While Panerai, the watchmaker that originally designed timepieces and instruments exclusively for the Italian navy, could conceivably rest on its laurels and make small tweaks to the Luminor and Radiomir collections until the end of Time itself, the now Swiss-owned Maison has decided to advance boldly into the realm of haute horlogerie and manufacture some truly remarkable, complicated pieces. We traveled to Aspen, Colorado to visit the Panerai boutique and learn about the newest complicated piece that the brand has to offer.
The L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time GMT — while it’s quite a mouthful, amazingly this long, descriptive model name doesn’t actually cover all of the functionality of the watch in question. The L’Astronomo, for short (though, to be clear, a first L’Astronomo debuted in 2010) is an incredible offering from Officine Panerai that is semi-customizable to the home location of the buyer (more on that, later) and packs a dizzying array of functions into something that is actually made to be worn on your wrist.
Inspired in part by the Florentine astronomer, physicist and engineer Galileo Galilei and employing the Luminor 1950 case shape, the L’Astronomo is the first Panerai model to include a moon phase indicator, but this is really just the tip of the horological iceberg. While the first L’Astronomo from 2010 included a tourbillon, calendar, equation of time indicator, and a sunup/sundown display, the new P.2005/GLS (for Galileo Luna Skeletrato) adds a GMT function as well as a moon phase indicator and an original system for indicating the date using polarized crystals. The movement itself utilizes 451 components, and the tourbillon rotates twice per minute.
Not content to employ a conventional moon phase indicator, the moon phase display on the L’Astronomo uses a unique system: a day/night indicator also displays the phases of the moon using two superimposed discs that rotate together in concert. The upper disc displays the 24 hours of the day and is read against a small internal disc fixed onto the movement — it also shows the sun during the hours of daylight and the stars of the sky at night. Within the night sky is a window through which a secondary disc with the moon is visible, which rotates and displays the appropriate moon phase according to a location specified by the watch’s owner.
Yup, you heard that right — this is some old school, Graves Vs. Packard, grande complication-type stuff. The buyer of a L’Astronomo gives Panerai his home location (or another location of his or her choosing), and the company then builds the watch movement (which takes one year) such that the moon phase indicator and sunrise/sunset indicators are always accurate relative to these particular coordinates (i.e. if you had specified New York City as your home location, then the moon phase displayed would always be that of the moon above NYC). Once you specify a location to Panerai, that’s it — there’s no going back and deciding that you’d like a moon phase indication of, say, Abu Dhabi instead, as the cams utilized in the sunrise/sunset indicator have to be specially created for each watch.
You also get an equation of time indicator, which is possibly the least useful complication known to modern man, but one of the most fascinating. An equation of time indicates the difference between the actual (solar) time and the conventional time each day (here using a plus/minus scale of 15 minutes, which changes according to the time of year). One potential use is to blame the equation of time indicator when you’re late for something, insisting that your personal schedule runs according to mean solar time.
Panerai could’ve given the L’Astronomo a conventional date indicator, but that would’ve been boring. Given that the company wants you to be able to admire the tourbillon escapement within the movement, they’ve constructed a special skeletonize movement that doesn’t require an actual dial. All of the pertinent time and calendar info (including a month indicator) is visible on the flange of this skeletonized movement, and the three spring barrels, which store four days’ worth of power, are visible on the back, along with a power reserve indicator.
In order to construct a date complication that wouldn’t conceal any of the special movement, Panerai designed a special, patent-pending system that utilizes a date disc made of borosilicate glass on which the laser-etched numbers have modified optical properties. What does this mean in practice? The numbers on the date wheel are almost invisible except for the one that is aligned with the date window, where a polarized crystal above the date disc causes the number to appear. It’s tough to describe, but incredible in person, and a testament to Panerai’s commitment toward perfecting the L’Astronomo.
Incredibly, and though the end user can specify the watch’s case material, hand color, engraving, strap and other possible special features, the new L’Astronomo P.2005/GLS isn’t a limited-run watch. Pricing begins at $230,000 for the titanium configuration, however, so this is clearly a piece aimed at hard-core Panerai collectors (and people who like really, really complicated mechanical things). The price, however, doesn’t detract from how truly stunning a watch this is — it’s one that shows that Panerai, while quick to embrace its military roots, isn’t afraid to flex its watchmaking muscle and show what it can do.
While the L’Astronomo didn’t leave the Panerai boutique in Aspen (at two floors, the largest in the country), we were allowed to test drive some other novelties from the company’s lineup, including, much to the author’s immense satisfaction, a 42mm grey-dialed Luminor Due.
Panerai’s North Americn Sales Director, Karl Poulson, goes over each watch in turn, highlighting its functions and the history of each Panerai line. Karl is a source of seemingly endless knowledge about the brand and each one of its beautiful watches.
A model of the Luigi Durand de la Penne, a destroyer of the Italian Marina Militaire named after a famed World War II Italian naval diver in the Decima MAS, a commando frogman unit. Panerai’s long history of making watches for Italian naval commandos is evident everywhere, including in the Apsen boutique.
The L’Astronomo in the Panerai boutique, with skeletonized P.2005/GLS movement visible as well as equation of time, day and date indicators, sunrise/sunset time indicators, tourbillon cage, and you know…hour, minute and small seconds hands. For telling the time.
On the back of the L’Astronomo one can make out the moon phase and day/night indicator, tourbillon cage, power reserve indicator and case back engraving detailing the coordinates of the hometown of the owner (this model’s movement is synched with Florence, Italy, the birthplace of Panerai).
Watches are fun, but watches and sled dogs are more fun. The Krabloonik Mountain Dining and Dog Sledding Center is a great place to unwind just outside of Aspen proper. If you’re lucky you get to play with Alaskan Huskies or Malamutes, like this one. And you get to say “Krabloonik!” to people in place of an expletive.
Aspen is prime skiing country, and even during the off-season, the scenery is stunning. Sitting at about 8,000 ft. above sea level in the Rocky Mountains, it provided the perfect setting in which to check out the L’Astronomo with its astronomical complications.
Babek Tafreshi is an Iranian photographer who has worked with National Geographic and has been photographing the night sky for over 25 years. He met with our group high in the mountains to discuss his work, the adverse effects of night pollution, and to broaden our understanding of the night sky.
Case Diameter: 50mm
Movement: Hand-wound, mechanical P.2005/GLS by Panerai
Water Resistance: 10 bar (~100 meters)
Power Reserve: 96H
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, date, 24-hour indication, month indicator, GMT, power reserve indicator, equation of time, sunrise/sunset times, moon phase indicator, tourbillon