Big Watches, Small Wrists Part II: Can I manage a Panerai? Big Watches, Small Wrists Part II: Can I manage a Panerai?

Big Watches, Small Wrists Part II: Can I manage a Panerai?

Kylie Lloyd-Wyatt

Welcome back to Big Watches, Small Wrists, a series where we look at those big beauties and their size-restrained counterparts to allow you, small-wristed reader, to find and fall in love with something you can truly feel comfortable donning. No more feeling sized out in a world of big-wristed horology, here we’ll find you your perfect match! We started our journey talking tech and specs to help you word up. Now we’re going to dive, literally DIVE straight into the biggest behemoth watch brand there is. I am, of course, talking about Panerai. I recently vox-popped my watch crew on what they thought of when I asked about big watches and it was an almost unanimous “Panerai” in response. And for good reason, this brand has serious historical chops in making dive-watch monsters with big-wearing panache to match.

A Big History Lesson

Panerai is a storied brand credited with some big achievements in the horological world. They are perhaps most famous for collaborating with Marie and Pierre Curie around World War I to formulate radium-based paint for watch dials. A great idea but, as we all know, it didn’t end well for those women charged with applying it. Then there was Panerai’s famous collaboration with Rolex between the World Wars to develop waterproof cases and in 1938 the first Radiomir was born. This watch adorned the wrists of Italian Navy Frogmen into the World War II and beyond. Many of the early watches contained Rolex movements and if you find one of those in the back of someone’s cupboard you’re in serious luck. On the heels of the problems with radium and in the aftermath of yet another World War, the late 1940s saw Panerai again pivot to develop Tritium as a safer (but still radioactive) luminescent material and Radiomir’s sibling the Luminor was born. Though sharing the cushion-shaped case of the Radiomir, the Bettarini case of the Luminor had shorter downward-sloping lugs and a flatter crystal to make it a more streamlined watch that was considered easier to wear. It was also fitted with its now iconic lever crown-guard system to more reliably maintain water resistance.

That’s all well and good, but why are Panerais so damned big? Well, the simple answer is that they always have been. In comparison to the dainty dress watches of the early to mid 1900s, or even the smaller field watches issued to the army during that time, the first Radiomir and Luminor watches were both a whopping 47mm and were issued to the Italian Navy for use up until the 1990s. This gritty, masculine design language of Panerai’s early roots has since become synonymous with the brand. Aside from the addition of the Submersible lines and some novelties along the way, the Radiomir and Luminor models have remained the backbone of Panerai to this day.

Which Panerai Is For Me?

With all this big-watch cred, how do us small-wristed sorts make it into the Paneristi? Yes, these watches are big, but let’s not forget that they’re supposed to be. Big watches that also wear big are a crucial part of the Panerai design language so finding one that fits your wrist is actually not as daunting as it might seem. In fact, surprisingly enough, there is something in each line of the current Panerai collection suitable for us smaller-wristed types. Yes, you read that right!


Big Watches Small Wrists

The more recently released Luminor Due 38mm is an obvious contender with a very restrained lug-to-lug of 45.5mm. The marketing material clearly pitches this watch to women, but don’t be put off, the persistence of the Bettarini case and crown guard gives this smaller version the looks it needs. It wears nicely on my 5 ½ inch wrist, perhaps a little too nicely for my liking. Where I expected heft there was balance, where I looked for a powerful presence there was well-measured restraint. If this is what you’re after while still getting those Panerai looks then you’re in luck. But for me, I wanted the oversized, hyper-masculine statement on my wrist and as such, the 38mm Due was not my perfect match. The 38mm Due also has a limited depth rating of 30 metres, so the Panerai experience doesn’t back its aesthetics with functional chops.

Big Watches Small Wrists

Enter the 40mm Luminor Marina, my sweet-spot, which I described to the shop assistant as giving my wrist a nice hug, much to his bemusement. But really, in this size the Bettarini case made sense. The shorter and curvaceous lugs sat well against my wrist and the inboard strap pulled directly downwards to produce a close fit. The case had heft without being uncomfortable and the crown guard added further presence without negatively impacting the wearing experience. For me the 42 and 44mm cases were too big and it was a little challenging to get a good fit, but if your wrists are larger than my toothpick ones these sizes might just be your ticket.


Big Watches Small Wrists

If you’re looking for something more rugged, if that’s even possible for Panerai, the Submersible is for you. This intriguing and stunningly designed take on a traditional “dive” style watch is beautifully executed. The smallest case at 42mm, however is simply too much of a chunky boy for my wearing comfort. But, with a lug-to-lug of 51mm, straighter sitting lugs that don’t curve to shape the wrist and a top-heavy thickness of 13.5mm, this beauty would be by no means outside the realms of possibility for a 6-inch wrist.


Big Watches Small Wrists

The smallest watch in the arguably dressier (within the landscape of modern Panerai) Radiomir line-up, Panerai’s original design from 1935, comes in at 42mm, but don’t despair if this seems large. A restrained 48.5mm lug-to-lug makes this offering very approachable indeed for our smaller wrists. The wire lugs reduce the visual presence of the watch, in fact the lugs almost disappear leaving the large dial and domed sapphire crystal to shine. Again, the strap can pull straight downwards allowing a snug fit even on my small wrist. Those with larger wrists than mine could consider sizing up to 45mm, where there are more design options including the delightful Eilean and her gorgeous chocolatey sandwich dial.

Paneristi Welcome

So there you have it, the might and muscle of Panerai is truly available for small wrists in all it’s hyper-masculine glory. Whether you’re a guy wanting to flex some Navy heritage, a women looking to power up or gender bend a little, or anywhere in-between, Panerai has you covered. Welcome to the Paneristi.