I’ve gone through a slightly strange period of change with my watches of late, which I had actually thought that I was very happy with save that I had a few too many (I get quite uncomfortable when the number hits double figures, which probably suggests that I’m not really a collector). Firstly, I acquired a Fifty Fathoms that I had no real inclination to buy until I tried it on one day over a beer. Secondly, I bought a rather lovely two-tone diver (yes, really) that I sadly had to return as it needed to have a small fault rectified; and lastly, I sold four of my watches to make room for the two mentioned above. I therefore had something of a void that I tried my best not to fill, but I fell embarrassingly short in the will power department.
The watch that filled that void – completely unexpectedly – was another Panerai. I say another as I’ve owned a 233, 268, 380 and 337 in the past, and I have to admit I’m a bit of a fan. In fact, the 337 was probably a perfect watch for me in terms of both size and adaptability, but it was that adaptability (whilst not really being one thing nor the other) that proved to be its undoing. Once it had gone I knew that I’d miss having a Radiomir in the collection so I suppose there was some method to my madness in buying its successor – the slightly larger 346. In fact, they’re very, very different watches.
Firstly, then, the interesting bits excluding the movement. The 346 is a gorgeous mixture of materials, textures and colours, all brought together in a 45mm package (with the Radiomir’s small “wire” lugs, though, so eminently wearable even on my sub-7” wrist). The case is made from titanium with a brushed finish. It’s relatively deep (more on that in a minute) and is topped off with a polished titanium bezel. The caseback incorporates a sapphire window to view the movement, and whilst I admit to being a fan of the Radiomir generally I do think the finish – and finished product – in this instance is genuinely beautiful.
Note: as an aside, this is what Panerai say about titanium on their website: “Light, strong and hypoallergenic, the remarkable physical, mechanical and corrosion-resistant qualities of titanium have made this metal one of the most valued in fine watchmaking, as well as a material of choice for the military, aeronautical and aerospace industries. From the engineering viewpoint, its lightness makes it an exceptional material: titanium has the same strength as steel but is 40% lighter.
Titanium is impervious to corrosion by salt water or the marine environment and it has exceptional resistance to a wide range of acids, alkalis, natural waters and industrial chemical products. Although in nature it is the ninth most abundant element, and, after aluminium and iron, the third most common metal used in mechanical applications, titanium is found only in the form of oxides, hence the difficulty of refining the raw material and its consequent prestige.”
The goodness doesn’t stop there, however, because the dial and hands are also a bit special on the 346. The former is the Panerai “tobacco” brown, with the lume in the sandwich green as opposed to faux vintage (shame, that, IMO, as the latter would work beautifully on this watch). However, the hands are 18kt rose gold, and when the light hits them they’re nothing short of spectacular. There’s a sub-dial at 9 for running seconds and a date with inverted cyplops at 3; however, you won’t find a power reserve indicator anywhere on the dial, unlike my old 268 that was otherwise very similar in terms of style and functions.
Now, just a word about the strap that the 346 comes with. It’s lovely, don’t get me wrong – dark brown alligator, 27/22 with a brushed pre-V buckle. However, I wanted a less formal look and have therefore added a lightish brown Assolutemante as well. These are quite simply the best straps I’ve worn in terms of both comfort and looks, but aside from that I’ve opted for a 27/20 taper; this really does work if you don’t have a huge wrist, for two reasons. Firstly, it just gives the whole package a slightly more streamlined and elegant look; and secondly, because a pre-V buckle in 20mm as actually a fair bit less obtrusive than the equivalent buckle in 22mm.
Inside the case there’s yet more of interest, as the 346 is powered by the manufacture calibre P.2002/9 movement, executed entirely by Panerai. The key details are as follows:
• Hand-wound mechanical movement
• 13¾ lignes, 8.2 mm thick, 23 jewels, 247 components
• Glucydur® balance
• 28,800 alternations/hour
• Kif-Parechoc® anti-shock device
• 8 days power reserve provided by three barrels
• Hours, minutes, small seconds, date, power reserve indicator, seconds reset, rapid set hour hand
The P.2002 is the progenitor of the P.2000 series and it takes its name from the year in which the project was launched to supply Panerai watches with movements entirely designed and developed at the Manufacture in Neuchâtel. The P.2002/9 calibre consists of 247 components; it has 23 jewels and a thickness of 8.2 millimetres. Hand-wound and with a power reserve of 8 days with linear indicator on the rear of the movement (which I far prefer to seeing it on the dial itself), it has many of the key characteristics peculiar to all the calibres of the P.2000 series: three spring barrels; seconds reset device; rapid adjustment of local time; free-sprung balance; and balance wheel oscillating at 28,800 alternations per hour.
The three spring barrels in series, the design of which is the subject of a Panerai patent, apparently ensures the delivery of an even, optimal force which remains stable and constant for the full 8 days of the power reserve. The operation of the seconds reset system is also unique to Panerai, it seems, although I don’t have the knowledge to draw comparison with other examples.
There you have it, then. It may be quite apparent that I really do like this watch a lot, but then I really do like Radiomirs in general a lot so there’s no real surprise there. I do think the 346 is a bit special, though, and hopefully a sense of that comes across in these photos (apologies, by the way, but I don’t yet have a polarising filter for my new camera gear, so I had no way of cutting out the glare from my lights).