Back in the day, before the Richemont Group (then Vendôme) had acquired, or perhaps even heard of Panerai, the brand’s few models were simply curiosities of interest to two types of collectors: those who amass military watches and all-embracing Rolex aficionados. It was obscure if not quite unknown, and price guides from the mid-1980s show Panerais with the kind of values that would, today, stop your heart from beating. As in: You couldn’t give ‘em away.
Panerai’s appeal for military watch collectors is obvious: Prior to 1993, they were made solely for assorted navies’ underwater teams, including the Italy’s and Germany’s saboteurs during WWII, while both the Egyptian and Israel forces — you gotta love the irony — commissioned Panerais in the 1950s. As for Rolex collectors being cognisant of the brand prior to 1993, the connection is Rolex’s involvement in the early case design and manufacture, with Rolex-marked, Cortebert-based movements used to power certain models.
In 1993, when the brand was brought back to life under the aegis of Dino Zei, the production was severely limited, with only a handful of faithful-to-the-original Luminors and Marinas. Mainly Italian collectors were targeted, so it was by accident that Sylvester Stallone would learn of the brand and put it in the map.