This is the most stripped-down watch in Panerai’s current collection and it also represents the entry level price into the world of Panerai in-house movements. It’s actually a relatively new movement – the caliber P.5000 was introduced only two years ago and back in 2013, panerai luminor founder Ben Clymer took a look at the watch in which it was introduced: the PAM 510, which has a seconds sub-dial at the 9:00 position. In case you’re not up on Panerai history, the use of an 8 day movement with small seconds is an homage to that history; Panerai used 8-day movements by Angelus in some of its earliest watches (along with Rolex movements based on Cortebert ebauches).
The PAM 560 is newer than the movement – we saw it for the first time at the 2014 edition of the SIHH, and the feeling we have is that it’s part of a general move across the board to make all Panerai watches powered by in-house movements. We haven’t spent a tremendous amount of time with Panerais actually on the wrist here at HODINKEE, but the firm’s increasing reliance on panerai luminor-made movements made us interested to see what kind of an impression the PAM 560 makes in person.
It’s not the biggest Panerai (after all, there’s the 52 mm Mare Nostrum) at 44 mm in diameter. It’s water resistant to 300 meters, and there’s sapphire front and back so you can watch caliber P.5000 at work. The very thick strap is held in place by screwed-in bars and the buckle is very much a no-nonsense affair, with a curved, wide pin that just happens to echo the shape of the lever that holds the crown in place (whether deliberate, or serendipitous, it’s a very nice touch). That combination crown-guard/locking system, as well as the utterly uncluttered “sandwich” dial, is what makes the Luminor instantly recognizable.
Let’s talk about caliber P.5000 for a minute. It’s a big engine: two mainspring barrels which you can easily see running in the two large jewels, providing eight days of running time at 3hz/21,600 vph. The mainspring barrels run in series, pushing torque through a very classically arranged going train, with the center wheel visible through a large cutout in the plate. I suppose technically speaking we’d have to call this a 3/4 plate movement as the third wheel bridge isn’t really a bridge in the usual sense of the word, but rather the result of creating the cutout. That cutout plus the shape of the main plate around the balance give a very aesthetically pleasing, but still utilitarian effect, which is completely appropriate for what was, after all, originally intended to be a tool watch, plain and simple. The going train is arranged so that the fourth wheel is exactly opposite the crown, which is precisely where you would find it in a pocket watch, and if you want a small seconds dial where it would have been in one of the Angelus pocket watch powered Panerais all you have to do is run the fourth wheel pivot through the dial and put a hand on it (which was what Panerai did with the PAM 510).
The balance, which is held in place by a very sturdy looking bridge, looks a little small for the movement but then again, that’s probably only because the movement’s so large; at 15 3/4 lignes, or just about 35.7 mm, it’s a pocket – watch rather than a panerai luminor wristwatch caliber (unless you’re in the bigger-than-average-wristwatch business, which Panerai manifestly is). Overall, we think it’s an impressive bit of work – we’ve used the word sturdy and sturdiness is very much the takeaway impression one has of the P.5000. Interestingly enough, incidentally, the P.5000 has a free-sprung, adjustable mass balance, which is a very nice touch, especially at this price point – if you look carefully at what looks like the regulator you’ll see that it’s actually not a regulator, but a stud carrier (that is, the carrier for the stud to which the outer terminal of the balance spring is attached). The screws holding the balance bridge in place run through threaded collars on the bridge and can be used to adjust end-shake (the amount of vertical “play” between the tips of the balance staff and the endstones of the shock-jewel assembly. While the movement doesn’t have the overtly spectacular cosmetics of some other in-house movements, its clean, no-nonsense appearance is much more appropriate than if Panerai had dressed it up with perfunctory Geneva stripes (and perfunctory is pretty much the only kind of Geneva stripes you get at this price).
Aside from the movement, the case shape, and that sandwich dial, the other signature element of the Luminor family of watches is that lever-operated safety system for dogging down the crown. This system is simple, robust, and clever. The curved locking lever has a small roller on the end of it which, when you lock it down, presses the wafer-shaped crown against a gasket in the crown tube, sealing the watch. It’s more elaborate than a screw-down crown, but it offers a very positive system for ensuring water stays out of the case and it’s a great alternative to the somewhat fiddly feeling of a screwed-down crown (and there’s no risk of cross-threading either, as sometimes happens with watches whose crowns are screwed into place). The other big advantage of the locking lever is that it is just plain fun to play with, and although to do so too much is kind of against the spirit of the watch (the whole point of an eight day movement was to reduce to a minimum the amount of time the crown is in an unlocked position) at the same time you will probably find the urge to play with it irresistible.
Despite the size, this is one of the easiest-to-wear watches I’ve ever had on. Thanks to the thick but still pliable strap, which tapers in thickness from the lugs to the tip, it feels really secure and it’s a pleasure to have on. The best thing about it, other than the chance to play with the locking lever, is the dial; this thing glows like a harvest moon.
This is a little personal note; my first memory of a watch was my Dad’s Benrus, glowing like crazy in 1968, so any watch that lights up the night the way PAM 560 does is okay by me. The movement is a much better piece of work than I gave it credit for initially. It’s honest, it looks bulletproof and it has a ton of really nice chronometric features hard to find at this price, and if you want something with the amount of style the PAM 560 has that also has a free sprung balance and 8 days of gas in the tank it’s a very small list. I’m a late convert to the Panerai faithful and I’m not saying there are not other watches out there for this price point that don’t offer a wonderful value as well – but then again, they aren’t Panerais.