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Review: Panerai Luminor Base PAM00560

A quick skim through the Panerai catalogue demonstrates that a sum in excess of fifteen or even £20,000 can be spent on the pricier options, watches laden with complicated features and fancy materials, culminating in the £130,000 Luminor Tourbillon GMT—but is the Luminor Base, the cheapest watch in the collection, the pick to have?

If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably safe to say that you either like or at least tolerate the way a Panerai looks. It’s big, it’s bulky, it certainly won’t go unnoticed, and since these ex-military designs were first offered to the public in 1993, it’s this specific feature set that has either charmed or repulsed anyone who’s set eyes on them.

Panerai has always been divisive. There’s not much put out by the Italians that isn’t—however, in the case of Panerai, what seems like traditional flamboyance is quite simply the result of happenstance, a military contract outsourced and built to a budget by the lowest bidder. That lowest bidder just so happened to be Rolex, then an unheard-of brand trying to get a leg-up in the game by flogging its patented Oyster water-resistant technology to whoever would take it.

So, this big, bulbous shape, that’s because it was the only case—a pocket watch case—that Rolex had to hand that fit the size demanded by the contract. The crown guard, that’s there because the movement was a manual wind, and a screw-down crown would have prematurely worn being used every day.

But these watches aren’t being used by the military anymore, so now, really, the design is no longer relevant. This isn’t exclusive just to Panerai; a horse is equally as irrelevant to the haulage industry, as is a candle to lighting engineers. Horses and candles haven’t gone extinct, however, they’ve been repurposed. Now they both smell.

And that brings us to a new fork in the road for the brand Panerai, because with no real, functional reason for being—as with every mechanical watch, really—there’s a decision to make. Do you rest on your laurels like Rolex and stick close to what you know, or do you roam into pastures new and see where the call of the wild takes you? It’s not an easy decision. And if it’s made in favour of the latter, it only raises more questions: do you make a clean break from one to the other, do you phase the transition, or do you split the difference and operate in a state of bipolar uncertainty? Can a watchmaker really have its cake and eat it, too?

For Panerai, it’s in that limbo between the old and the new. The brand is experimenting with bold, colourful designs—and that’s relative to the already not-so-subtle traditional Panerai—making use of exotic materials and unique ideas to give the future of the company some level of conceptuality. But it’s also still hanging on to the designs that made it famous, the core pairing of Radiomir and Luminor—watches that are now the cheapest in the collection.

So, what does that mean for fans old and new of the famous Italian watchmaker? There are those who are excited by this new Panerai, one that experiments with new ideas and concepts, and then there are the traditionalists who want Panerai to stay as it was, to steer clear of the hype for bigger, brighter, better. It’s all a matter of opinion, really, there’s no right or wrong—but if you are one of the traditionalists, I have some good news for you at least: the watches you want Panerai to make are the cheapest you can get.

I’m talking specifically about the base models, which you can quite easily identify because Panerai has rather unashamedly included the word “Base” right in the model name. This is where you’ll find your clean, simple, uncorrupted two-handers, bereft of fancy materials or overcomplicated functions, the original designs that first inspired a certain Mr Sylvester Stallone to do a double take in a Florence jeweller’s window and set the whole crazy ball in motion.

Oddly enough, these days the base model actually seems rather tame, the 44mm case size not as daunting as I remember and the once-outlandish shape pretty neat and tidy. There’s a purity about it that comes from the intent in its design, not an angle or a line added for any benefit but the practical.

The Base collection itself starts at £4,300 for the steel three-day model and peaks at £5,900 for the eight-day version in titanium, a far cry from some of the more eye-watering prices seen elsewhere in the catalogue. Whilst not cheap, it presents a fair representation of value for the segment, with the cheaper three-day calibre P.6000 watches offering a more respectable entry point.

With the eight-day calibre P.5000, however, you not only get an additional working week of power reserve—pretty handy in a manually wound watch—but also a proper screw-down case back for the full complement of 300m of water-resistance. Although, let’s face it, there aren’t many of us who’d put the cheaper watch’s 100m to the test.

But ultimately, it’s a watch that doesn’t try too hard, that lets its history do the talking, and that puts it very much at ease on your wrist. It’s got a story to tell, but it doesn’t shout about it—at least, it doesn’t make a scene. It goes about its business without fuss. These days, compared to the glitz and glamour of the ceramic bezelled, thick cased Submariner, it can almost pass as subtle. I did say almost.

So, for those of you who like the way things were, thank you very much, it’s not all bright, flashy colours doom and carbon composite gloom—if anything, there’s more to choose from than there ever has been, and now with a calibre of calibre suited to the price point of the brand. Perhaps Panerai will be enjoying both the eating and the having of its cake after all.

Whilst it’s not always appropriate, there aren’t many scenarios we find ourselves in where the simplest option isn’t always the best, and for Panerai, the same just might be true. It’s always exciting to see brands experiment, but these high-flying, whizz-bang concept pieces don’t always have a home with the average person—perhaps on a poster, but rarely on a wrist. For most normal people, we want a normal watch, maybe a with a little bit of spice just to keep things interesting. For Panerai, the Base collection at the bottom of its catalogue is surely the way to go.

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