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Watches: Hidden Assets

James D. Malcolmson

Veteran NFL linebacker Donnie Edwards once stayed up all night changing the

straps on his 20 or so Panerais. His infatuation with his watches may seem

extreme, but it is not unusual among collectors of Officine Panerai timepieces.

The Paneristi—the nickname for the company’s fan base—assiduously acquire the

brand’s special editions and share their obsession through Internet forums.

Panerai, a former maker of equipment—including watches, compasses, and

lights—for Italian naval commandos, began selling its oversize timepieces to the

public 15 years ago. The brand quickly achieved cult status because of its

distinctive cushion-shaped designs and extremely rare early models. Recently, in

an effort to stoke further the ardor of Edwards and collectors like him, Panerai

began making its own movements—a difficult and expensive task.

Some might

argue that Panerai pursued this tack because its watches were losing their

exclusive cachet among collectors. Since Richemont (then the Vendôme Luxury

Group) acquired the small Florentine company 10 years ago, Panerai’s production

volume has risen steeply. Panerai has continued to release special editions, but

these pieces, though popular, have not appreciated in value as dramatically as

the preacquisition Panerai watches that were produced in very limited numbers.

Panerai’s new movement-making capacity enhances the brand’s connoisseur

appeal by enabling it to offer a moderate number of timepieces that are

positioned between the rarefied limited editions and the general collection.

(The latter watches continue to be powered by subtly modified movements from

Swatch-owned ETA and other suppliers.)

While receiving technical advice from

other Richemont brands, Panerai spent five years developing its movements in a

new manufacturing facility in the Swiss city of Neuchâtel. The company’s designs

include a manual wind introduced last year, a new automatic, a single-pusher

chronograph, and a tourbillon that puts a novel spin on a complication that is

more than 200 years old. The simple models incorporate long power reserves and

free-sprung balance systems that improve accuracy. In the tourbillon, the

movement rotates the balance wheel on its edge every 30 seconds to enhance the

watch’s precision. Unlike typical tourbillons, which you must scrutinize to see

the cage in action, this design’s unusual plane of rotation and the speed at

which the device operates create a visually arresting presentation that will

mesmerize even those who do not lose sleep admiring their watches.

Much to

the dismay of some fans, Panerai did not alter its aesthetic to showcase the

mechanism; it is visible only through the sapphire caseback. “The tourbillon is

one of the most amazing Panerais I’ve ever seen,” says Edwards, who nonetheless

laments the design’s subtlety. “I wish I could see the movement through the

dial, but I want one anyway.”

Officine Panerai, 877.726.3724, www­.panerai.com

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