Panerai Breaks New Ground in Mechanical Luminescence With the eLux LAB-ID 

Panerai is known for making some of the world’s toughest professional-grade diver’s watches and pursuing wild horological ideas, and the brand’s latest launch, the Submersible Elux LAB-ID PAM01800, brings these strengths together as never before. Inspired by a patented line of electro-luminescent panels created by Panerai for the Italian navy in the 1960s, the watch features a mechanical movement that uses a microgenerator to power an array of electroluminescent indicators on the dial and bezel. The product of eight years of development, the watch features a 49mm case made from the brand’s new Ti-Ceramitech alloy, and a lubrication-free movement guaranteed for 50 years. We spoke with Anthony Serpry, the brand’s Research and Development Director, about the work that went into it.

Submersible Elux LAB-ID PAM01800

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Submersible Elux LAB-ID PAM01800

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Where did the inspiration for this piece come from?

In the LAB-ID program, we always try to explore areas that are deeply linked to Panerai’s history, and luminosity is a main characteristic of Panerai watches. Even before producing watches Panerai was producing radium paste to illuminate military equipment, so the question of luminosity and how can we push the boundary on that was among the first ideas to be considered for LAB-ID, but it took us quite a lot of time to mature this idea and to develop the technology to be able to do it. 

What were some of the challenges in making it?

There are some that are more obvious than others, like the micro-generator, but actually, the hands are one of the most complex parts of this watch. We had to put the micro-LEDs for the illumination inside the hands and we had to electrically connect them to the movement without creating too much friction. It was really a nightmare in terms of development. We had 10 to 15 iterations, so it’s a very complicated element, but the complexity is not very obvious at first glance.

Panerai eluxe Lab ID

Why did you want to combine electric illumination with a mechanical movement?   

At Panerai, we try to do things that last, so we tend to favour purely mechanical things. If you use a battery, it will have to be replaced within 10 years, so the choice of mechanical-driven electricity generation was because of this. But it added a lot of complexity because the amount of energy that you can store in a mechanical device is really low compared to what you can get with a battery. So power management and trying to find the most efficient way of using the energy was a key part of the development.

Can you explain a bit about how it works?

During the day it looks like a normal watch, but a bit oversized, especially the hands. At night, without the active power lightning, you still have SuperLumiNova on the exterior and the hands, but then you can open the protection system for the pusher at eight and activate the pusher. Then you’ll unleash the mechanical energy stored in a specific barrel and you start to generate electricity that is then used to power 160 micro LEDs that illuminate the dial, the hour and minute hands, and the bezel. When fully wound, this watch will have 72 hours of timekeeping and 30 minutes of power lightning when it’s activated.

The micro-generator is like what you’d find in a power plant except it’s been miniaturized to its limit. Just to give you a rough idea, the coils are made of copper wire with a diameter of 12 microns, which is a 10th of the diameter of a human hair. It’s quite difficult to go below this limit because it’s really thin.

Panerai eluxe Lab ID

That sounds incredibly complicated. What else is going on inside?

Another interesting point is that it’s the first time that we have more components outside the movement than inside the movement. Usually, in a complicated watch, you have maybe 400 or 500 components on the movement and 30 on the case but here we have 360 on the movement and well over 500 components on the case, dial, bezel, and hands. At the same time, it’s a 500-meter water-resistant watch, so we did not compromise on the robustness of the case or movement. It’s a concept watch, but it underwent all of our test protocols, including big shocks and long-term aging of the components to the same extent as our other watches.

Can we expect to see technology from this concept in other Panerai pieces in future?

It’s a tough question. There are many objectives behind the LAB-ID concept, to push the limits on certain aspects, to display our technical know-how, and to explore technology that we hope that we can then apply to a broader set of watches in our collection. We are working to scale this down to see if we can apply it on smaller products, and also to see if we can use this energy for other useful functions.