented by Panerai’s Laboratorio di Idee.

Question: When is a diamond not a diamond?

Answer: When it’s diamond-like carbon (DLC). At the most basic level, there is no distinction between diamond and DLC — they’re both made out of carbon atoms. Molecular structure, however, which relates to how exactly those carbon atoms are arranged, makes a world of difference. The same atoms, with a slight change in electron bonding and configuration, can give you the sparkling transparency of diamond at one end of the spectrum and the dark opacity of DLC at the other. 

While we’re on the subject, when is DLC not DLC? When it’s carbon nanotubes. When it’s carbon fibre. When it’s any variant arrangement of the carbon atom that results in something with a completely new set of material properties and behaviours.

In 2017, Panerai presented the Luminor LAB-ID Carbotech PAM00700, a limited series of 50 watches that made use of a number of high-tech carbon materials. The LAB-ID was the product of Panerai’s research and innovation department, named the Laboratorio di Idee. The aim of the PAM00700 was to extend the performance lifespan of a watch to unprecedented lengths, and the LAB-ID had a 50-year guarantee as a result.

Strenght and Performance

Luminor LAB-ID Carbotech PAM00700 © Panerai

The intensely black and supremely readable dial of the LAB-ID was achieved with a dense forest of carbon nanotubes, a material similar in principle to the patented Vantablack (otherwise known as the blackest man-made material, which absorbs up to 99.965 percent of all visible light). Because its colour, or lack thereof, is due to light absorption rather than pigment, the dial of the PAM00700 will never fade or change hue. Plates and bridges were made from a tantalum carbide composite while the escapement used a combination of silicon and DLC-coated components, all in all reducing the friction within the movement to the point that no additional lubrication was needed. As we all know, oxidised and/or migrated lubrication are major factors that contribute to a shorter service cycle — low-lubrication mechanisms (such as the George Daniels co-axial escapement) allow longer intervals between each servicing.

Although the LAB-ID existed way beyond the scope of a concept watch and actually went into production, the continued use of the high-tech material solutions that it demonstrated has been somewhat limited within Panerai. In fact, it’s the case of the LAB-ID, in Carbotech, that has actually had the most impact within the current collection, with several models (such as the rugged, high-performance Luminor Submersible) available in this material.

Warning: Heavy-duty geek talk ahead.

We all think we know what carbon fibre is, and it’s true — we are mostly familiar with the material, as seen in its various end applications. So, when a brand comes out with a carbon-fibre-based watch case and tells you that it’s an extra-special kind of carbon fibre, you might be forgiven for rolling your eyes a little.
Here’s the thing, though. In this instance, with Panerai Carbotech, that statement is absolutely accurate. Let’s start with the basic facts.

Most carbon fibre begins as strands of synthetic polymer, which are then carbonised under high heat (up to 1,700°C) to create the final carbon filament. By this stage, there’s already quite a big range of quality in carbon fibre, depending on (take a deep breath) the quality of the initial polymer strands, their chemical composition, their purity and molecular homogeneity, the processes used to align and stabilise the molecular bonds, and the carbonisation environment and process.

The filaments are then formed into sheets using synthetic resins as binding agents. Sometimes there’s a weaving step in between, which results in that criss-cross pattern that most people associate with commercial-use carbon fibre. With Carbotech, which is what we’re interested in here, the carbon fibres are oriented unidirectionally in a single layer for each sheet (or ply). These plies are stacked consecutively at different angles and compressed under heat, with the addition of PEEK, a high-performance thermoplastic polymer, in order to achieve the final solid composite.

Strenght and Performance

Panerai Luminor Marina Carbotech 44mm © Panerai

Thanks to the specificities of the manufacture process (unidirectional endless fibres, using multiple thin plies instead of using fewer but thicker carbon fibre sheets, the high-quality PEEK polymer), Carbotech has several material advantages over other carbon-fibre products seen in the market. It is quasi-isotropic — isotropism being the quality of having the same material properties in all directions — whereas the majority of fibre-reinforced polymers are vulnerable to stress applied along the plane of the fibres. It is highly machinable and holds complex geometries with ease, unlike other carbon fibre composites with lower standards of material homogeneity. And this is on top of all the standard advantages of carbon fibre: chemically unreactive, lightweight, high strength, amagnetic.

The bottom line is: Panerai can tell us that Carbotech is better than the stuff used by their competitors because — guess what? — it is better.

Carbotech is a Panerai trademark, but the same material (under another name) is used in a large number of industries where high-performance carbon-fibre composites are crucial. After all, the timepieces of Panerai may occupy a space in the realm of luxury watchmaking, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are also built to withstand the toughest conditions and most intimidating challenges. Check out the Panerai watches made in collaboration with the Luna Rossa sailing team if you need any proof of this.

At the Officine Panerai Laboratorio di Idee, luxury and performance come in the same package, and that package is called Carbotech.

 

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