While many brands with storied pasts base some of their modern watches on vintage pieces, few and far between are the brands that do so to the extent that Panerai does. To its credit (and possibly its long-term detriment?), the brand has built its contemporary collections almost entirely on the narrative of its 20th-century history. Hence the countless variations on the Radiomir and Luminor models, the use of vintage designs and faux-patina coloration, and the arrival of the watch we’ll be covering today: the Panerai Mare Nostrum.
This modern watch (below) is based upon a 1943 prototype piece developed for the Italian Navy (above). Originally, only a handful or so of these watches were produced, and as the Allies overtook the Italian peninsula in the same year as the watch’s development, the need for final models quickly evaporated. Still, these first watches were beasts — at 52 mm in thick steel cases, with complicated green dials, and with a unique configuration of various dial and case elements, its obvious why Panerai is hearkening back to this design once again after first reviving it in the early 1990s.
The most recent edition of the series is one of the most different yet from the original, but it continues to maintain many of the design elements that have attracted consumers to the watch in the various limited-edition releases seen over the past 20-plus years. It comes housed in a 42-mm steel case with elongated, blockish lugs, thick pump-style chronograph pushers, an interesting crown somewhat reminiscent of that on the Tudor Black Bay, and a steel tachymetric-scale bezel. On its navy blue dial are faux-patina printed indices, Arabic numerals at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions, two white subdials for running seconds and a 30-minute counter, and an unusual placement of watch’s name toward 12 o’clock, with Panerai’s corporate logo moved to the bottom of the dial. Powering the piece is Caliber OP XXXIII — an ETA 2801-2 base with a Dubois-Dépraz module — which is capable of a 42-hour power reserve. This watch is limited to 1,000 pieces, and will be sold for $10,200, starting in the coming months.
Comparing it to the original from 1943, the many differences in the modern piece become apparent. Notably, the modern watch opts for a flat dial instead of the two-tiered design of the past; it uses a blue and faux-patina coloration as compared to the historical green and white; and it now has an engraved tachymetric scale as compared to the prototype’s unmarked outer bezel. Probably the most noteworthy change is in the contemporary piece’s 42-mm case size, compared to the original’s 52 mm; however, as this change allows the watch to be more daily wearable than primarily ornamental, it is likely for the best. On the other hand, the similarities between the two watches are also apparent. The modern piece features, in this iteration, a solid caseback (pictured above) like the original — a design choice Panerai has not made for all the modern versions of the Mare Nostrum. The case shape of the piece still maintains the classic block-style-look (well before its time in 1940), and many of the dial features have been maintained across the decades, albeit adjusted a bit in some cases.
While this modern watch does have many differences in comparison to its vintage forefather, it’s important to note that the historical piece — like the Bulova Moon Watch we covered last week — was only a prototype. This nuance allows modern descendants of the series to more freely experiment with new designs and colors — in essence, to create a “final copy” in some new form. In this manner, the contemporary Mare Nostrum channels its historical lineage while also further developing the series within a modern context. Furthermore, as compared to the 52-mm version (pictured above) released in 2015 — which was much more a “true” re-edition of the original — the 2017 model distinguishes itself by the practicality of its size and coloration. A 42-mm case diameter, navy blue colors, and faux patina are all very “in” watch elements today, especially for Panerai consumers, whereas 52-mm cases, unmarked outer bezels, and subtle colors aren’t quite as popular, especially considering Panerai needs to sell 1,000 models of this watch as compared to the 150 pieces of the 2015 edition. Whether these changes are for the best or not, only time and sales will tell. Regardless, they have allowed Panerai to continue its tradition — and its specialty — of drawing upon the past to create very desirable modern watches.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.