Panerai was founded in 1860 in Florence by Giovanni Panerai (1825–1897). It later became the official supplier to the Royal Italian Navy and expanded to building precision instruments. The company is famous for its Radiomir and Luminor watches, notable for their use by Italian commando frogmen.
The Florence-based watchmaker produced approximately 300 watches exclusively for the Italian Marina Militare between 1938 and 1993. By that time, the company ceased to provide watches to the Italian Marina Militare, as they were no longer cost-effective. The company then moved to launch its products to the civilian market, but remained in relative obscurity until the actor Sylvester Stallone spotted and bought a Panerai Luminor in a jewellery store in Rome in 1995 to wear during shooting of the film Daylight. Stallone ordered a small batch of such watches with his signature on the case back, called Slytech. He offered them as gifts to friends, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. The watch gained rapid popularity, and Officine Panerai was eventually taken over by Richemont in 1997 .
Among its famous watches, are the historic, Radiomir series, in particular, the Base and the Black Seal Model which were deemed rare and unknown just a few years ago, but have become highly commercialized recently.
Panerai's success with large watches has also led other companies to introduce larger watches, including Audemars Piguet, IWC and Swatch.
Panerai issues Special Editions every year. In 2006 they issued the 1936 California Dial Radiomir special edition, a reissue of the first Panerai model ever presented to the Italian Marina Militare. This model was limited to a run of 1936 units.
Aficionados of Panerai are known as "Paneristi", a term coined along the lines of "Ferraristi".
When the contract between Girard-Perregaux Watch Company and Ferrari Motor Company expired a new partnership was signed with Panerai to develop, manufacture and distribute watches under the Ferrari trademark. A New York representative for the watch company has called Panerai the official timekeeper to Ferrari.
These wristwatches, available in the US from early August 2006, have 11 models and cost between $ 5,300 and $ 26,500. Panerai Ferrari watches are divided into 2 collections: Granturismo and Scuderia.
 Etymology of the surname Panerai