It was always going to be a tough call – like having to choose between Halle Berry or Liv Tyler for a dinner date. To make matters worse, it was an uncomfortably hot, September afternoon in Milan. In front of me, on the counter at watch store Grimoldi, was a brace of Panerais. The prices were nearly identical and rarity was not the selling point that it is today. This was, after all, late-1996, and Franco Cologni had yet to acquire the brand for, what was then, the Vendôme Group. Panerai was only just beginning its ascent.
Like a number of enthusiasts in the mid-1990s, I was utterly captivated by this oh-so-Italian legend and had been caught unawares by the revival of the brand in 1993. As with other watch devotees back then, I knew of Panerai long before its rebirth, but only as a footnote to Rolex history. It had no particular cachet, save for the now-coveted Radiomir model with a Rolex movement.
To the much smaller watch community of the day, Panerais were all but forgotten military models, too rare to worry about. Certainly, they did not figure highly on my lust list. Had a first-series Breguet Type XX or an original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms been on Grimoldi’s counter, too, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story.