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WATCH REVIEW Panerai Radiomir California PAM 249

Editor's opinion
67 / 100
With the new 2011 releases not yet available, here is, in the meantime, our review of a Panerai icon released in 2006 but still high on many connoisseurs' wish list: the Radiomir "California" 249.
Straight to the Point

Panerai Radiomir California PAM 249

Ref.: PAM 249
$5,800.00 US retail price May 2nd, 2011
  • an emblematic model
  • characteristics that are close to the 1930’s model
  • its comfort
  • for current owners of a PAM 249: its value on the used market
  • inadequate water resistance for swimming
  • the acid-blued finish
  • for future owners of a PAM 249: its value on the used market
Brand Panerai
Model name
Radiomir California PAM 249
PAM 249
Case material
Case diameter (without crown)
47 mm
Case diameter (crown included)
50.92 mm
Base Caliber
Camberred plexiglass
Power reserve
Transparent back
Lug width
25.94 mm
Length from lug to lug
50.80 mm
Case thickness
15.27 mm
Strap material
Calf leather
Clasp type
Pin buckle
Clasp material
Total weight
123 grams
Retail price USA at May 2nd, 2011
Comfort (/15) 13
Movement (/20) 7
Movement Optimisation / Garnishment (/5) 2.5
Ease of handling and adjustment (/5) 3.5
Movement control proceeded by the Manufacture / horlogical awards (/3) 0
Power reserve (/2) 1
Complications (/5) 0
Finishing (/20) 14
Dial finishing (/6) 4
Case finishing (/6) 4
Quality of garnishment / caseback engraving quality (/2) 1
Crystal quality (/4) 4
Clasp finishing (inner and extern) (/2) 1
Functionality (/20) 16
Diurnal legibility (/5) 5
Night legibility (/4) 4
Water resistance (/3) 0
Strap : ease of size adjustment + ease of substitution (/4) 3
Clasp : quality and safety (/4) 4
Additional items (/10) 6
Limited edition (/3) 2
Watch delivered with several straps (/2) 0
Quality of the watch box (/1) 1
Portability with shirtsleeves buttoned (/2) 1
Goodies included (/1) 1
Understandability of the brochure (/1) 1
Value for money (/15) 11
When to wear it ? To watch The Longest Day on TV!
Users opinion
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The Radiomir California is a watch that sets itself apart from the rest in the sense that it is a quasi-perfect replica of a vintage piece.
Indeed, the 2006 PAM 249 is the spitting image of the first Radiomir created by Officine Panerai at the end of the 1930’s.

At that time, Panerai wasn’t a brand name for luxury watches, but rather a small manufacturing workshop specializing in precision mechanics and essentially working for the Italian navy.

Far removed from the modern marketing and manufacturing preoccupations that affect all of today’s watchmakers, the Officine of the 1930’s bought cases in the shape of cushions, and the movements from Rolex.
It would then equip its watches with luminescent dials that were made in-house.

Radiomir and Luminor, the names of the two modern series from Panerai, were initially the names of the two luminescent pastes created by the Officine.
For the record, the Radiomir which was made with Radium, was progressively abandoned because of the adverse effects it was having on the health of the workers in charge of painting the dials…

The Radiomir which were the first water-resistant and luminescent watches on the market, were at the time reserved for the divers of the Italian navy in charge of sinking Allied boats in the harbors of the Mediterranean.

While identical in looks with its military elder, the 2006 PAM 249 is of course substantially different with its modernized design.
The wire loop strap attachments are no longer soldered on the case, but screwed in instead, making it easier to change straps, something the Paneristi fans are fond of.

Similarly, the Rolex movement (on a Cortebert basis) has been replaced by a classic Unitas…That’s a shame!
Let’s note nevertheless that the bridges on the Unitas “OP X” have been redesigned to look more like the original ones on the Cortebert.

The overall finish on the movement is clean but still very industrial-looking, such as the acid-blued screws that we would have preferred to be flame-blued…

Panerai PAM 249: a vintage look

Among the vintage characteristics preserved from its older sibling, the PAM 249 has of course kept the California dial.
It’s distinctive feature is its Roman numerals from 9 to 3 o’clock, and its Arabic numerals  from 3 to 9 o’clock.
The origin of this design is rather nebulous. It was evidently first used by Rolex on some pocket watches before it was taken over again by Panerai.

The finish on this Panerai 249’s dial is excellent.

It is the first time that the Firenze company is using a Luminova with an off-white color reminiscent of the color of tritium patinated by time.

Another element that is rather unique for a modern luxury watch is its dial that is completely free of ay inscriptions, including the brand name.
It’s a little wink to its military predecessors that were “anonymous” so that they could not be used to identify their owners or their allegiance to one side or another.
Of course, the PAM 249 is not totally anonymous: the Panerai brand name is engraved on the case at 6 o’clock (between the wire loop strap attachments).

The last characteristics that ultimately proves Panerai’s success in their quest to give this watch a vintage look is the convex glass which is not made out of sapphire, but plexiglas, the old fashion way!

It’s a very judicious choice because the plexiglas – which is very prone to micro-scratches – helps give the watch a patinated and authentic look completely in harmony with the overall spirit of the watch.

This should not in any way slow you down in your possible arduous activities because nothing is easier than re-polishing plexiglas to make it look sparkling new again – it can even be done with plain toothpaste.

An imposing but comfortable watch

There are only two criticisms that we can make with this piece.

The first concerns the blued hands.
This color corresponds to that of the historical model.

But like the movement’s screws, it’s a pity that they are acid-blued and not flame-blued. The former treatment creates electric blue glints, while the latter would have produced a “night blue” more pleasing to the eye.

The second criticism is about the water-resistance which is limited to 30 meters only.
This is also consistent with the water-resistance of the historical model: divers in the 1930’s did not go deeper than a few meters under water.

But this characteristic should have been updated upward to allow the lucky owners of a PAM 249 to go swimming with their warrior’s watch…
It’s hard to feel like a military combat diver when you are quarantined to the shallow end of the pool…

Finally, the 47mm diameter of the watch (not including the crown) actually feels fine on the wrist, thanks to the cushion-shaped case and its reasonable thickness.
This is an imposing watch, but not massive, and it can easily go unnoticed.

What to remember

The Panerai PAM 249 is a piece that really sets itself apart. Indeed, following the example of the “concept car” automobiles, it created the basis for many of the design elements that have progressively become a general standard in mass production.

There is still however the problem of its price on the used market: new, and available for less than 6,000 Euros in French stores in 2006, it was still financially accessible. But its current price of close to 10,000 Euros can give one reason to ponder…

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