I am a firm believer that it would do Panerai a lot of good if it axed about 80% of its currently offered references and trimmed its portfolio down to a few pieces, historic and modern classics, alike, representing the essence of the company. Although the brand has certainly made a lot of folks very happy by allowing them to find a watch exactly to their liking from such an extensive and tirelessly manipulated portfolio, I still think this apparent desire to eventually meet every individual request for a dial color, case size, or subdial placement would be great to see disappear, at least for a while. If Panerai were to do this, I would hope the remaining 20% would include a Radiomir with a California dial and, sure, I’d be down with the brand exercising its creativity and playfulness within the tighter constraints of that package. In other words, the new-for-2023 Panerai Radiomir California PAM01349 watch with its ex-works scratched-up Brunito eSteel™ case is something that would very much belong in that imaginary utopian world of Panerai.

Panerai steered away from its history-inspired core in an effort to cater to an ever greater audience, even though many of us will likely agree there would be no shame in producing just a few references with iconic status and immediate recognizability. Understandably, the dread of choice paralysis might have also been creeping into the minds of Panerai fans: “If I were to get this reference that I really like, won’t there be another, more desirable piece next year that I’ll like even more? I guess I’ll just wait and not get anything.” Although this affects many other important brands (the reference-hoarder Omega and the king of special editions, Hublot, should get a mention), this is another reason it could be a good idea to get the Panerai that carries most all of those brand-specific traits that attracted you to the brand in the first place, as opposed to going down the rabbit hole of continuously modified and updated references.

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Case in point, again, is the Panerai Radiomir California PAM01349, a striking-looking watch with a powerful dial that has its own fascinating history. To discover that, visit Perezcope here and search for “error-proof” on the page to navigate to an exhaustive, yet entertaining look into where the so-called California dial design is coming from and why they were called “error-proof” dials originally. The history of this dial, where the upper half features Roman and the lower half Arabic numerals, is intertwined with the history of not just Panerai but also the world, making it all the more special for those willing to do some research.

The PAM01349 is a bit of a beast, as befits a Radiomir, even if this is the first time a California dial is available in not a 47mm but “only” 45mm guise. Still, at 45mm-wide, not even the skinny lugs can take away from the bulk of this expansive cushion case. The corners reach wide before they are pinched together, and yet the proportions are bang on, so long as you manage to exclude a narrow wrist from the equation. Why Panerai insists on using ultra-reflective domed crystals remains a mystery; the brand makes these watches very difficult to appreciate and to photograph (including their future owners snapping a pic with their phone to share, as their surroundings, including trees, cloudy skies, or buildings will be reflected by the crystal in high definition). Properly anti-reflective-coated crystals can’t come soon enough to Panerai, perhaps with a thermoplastic (Plexiglas®) front for those after a vintage effect.

After modulating the watch in hand for a while, an angle that supports closer inspection of the dial can be found. This reveals metallic blue hands that range from bright blue to almost purple depending on the angle and lighting conditions. The base of the dial is dark green with a vignette effect painting the periphery dark and unsaturated. The beige Super-LumiNova works well with the green and blue and creates an admittedly faux patina effect — a pet peeve of some and an attractive feature for others. All that is beige actually glows in green in the dark, although it has to be said that in our experience, colored (including beige) lume is never as bright and long-lasting as white or greenish-white luminescent paint. To be fair, it is still much brighter than more saturated, darker colors.

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Panerai claims every case is hand-finished “to create a seasoned look” and a weathered effect on the eSteel™ case. “eSteel™ is a next-generation metal obtained from pre-consumer recycled steel scraps (up to 95%) coming from different industries, preferably from the Swiss watchmaking industry,” with a claimed significant reduction of CO2 emissions during production. This metal is PVD coated and then given a “burnished” finish where polishing and black coating processes are followed by a tumble-polish to create this aged aesthetic. Brunito means burnished in Italian.

The Panerai Radiomir California Dial PAM01349 comes with a calf leather raw-cut strap with three seams of contrast stitching. Exclusive to just the PAM01349 is a hot-printed “G. Panerai e Figlio” inscription, the exact same phrase found on the signage of the original Panerai workshop in Florence. One key component to the 2000s and 2010s success of Panerai was the uniquely positive way in which Panerai watch designs responded to swapping straps — a complete transformation that looks as good as the original is somehow more easily possible with these cushion cases and perfectly round bezels than with so many other watch heads in modern watchmaking. This is to say that a brutish green leather strap would probably be a better match, or perhaps one without the signature — but either of these, and many more besides, are easy to source and install.

The Panerai Radiomir California Dial PAM01349 is powered by the P.5000 caliber, a hand-wound movement with 8 days of power reserve — an impressive feat, although it is achieved in part through a lowered operating frequency that is 3 instead of 4Hz. The caseback is etched with the Panerai and Radiomir phrases in vintage-cool typography, a great match to the Radiomir that dates back almost 90 years. Water resistance is 100 meters, which is as it should be.

Cons include a machine-finished movement dominated by a massive plate that isn’t very exciting to look at. Well into the five-figure price range, it would be great to see Panerai coordinate its typography and surface decorations a bit better with the rest of the piece. A movement that matched the vibe and style of the dial, case, and caseback (with those cool etchings) would go a long way in illustrating the brand’s dedication and attention to detail. Consistency is great, but we have been seeing these movement texts for far too long now, and the contrast they create with the vintage theme of the rest of the watch is a bit stark.

That said, many of us will continue to find there is something special to a California Dial Panerai watch. The lack of branding oozes confidence and hints at some very serious chapters in history, while the cushion case and its perfectly proportioned bezel continue to beautifully frame it all in a design that looks like it has stories to tell.

Given the utility of an eight-day power reserve, 100-meter water resistance, great legibility, and timeless style, this could be a very serious contender if priced lower. Still, Panerai seems confident in its product, so the Panerai Radiomir California Dial PAM01349 is priced at $12,300. You can learn more at the brand’s website.

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