It’s a well-known fact that Panerai watches have always been popular, both in terms of practicality and style – from the first 47mm prototypes used by frogmen in the Italian Royal Navy in the late 1930s, to the 44mm ‘Vendome Forewind’ reference 5218 Luminor worn by Sylvester Stallone in his 1996 film Daylight, a move that catapulted Panerai onto the international scene and ultimately cemented the outsize aesthetic as an emerging trend of the last decade.
If it were the size of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, would the Mini Cooper still be an icon? What if the Walkman never fits in my back pocket? Conversely, would Luminor, the benchmark of Italian minimalist design and perhaps the foremost advocate of the “big watch” trend of the last decade, maintain a similar reputation if it were nearly 25% smaller? It’s hard to say, but Panerai is willing to gamble on it, as SIHH has introduced the Panerai Luminor Due 3 Days Automatic in a new 38mm case.
Not surprisingly, maintaining a huge legacy Panerai Luminor Automatic 38mm also means that Panerai has been the slowest to reverse its own trends and adapt to market tastes that have been quietly moving towards smaller, more traditional sizes, which has been the hallmark display cycle of recent editions of Baselworld and SIHH. But a change is afoot at Neuchâtel, and the brand seems to be trying to broaden its appeal by introducing smaller 42 or 40mm pieces in almost every available collection. Even the usually heavier Submersible is now a very popular 42mm in diameter, which is a worthy second look for those who once considered the Panerai a one-wrist wonder.
For the same reason, the 38mm Due is a popular product, and also a long overdue addition to the range – not least because there will always be a large number of watch lovers who love the Panerai aesthetic, but the wide range of cases allows them to wear only the big wrists. Likewise, the Luminor’s thin bezel and wide dial aperture don’t help the wrist feel much larger than the specifications suggest. So while the 38mm Due is the smallest watch Panerai has ever produced, it’s much closer to a traditional 40mm sports watch, ironically the nail in the coffin of the ‘big watch trend’ as the brand has become the other pole of the industry’s popularity spectrum.
As of 2018, Panerai no longer relies on the ETA-based movements it has deployed in the past, and the 38mm Due is no exception, utilizing Panerai’s new in-house manufactured OP XXXIV – a newly developed automatic movement that hums at 21,600 bph and has a three-day power reserve. But like all good things, the 38mm Luminor Due comes with a warning: despite the case being 11mm thick, it’s only water resistant to 30mm. The watch has a closed back.