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IN launching new models this year, Panerai hasn't gone all the way in following the steps of many big names in the luxury watch industry. To play it safe in a soft market, many have simply revived old iconic models and presented them, with some updates, as new. While Panerai has brought back some popular models of old as well, it also unveiled two highly complicated timepieces - including its first minute repeater. In the Radiomir 1940 Minute Repeater Carillon Tourbillon GMT, Panerai has produced not just a minute repeater, which in itself is already quite a feat, because not many watchmakers can make one, it has combined the repeater with a tourbillon and GMT, all housed in a 49mm case - unusually big even by the standards of a brand that has popularised big watches for the wrist.
The minute repeater, which Panerai took four years to develop, is the Swiss-owned Italian watchmaker's most complicated creation so far. And it has unveiled a better, if not more interesting, repeater than the typical model.
Panerai's version has three hammers and three gongs, instead of the standard two. This allows for a more melodic sounding of the time.
Most remarkable, the Panerai repeater can be activated for a home or second time zone - previously, only Louis Vuitton is known to have launched a complication like this.
The sophisticated skeletonising work on the watch is not done just to make it look great but, like the red gold case, it helps to make the repeater sound clearer.
Though Panerai's repeater is an energy intensive complication, the timepiece still runs for four days after winding. The watch is made to order and the price is likely to start at US$414,000 (S$563,040), depending on the strap, hands, case and other special features you want.
Panerai's Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Titanio (US$144,000 or S$194,480) also has more than one complication - a GMT is added to a tourbillon here. Still, the highlight of the watch is the ultra-light tourbillon. The timepiece weighs no more than 100g.
Its 47mm case is made of titanium, a material that's tougher than steel, but is about 40 per cent lighter. The weight of the watch is further reduced with the help of an innovative technology that hollows out the case without compromising its water resistance (to a depth of 100 metres).
The technology is called direct metal laser sintering, which builds up a 3D object layer by layer by means of a fibre optic laser using powdered titanium. The successive layers - each only 0.02 mm thick - merge together and solidify, "creating forms that would be impossible to achieve using traditional working methods, lower in weight and with a perfectly uniform, even appearance", according to Panerai.
The sophisticated P2005/T hand-wound movement driving the tourbillon, a modification of Panerai's P2005, has been skeletonised and fitted with titanium bridges and plates. Titanium has lower density than brass, which is normally used to make these components. And this helps to make the movement 35 per cent lighter than that of the P2005/S skeletonised version, which could also have been used for the tourbillon. Despite the slimness of the movement, Panerai could still squeeze in three spring barrels to provide the watch with power reserve of up to six days. In order to compensate more precisely for the effects of gravity on the escapement and to achieve greater accuracy, the tourbillon cage rotates on an axis which is perpendicular, not parallel, to that of the balance - and it makes a complete rotation every 30 seconds, instead of once a minute. This is fundamentally different from the normal arrangement for tourbillons.