I’ve been wearing the Panerai Radiomir 1936 PAM 249 for two days now. It’s a watch that commands attention immediately in a simple but robust way. The matte California dial is plain and subtle, the hands are edged in blue steel, and are equally inconspicuous and the hours on the dial are sunfaded Roman numerals. At 47mm, it is a wide watch which conveys dominant wrist presence.
It comes riding a tan cowhide strap that is thick and solid, and when you strap it on, you feel the weight of the whole thing on your wrist, and it is immediately reassuring. I am not a Panerai man. I never was and I don’t think I ever will be, but this Radiomir 1936 has got me going.
It has served as fuel for my imagination and it is the sort of watch that cries out loud for adventure. The leather strap longs to be stained by fuel, and is thirsty for sweat. And it hopes that some of that single malt from the old bar with the whirring fan above and the shuttered windows might just find its way to it, so it can drink that too, so that by the end of its life, the strap is supple and carries the patina and the scents produced by an unforgettable sort of life.
Some watches are meant for the board room. I feel that this watch is designed to help you escape the boardroom, to help you distance yourself from the humdrum of that really boring meeting. It speaks in volumes about the type of life you lead or would like to lead. One of action; You, the elements, travel, adventures and destinations.
The other day I looked at the watch during what was turning into a remarkably boring meeting and my mind began to wonder. Suddenly my mind began to drift to a compelling scene: The bonnet of the Triumph GT6 MK3 stretched out ahead, long, and wide in front of me, and glowed richly in the morning sunlight, it was a deep almost black British racing green, reflecting back the distorted and fleeting images of roadside trees as they slid by quickly on the narrow lane. I drove the car fast, and held the wooden steering wheel firmly, following the edge of the country roads smoothly, holding the steering wheel tightly with my left hand, while my right lay lightly on the burle wood gear shifter, listening to the engine, as it snarled, barked, and grunted reassuringly, and obediently.
It’s a Summer-like morning in late spring, not as warm as I would like, but the air is washed clean from the rain the night before, and in the cockpit there is that lingering aroma of a freshly smoked cigar, new leather, and wood polish, combined faintly with my cologne, and the faint hint of gasoline, and engine oil, it’s a good, and familiar smell. Old fashioned, strong, and solidly reassuring.
I look from the instruments, up at the narrow twisting road ahead, and the big trees by the roadside crowding the little lane, and the big, and wide, open country beyond the old trees, of fields, that shifted in shades of green, and I smile to myself.
Why on earth was I wearing driving gloves? They were a lovely deep chestnutty brown, well worn, and broken in, and tight on my hands… and then I looked at my watch, a Panerai Radiomir 1936, simple, robustly elegant, understated, and discreet. Everything I stand firmly for.
The same watch I wore when I piloted an old DC3 Dakota across the Kalahari Desert, spewing smoke from its two sputtering engines. Those were the days of contract bush flying and the Radiomir, on its sweat soaked tan cowhide strap was a perfect operational instrument. What I loved the most about the watch was its simplicity. The ease with which I could quickly tell the time at a glance. Even at night, when the numerals glowed against the matte California dial. The way they lit up in an eerie green after the African sun had set and the sudden darkness of the tropics happened and it was just me at the controls, and the drone of the worn engines of the old kite to keep me company.
It is 10.00am. I am making good time, the old girl is driving nicely, and life is good. Life is good. Not only am I driving my favourite vintage sports car through winding country lanes on a summery morning in late spring, flanked by big old trees, and wide green fields, Michael Schumacher style, but I am Schumachering my way back to my flat in Brooklyn from the old house deep in the countryside, for a very good reason.
How many good reasons can make a man, leave a country house full of old, familiar and comfortable furniture, with hoards of books on bookshelves from floor to ceiling, a cellar full of wine, and simple rural food. A house that is attached to a stable full of thoroughbred vintage sports cars to play with, and surrounded by acres of a garden he is in the middle of building. Yes. Two reasons. Money, or a ravishingly beautiful person he wants to see.
I had been in the garage, cleaning out the carburetors of the 1969 red Mercedes Benz 280sl roadster, having just walked in from the garden, where I had been busy planting an alee of heirloom roses. The roses would eventually be trained to ramble up the pergola that was composed of stone pillars, and heavy wooden cross beams, I had planted the roses alongside a lovely white flowering clematis, and as time passed, they would play together, over, and across the pergola, creating a beautiful shady, and scented tunnel of flowers.
I had come in to get some shears from the tool cupboard, with Hanna, my three year old Rhodesian Ridgeback tagging along, tail high and wagging, when I decided to stop, pet her fondly, and then tinker with the old Mercedes briefly.
While stuffed half way into the bonnet of the old car, feet barely touching the ground, and Hanna off romping again in the garden, my cell phone rang…..
This is the sort of reverie that wearing this particular Panerai has inspired in me. Wearing this watch will make you want to go out and live a certain life. A life that is filled with rugged adventure. This is the hallmark of this watch. After all, the brand was developed exclusively for the Italian Navy’s Special Forces. The heritage of the watch is rooted deeply in it and its presence is outspoken.
It’s the sort of watch that over time will be richly soaked in stories. The sort of watch that will trigger spontaneous memories. The sort of memories a person can tell their grandchildren on late wintry evenings with a fire going and some hot chocolate, or reminisce about with friends after dinner over cigars and single malt.
This Panerai Radiomir 1936, like all watches, will carry the essence of its owner with it when it is passed on. But what it will also have, even smell of faintly, is the spicy spirit of adventures had and the promise of more to come. You can’t put a price on that.
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