Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

There are reasons why people love and wear their watches.  Maybe their watch has some emotional connection to an event in their past, maybe it was a gift, and if you are like us (watch nerds) you simply love having a useful mechanical toy on your wrist that also has style. While I usually readily understand my fellow watch enthusiasts, I will be the first to admit that initially I did not understand the subgroup of watch nerds who are quite frankly fanatics of the Officine Panerai brand, otherwise known as the "Paneristis".

If you are not familiar with this breed of watch lover, just spend a few minutes perusing the Paneristi forum and I pretty much guarantee that you will leave the site astonished, if not perplexed, by the genuine enthusiastic and frequent posts from Paneristis all over the world.  They discuss every model, post pictures, speculate on new models, give advice to newbies, and even frequently throw parties (all over the world) where fellow Paneristis come for a good time, make friends, and of course show off their beloved Panerai models...


Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

I was simply blown away when I discovered the Paneristis and did not understand why they existed in the first place. Also mesmerizing was why Panerai, a relatively newly revived watchmaking company with limited styling, had become such an iconic brand? That is, I was ignorant, until I got my first Panerai...  In this post I will review my Panerai Luminor 1950 GMT or PAM 321 while attempting to shed some light onto the Paneristi movement.  While I don't consider myself a member of the "cult" yet, I do now have a learned appreciation for the brand and its products and I believe I also understand what the passion is all about -- or at the very least I will share with you my opinions on the subject.

As I mentioned, Panerai, like many other watchmaking brands and for a variety of reasons, had a discontinuous history.  The company started in Florence (Firenze) in 1860 where Giovanni Panerai setup a watchmaker shop and sold maritime equipment.  In the early part of the previous century Panerai's roots in horology were cemented as they became the supplier of watches for the Italian Navy.  At that time, Italian frogmen would use their watches to time and synchronize attacks and in some cases even mount torpedoes that they would navigate to bring down docked enemy ships.  Having a personal time instrument that you could wear and see underwater was a must for these operations and Panerai provided just that with their large watches which included a patented luminescent radioactive material: radiomir.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Working with Rolex, Panerai helped develop some of the initial water resistant timepieces.  Earlier Panerai models even included Rolex movements...  However, maybe due to Italy's loss in World War II or due to the quartz crisis of the 70's, or maybe a bit of both, the brand pretty much disappeared...  What happens next is well documented, but suffice to say that American actor and noted watch enthusiast and collector Sylvester Stallone gave the brand a boost of life by wearing a Panerai in one of his movies and by sporting the watches on the red carpet and during interviews.  What followed was the acquisition of the company by the Richemont Group and its flourishing, aided by the fanatical Paneristis and online forums.  Jake's Panerai World blog has a thorough account of the Panerai history, including the Rolex connection, that I recommend the interested reader peruse for details and illustrations.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

While the somewhat romantic history with the new Hollywood tie-in would make for a great movie, it doesn't promise a great watch. I really wanted to understand what was so special about Panerai and its watches, especially after seeing my cousin Alain, a medical doctor in Miami, and someone I truly respect, constantly sporting one.  There must be a deeper set of reasons that some guys (and even gals) are attracted to the brand and become obsessed with it.  After wearing my PAM 321 for a week straight during part of my winter vacation, I think I finally cracked the mystery...  but first let me describe the PAM 321 and the common design language that it shares with all Panerai models.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Similar to many successful watchmakers, Panerai follows a common style and design language for all of its watches.  The most common traits are: a large cushion case, highly legible and simple dial with super-legible font, and a flexible assortment of straps.

On my PAM 321, the case is the so-called 1950 case which is a cushion case formed from a solid block of brushed stainless steel.  The crown is polished steel and is protected by the unique-to-Panerai crown protecting device which helps make the watch watertight.  Essentially it's a half-crescent crown guard (tight seal device) of brushed steel that entirely covers the crown except for a small lever that when pulled (with nail or finger) releases the crown.  Once released, the crown can then be pulled and turned.  It's an ingenious device that has become a defining visual differentiator for the brand and that is now trademarked by Panerai since the 1960 patent rights have long expired...

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Like most Panerai watches, the PAM 321 is quite large at 44mm and sits high at 19mm.  It's not for small guys though I have seen various pictures on the Paneristi forum of what appears to be smaller guys and even women wearing 44mm and even larger Panerai models…  For me, on my almost 7 1/2 inch wrist, the 44mm case seats perfectly as the lugs are curved down without overpowering my wrist.  The black alligator strap that came with it is high grade and looks to be machine stitched in white.

Perhaps the most incredible part of the PAM 321 (and of many Panerai watches) is its amazing legibility, day or night.  This is the result of the sandwich dial construction where the hour markers and the 12, 6, and 9 hour marks are filled with Panerai luminescent that simply shines with a little bit of charge.  Historically, Panerai has had various innovations in that space, including using radium-based luminescent, which was replaced by the non-radioactive luminor material which gives the series its moniker.  The legibility is so good that simply using it during the day, you will get all night legibility… so it's the perfect watch to sit on your night table.  Aiding in that legibility is a nicely domed sapphire crystal on top of the grandfather clock-like simple dial with the Panerai unique font that can be read from a distance.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Using the included tools (strap change and flat screwdriver) I can quickly change to the provided black rubber strap.  It gives the watch a more sporty look and turns it into a veritable "diving" watch.  While not a real diver (no rotating bezel, though it is 300m water resistant) I had no issues with it at the pool and at the beach where I used it, to the dismay of my younger brother Laurent, as my preferred snorkeling watch as we hunted, off the waters of Montrouis, for lionfishes (Pterois)---a predatory species that has invaded the waters of the Atlantic.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

While using the PAM 321 for snorkeling or diving is making use of the watch in the context of its historical roots, the ability to easily, quickly, and precisely change straps means that I can modify the character of my PAM 321 in an instant to match my outfit or the current situation.  The provided alligator strap is great for office work while the rubber works well for the ocean or the pool…  however, the beauty of owning Panerai watches is acquiring third party straps while at the same time completely changing your watch.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

There are literally 1000's of aftermarket straps available for all Panerai models.  They are sold from all over the world, some starting as low as a few dollars and some reaching well into the $1K range.  The materials vary from calf leather (new or distressed and everything in between) to alligator and crocodile, and to more exotic leathers such as stingray, sharks, reptiles, ostrich, and many more.  The available colors are multitudinous and the comfort level will vary with the material and construction. For mine, I was able to acquire a set of distressed calf leather Big Belt straps from TimeRepublic vendor on eBay for about $60 each (with shipping) and with a pre-V (pre-Vendome) buckle included.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

And of course, this is not mentioning official Panerai straps and bracelets that you can also purchase.  At the Panerai store in Bal Harbour, FL, for significantly more money, I was able to add the legendary assolutamente deployment strap to my collection as well as a rare brushed stainless steel bracelet.  Both are very hard to find at authorized dealers (ADs) or on eBay.  As mentioned, each strap simply completely changes the watch as if I had purchased a new watch.  This is also from comments of friends and family during my vacation where I used the watch daily.  With the stainless steel bracelet, I essentially converted my PAM 321 to a PAM 347 since the bracelet is the only difference between the two models.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

On top of all of that, the PAM 321 comes with the in-house P.9002 automatic movement which includes some interesting and useful features.  First, the PAM 321 is C.O.S.C certified and comes with an exhibition caseback that shows the 3/4 plate movement decorated with blue screws and rubies.  The decoration is not overly done which works well for the main tool character of the watch.  The movement is a GMT where the hour hands (when the crown is released and pulled to position one) will change quickly in jumping fashion.

Interestingly, the GMT hand is colored the same as the dial and is thin such that by moving the hour hand above it, you can hide the GMT hand and convert the PAM 321 to a non-GMT watch.  This is unlike what is usually possible with other GMT watches where the GMT hand makes one revolution of the dial in 24 hours.  The date changes when the hour hand makes two revolutions of the dial.  However, one drawback here, highlighting that this is not a "real" GMT watch, is that you don't easily know if the GMT hand is indicating AM or PM.  Some Panerai models, e.g., PAM 270 and PAM 335, include an additional AM/PM indicator using the P.2003 movement.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Two additional features of this movement are the quick reset seconds and the 3-day power reserve indicator.  First, by releasing the crown and pulling it to the second position, you can move the minutes hand and the GMT hand.  However, what is cool is that once you pull the crown to that second position, the seconds hand immediately moves to zero and the movement stops.  This allows you to precisely set the current time to a reference time.  No longer do you need to wait for the seconds hand to reach 60 in order to stop it and set it accurately. The P.9002 movement does that for you automatically.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Finally, the PAM 321 has a 72 hour power reserve with an indicator at 4 o'clock that uses a typical Panerai lumed hand (similar to the seconds hand) moving across a marked semicircle indicating zero to 72 hours.  The indicator interferes slightly with the GMT hand when the lumed arrow head travels across it, however, that is a small price to pay to quickly know that you should wear or wind the watch.  I also found the power reserve indicator to be accurate, showing exactly 36 hours remaining when I fully charged the watch and left it on my Wolf Designs watch winder with a 36 hours start delay.

As mentioned, I wore the PAM 321 in various contexts: at the pool; socializing; at parties; and even snorkeling and skin diving at the beach.  What became clear after that week is that I think I finally "got" what makes Paneristis so mad about their Panerai watches.  It's a passion that develops from having a watch with unique style that is versatile (myriad of available third party straps that can be changed easily), that is legible (simple, super clear dial and fonts with amazing lume), and that has a strong presence on the wrist that is difficult to match with any other watch.

Panerai Luminor 1950 (PAM 321) Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

With such a strong cult-like following, the demand for Panerai watches keeps getting stronger with some models selling out completely after they are introduced.  The PAM 321 reviewed here is an 2012 N series which is limited to 2000 units and retails for  $9,800.  The PAM 347 which is the same model but with the bracelet is priced at $10,600.  Since the bracelet is hard to find and retails at the Panerai store for $2,400 (when you can find it!), I'd recommend getting the PAM 347 if you like steel bracelets or would be thinking of getting a bracelet in the future.  The main disadvantage of the bracelet is adding 60 grams to an already somewhat heavy case that weighs in at 140 grams without straps.

I am now so happy with my PAM 321 that I am considering adding a Submersible 47mm version to my list of future timepiece acquisitions…  And believe me that after I got the PAM 321, I thought this would be my first and last Panerai, since at the time, in my eyes they all looked the same.  Now I see each model and I quickly lust at the additional features or slight differences.  You can say I caught the 'risti bug…

Necessary Data
>Brand: Panerai
>Model: Luminor 1950 GMT (PAM 321)
>Price: $9,800
>Size: 44mm x 19mm (53mm lug to lug)
>Weight: 165g with leather straps, 200g with steel bracelet (with about three links removed), and 140g just the case
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we'd recommend it to first: the guy who wants a versatile watch and who is built average to big.  Smaller guys can wear this watch but I am guessing not all smaller guys will enjoy the extra weight and size on their wrist.
>Worst characteristic of watch: hard to tell the exact minute in between the minute markers (5 minutes increment).
>Best characteristic of watch: versatility, legibility, and presence on the wrist.

What do you think?
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  • Eric S

    Well said, Maximillen! As the owner of a 320 (just hit my one-year anniversary today, BTW) I must say that you nailed this review! From the Risti culture (took me more than a little while to figure out what P-Day was!), the GTGs, the watches themselves, the straps – oh the straps!!! It is a culture/phenomenon that really sings to me. Now is it for everyone? Nope, but that is fine for me. But I for one am VERY happy with the decision I made this time last year.
    Again, thanks for a wonderful post!

  • DangerussArt

    I love the brand and own several. While I understand the need to protect one’s intellectual property, I HATE, hate, hate, the REG TM engraving on the face of the crown guard. I could live with it on the back-side and it would serve the same purpose and not deface the watch.

  • adisoon

    Max, this article is one for the ages. Well done. Like you, I’ve always wondered what Panerai was all about. All Panerais look the same with minimal variation but are somehow still strangely attractive. They have a good thing going, a very unique and subtle blend of traits that just worm your way to a feverish Passion. I am resisting the allure of Panerai due to the fact that my brain cannot comprehend why they are worth my time. But Panerai doesn’t work on my brain, it works on my heart..

  • Kris C

    Nice write-up. The ‘risti currently account for about 1/3 of the total strap requests I get, which is a very heavy weighting considering the weath of brands out there right now. They also account for at least 90% of the ammo straps I stock no less than 3 dozen genuine ammo bags/slings at any time because they are so popular with this crowd; you’re lacking one of those, Max, and you should consider trying one out.
    I was foolish enough to start filling orders for these guys without joining the club, and then I caught on and found a good deal on a 288. I like it, but the radiomir case, wire lugs, and chronograph don’t exactly exemplify Panerai, and last year I made a splash by nailing down a 233. Its not exactly an everyday watch, but you can really change it up at will as Max described, and even if you only wear it a few times a month, you’re likely to see it doesn’t need re-setting, as the 8-day power reserve is very handy.
    I’m not a true Paneristi, and so I’ll be blasphemous by suggesting the brand could do with a little diversification, but they are certainly doing something right.

    • @Kris C cool, don’t have an ammo bag. Can you email me a pic? Thx

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  • This is a great write-up. It does a good job explaining the appeal of a Panerai on its own merits.

  • Ryan B

    great review

  • rsandiego

    Great review. I found it very informative. I’m a fan of the brand and am doing my homework before my first purchase. I’m looking at the 321 and 320. I noticed in the review there was mention about the p.9002 in the 321 being C.O.S.C. Is this true? If it wasn’t it wouldn’t stop me from buying the 321 but would definitely have me leaning towards the 321 versus the 320. Thanks in advance.

    • Yes it is C.O.S.C. certified as are, I believe, all Panerais with in-house movements. Best.

  • Mitch M

    Such a beautiful timepiece.
    “If you don’t like the GMT hand, you can hide it behind the hour hand” LOL…..funny!

  • TheNewMatthew

    What kind of Cadillac do you drive? CTS???

    • TheNewMatthew this was a rental.  A brand new (10 miles when I got it) ATS which is a smaller (2-door) version of the CTS.  Cheers.

  • cmarinho

    I love Panerais but unfortunately they are not prepared to support the
    US Market. I have my watch under service for three months and they can’t
    even get me an estimate time to repair it. Service order 11044899

  • Insomniac

    I would whole heartedly advise against buying a Panerai as I find the company unreliable and untrustworthy.

    I bought my Panerai 000321 in January 2013 in London. I soon noticed that the timing was out but was unable to return it straight away because of where I live (in a part of the world with limited access to a dealership). By the time I managed to take it back it had been scratched on the Bezel after I knocked it on a door frame. Panerai claimed it had been damaged and that the internal workings needed repair. Total cost over $500 plus a further $150 to replace the bezel (because it was slightly scratched). They said it was not covered under guarantee.

    I pointed out that the problem had arisen before the watch was scratched and besides a substantial watch like mine should be able to withstand a minor knock, especially as Panerai trade on the image of ‘Italian Special Forces’. They were unmoved and so a watch I have paid over $10,000 for has needed over a $650 repair cost for a slight knock on a door frame. That is hardly in keeping with the rough and durable image they try to sell and I can’t help feel I have been ripped off by a cheapskate company intent on grabbing as much cash as they can from me. It is not the kind of treatment I would expect from a quality watch manufacturer. I have a cheap $150 watch I bought years ago that has been through the mill many times over, including getting dropped several times and it’s never had a problem once.

    Panerai’s guarantee is not worth the paper it’s written on.

  • fmp20

    As a born and bred florentine it pains me to be negative about a florentine brand, but I have been so frustrated and disappointed by my own experience of Panerai that I feel compelled to share it with people. I hope Panerai will be shaken out of their condescendence and arrogance.

    I was given a Luminor 44 Sub Aut Tit Rub BK watch (whatever the pompous meaning of all that) by my father in 2002: it was kept in a drawer for 4-years (my partner also gave me a watch and I had to choose). I started using it in 2006 and it never worked for more than 18-months. Interestingly, my father bought an identical looking watch in Thailand at around the same time, as a little game between us, for the equivalent of approximately 100 euro, and that watch never required any repairs until it got lost a couple of years ago. 

    Every time we took it back some kind of high priestess gave us the whole Holier Than Thou, Temple of The Watch ceremony, with receipts and expensive packages and guarantees – but every time, the bottom line was: you have to pay more for our malfunctioning watch. no apologies, no assumption of responsibility.

    What disappointed me the most has been the callousness with which these charges were felled on my mother, who would always pay any amount to keep this watchg going, as this is a memento of my father who died in 2005. It also shocked and disappointed me that the last time I took the watch to Panerai for repairing (third or fourth I’m not sure), when they asked me to pay yet again some 50 euros and I pointed out the above, I could not shake any of the high priests and priestesses out of their contemptous and delirious roles. 

    In summary, I join Insomniac in saying: don’t get seduced by the bling of Panerai and don’t buy their watches. If you do, prepare to pay dearly for regular repairs (I am not sure if they program the watches to fail every now and then, so they can charge you for the repairs, or if the watches are truly poorly made, but the bottom line for you is the same).


  • Totoche

    I got a bad experience with my time piece, the worst was the technical support was done with a manager with a strong accent .He didn’t have a matter and no respect. I will never buy a watch from Panerai.

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  • Martin Buck

    Hi guys. I can’t talk about Panerai because I’m not a rich arsehole with no concept of the value of money, but I do appreciate good design. The Panerai dials are incredibly easy to read even in low light. So I went onto, and bought a Curren watch similar to a Radiomir in shape and size, for the princely sum of $NZ5.00. It arrived today. I have a reliable quartz movement (Miyota for those worried by Chinese items), a near perfect Panerai style dial, and a semi crappy PU strap (well they had to save money somewhere). It is very legible in low light even without ANY lume. thanks to the fine design, and if it gets lost, broken or stolen, well I’m only out five bucks. And it will never need to go in for repair. Ahahahahaha! So long, suckers!

  • Val Cosmos

    The radioactive material is Radium, not Radiomir, that`s just a model referring to Radium.

  • Tudor

    I want to thank you for the review. I looked at this model for about one month and after reading your review, I decided to buy it, together with the brushed steel bracelet and a green leather strap with clasp from the Romanian Panerai authorized dealer. It’s such a nice watch and also very precise- only +7 seconds in 10 days. You are great, thank you again.

  • lyana

    I bought a jisoncase 42mm brown leather band in is suitable for my fitbit charge 2. i Feel pretty good.