The ambitious post-1997 period is distinguished by “normal” wristwatches that continued the legacy of the firm’s original two models, Radiomir and Luminor. Most of these watches carried either a Unitas 6497 or a Valjoux 7750 that had been modified especially for Panerai. Stripped of its chronograph mechanism, this reliable workhorse caliber bears the designation “OP III” and supports a small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock. It is still used in the majority of Panerai’s current references. In addition, Panerai launched each year interesting special series that garnered a lot of attention. Many of these watches are equipped with rare calibers that are almost impossible to come by nowadays. These pieces in particular testify to the inventiveness of the brand. In the years prior to 2008, Panerai introduced more than 60 limited-edition models.
In 2001, however, Bonati had the idea of equipping some of his watches with calibers of his own. The developmental process began in 2002. In 2005, Richemont bought a small factory to produce these calibers and Panerai joined the ranks of manufacture brands (defined as a firm that has developed and produced at least one of its movements entirely in-house). Panerai’s first in-house movement was the P.2002, with 245 components. This caliber has the same diameter as the OP III: 13¾ lignes, or 31 millimeters. Its height is 6.5 millimeters. Three serially switched barrels ensure eight days of power, indicated by a linear power-reserve display on the dial. The well-balanced management of this reserve of energy allows the balance (with a moment of inertia of 7 mg.cm2), regulated by a freely oscillating balance spring, to tirelessly sweep through at least 200° of amplitude at a frequency of four hertz. To facilitate to-the-second time-setting, the balance can be stopped manually, which causes the hand on the seconds subdial at 9 o’clock to return to its vertical position. An auxiliary hour hand can be reset in one-hour increments by turning the crown after it has been pulled out halfway. The date display in the window at 3 o’clock corresponds to the local time.
Panerai followed a similar path in the subsequent calibers P.2003, P.2004 and P.2005. According to Klein, 60 percent of the components are identical in all Panerai calibers. This helps prevent prices from skyrocketing, despite the relatively small quantities manufactured each year. The P.2003 caliber, which has 301 components, is the self-winding version of the P.2002. Its centrally positioned swinging weight and its self-winding mechanism increase the movement’s height to 8.2 millimeters. Zircon balls for the rotor’s bearing minimize the need for maintenance. Klein explains that the large size of the movement and its rotor prompted Panerai to opt for a bidirectional self-winding mechanism: “Our experience with the similarly large ETA-Valjoux 7750 showed us that the rotor moves at a very fast speed when it swings in its no-load direction. This velocity causes undesirable noises and a queer sensation on the wrist, and it isn’t very healthy for the gear train, either. Our self-winding mechanism ensures uniform, well-balanced motions of the rotor in both directions.” Klein takes a different view of smaller self-winding calibers, in which a swinging weight can wind the mainspring in only one direction without any unwanted side-effects. The P.2002 severs connection with the remaining power in the mainspring after eight days, but this safety precaution isn’t necessary on the P.2003, which can run uninterrupted for 10 days.