When we first saw the Panerai Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Titanio PAM578, the watch carried a presence, a gravitas that is unusual, one that escapes most high end watches, even at these exalted grounds we call haute horologie. And on handling the watch, the big surprise was the extraordinary lightness of the timepiece. And the very interesting industrialized visual aesthetics. We bring you our review of the PAM 578.
If you have not yet read our press release article, please click here to read it. We will dive straight into the most interesting aspect of the PAM578 before the review proper to throw some light into the manufacture process of the case.
Direct metal laser sintering
The process used to manufacture the case is known as direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). This is an additive manufacturing technique that uses a Yb (Ytterbium) fibre laser fired into a bed of powdered metal, aiming the laser automatically at points in space defined by a 3D model, melting or rather, welding the material together to create a solid structure. DMLS was developed by the EOS in Munich, Germany. The technology is quite new, in the mid-1990s, with applications in aerospace, automotive and rapid prototyping.
The following video explains this process quite nicely. Approximately 2.5 minutes, and well worth watching as it shows how the layers are built up, and the metal object being formed.
The process used by Panerai is similar. The result is a case which has good structural intregtrity, but also one which can be made hollow, so as to make the structure lighter. Below is an iPhone photograph in poor light at the SIHH booth to show the cut away case after it comes out from the sintering machine.
The resultant case is 40% lighter than steel, and as the metal used for the sintering is titanium, the case is hypoallergenic, resistant to corrosion and very strong.
The Panerai Luminor Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Titanio
The Panerai Lo Scienziato – Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Titanio PAM 578 is quite a mouthful to say. But Panerai’s descriptive naming convention is totally logical and useful. The watch is christened “Lo Scienziato” is Italian for “The Scientist” to show that it is borne out of a high tech and scientific backdrop. This title is also ascribed to all other Panerai tourbillons, in both Luminor and Radiomir cases, in rose gold and ceramic. It belongs to the Luminor 1950 collection with the distinctive and signature crown guard and lever. It features a tourbillon and GMT function. And the case is in titanium. PAM578 is the designation model number. But we wonder why Panerai did not add “scheletrato”, meaning skeletonized to the title.
Case, dial, hands
The case is remarkable. The finished product is highly polished, and feels like any other regularly manufactured case, except that it is extra light. All the details characteristic of the Panerai design language are there. The crown guard, with the special crown lever appear di regeur.
On handling the watch, it feels remarkably light. Especially for a watch measuring 47mm in diameter with the Luminor’s “big and strong” aesthetics. This is contributed by the DMLS titanium case which is hollowed out inside, and also by the skeletonized titanium plates and bridges. The P.2005/T caliber is some 35% lighter than the P.2005/S skeletonized version with standard rhodium plated brass plates.
There is no dial so to speak, as this is a skeletonized watch, and the entire plate is visible from the dial side. The plates are designed to look like wheels, and give the very nostalgic feel of a post WW2 industrial facility in Italy. This appearance is fortified by the grid like structure from 6 o’clock to about 9 o’clock.
Fixtures like the sub dials for the small seconds at 9 o’clock and the second timezone day/night indicator at 3 o’clock sit on parts of the plates styled into sub dials. The perpendicular rotating tourbillon sits smartly between 9 and 12 o’clock, and mesmerises with its fast spin and unusual axis. The hour markers, in the characteristic Panerai style of Arabic numerals for 12, 3, 6 and 9 with bar markers for the rest appear to float above this industrial ensemble. Proud in its SupeLuminova coated brilliance, seeming at a distance from the rest.
The hands, too are typical Panerai language, bold, strong character. and highly visible through its thick coating of SuperLuminova. The second timezone is indicated by the hidden hand which only appears to show the home time (or GMT) when required. This hand is arrow shaped to make it distinct and easy to read from the regular hour and minute hands. The small leaf shaped hands for the seconds indicator and day/night are also typical of Panerai.
We think the entire look works very well, and aesthetically it is coherent, and harmonious.
As we found in our review of the Panerai Radiomir 1940 Tourbillon, the tourbillon cage spinning perpendicular to the movement plates is a treat to watch. In the Radiomir, the tourbillon is tucked away and only visible from the back of the case. But on the PAM578, it is displayed in full view, and can be observed from the dial side. The tourbillon cage makes two full revolution per minute.
The movement plates are in titanium as are the bridges. Finishing appears to be sand blasted for a matt look. The theme of the industrial facility look continues to the back. The attachment points of the bridges made with Allen key like bolts, accentuate this feel. The tourbillon is also visible in its full glory from the case back.
The tourbillon, spinning at 30s/revolution perpendicular to the plate adds visual and technical interest. The tourbillon itself is highly polished, brushed, and executed with beautiful internal and sharp external angles. This contrasts nicely to the matt, sand blasted finish of the rest of the movement plates and bridges.
We find the PAM578 to be quite an interesting watch. Not only is the manufacture of the case highly innovative, using a technique adapted from technologies formerly only used in ultra high tech industries, but the design is highly coherent with the Panerai language. The entire look is kind of a futuristic, industrial aesthetic, taken from the vantage point of the past, perhaps of post WW2 Italy. We find this aesthetic intriguing and absolutely compelling.
As is typical in the Editor’s Full Reviews, we started to look at the competition. This proved to be an extremely difficult task.
Given the special features of the PAM 578, we were not able to come up with another watch which offers the same features.
The use of a DMLS case is the first of its kind, and currently there is no competition. Titanium bridges and plates in a titanium case is a common feature for De Bethune tourbillons. An example is the De Bethune DBS Tourbillon (S$319,600) but this case and movement are manufactured in a traditional fashion, although De Bethune techniques achieve the high polish which is also unique to them. The DBS tourbillon, though also making one revolution every 30 seconds but does so in the same plane as the movement.
The perpendicular rotating tourbillon is unique to Panerai. The closest is perhaps the new Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision (in red gold €322,000, approximately S$ 499,000) But the GF’s tourbillon is inclined at 24°, while Panerai’s is at 90°. The GF is only available in precious metal. The GF finishing is ne plus ultra, intended to be so, and produced in numbers to support the very high price. The total production of the entire GF brand for all models is approximately 100 pieces a year. The PAM 578 is a limited edition of 150 pieces for one single model in the Panerai lineup.
So in conclusion, we find the Panerai Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Titanico PAM 578 to be quite intriguing. Her charms are unique, and very captivating. Her negatives are typical of what all other Panerais draw – bulky, industrial, military looks, which, as it turns out can be as much negatives as they are positives to the cognoscenti. Interesting watch. We think this will be a grail watch for Paneristis the world over.