We’re back for yet another bash at thing two highly rated sports watches from the world of scuba diving and putting them in a head to head to find out for ourselves which deserves to be king and which just misses out. These articles seem to be somewhat controversial without audience, but we thrive on all kinds of feedback and are willing to challenge the preconceptions of the watches we look at.
This time, around we’re taking things a little more upper middle class here. It’s a long-established maker of fine jewellery and the company responsible for popularising wristwatches against a rising star in the industry which has garnered itself a strong fanbase of enthusiasts and celebrities alike. But does Panerai really have what it takes to bring down the best of the best? Cartier isn’t exactly a competitor to be taken lightly.
When the Cartier Calibre de Cartier Diver watch appeared on the scene a couple of years ago the audience was divided quite literally down the middle. Indeed, I have spoken to many enthusiasts who say they love the idea of a true luxury diving watch that’s functional and sophisticated with a strong whiff of suave. Others, however, would prefer it if Cartier kept to their more classical pieces such as the Tank and Ballon Bleu. In that sense the Calibre Diver was the Bentley Bentayga of the Cartier world, like the car, I’m fully in the support group for the watch. Cartier’s excellent work on the design (as they are particularly famed for doing) has also assisted significantly in changing the perception of the people that try it out in the store or even take the plunge and go the full nine yards and buy one.
Onto the watch itself, Cartier describes the Calibre Diver as “an authentic diving instrument”, meaning it can put a Submariner in its place. In fairness, it can do damage to pretty much any competitor it comes across while being a relative breeze to your wallet. The retail price is $7900 and for that money, Cartier really hasn’t skimped out when it comes to a proper tool watch. Perhaps the most versatile version is the steel on the rubber strap, so that’s the one we’ll focus on.
The money that you spend on your watch gets you a 42mm stainless steel sports watch with a black DLC coated steel bezel which has the distinct advantage over a ceramic bezel of not being prone to shattering on impact with the floor. While yes the bezel will be prone to scratching, but only a fool would turn down a watch which has a proven history of being worn and loved, if the owner would be crazy enough to sell it at all.
The dial itself is pure Cartier with big roman numerals and sword-shaped hands, on this diving version the markers and hands are coated in SuperLumiNova, guaranteeing a bright appearance at night or lurking in the depths. The watch also features a lume seconds track around the sub seconds, there’s also Cartier’s signature tall date window which shows the current date as well as the previous and next dates too.
Inside the watch is the Cartier 1904 PS-MC automatic winding movement which uses twin barrels to provide an even flow of power to the movement. The movement has been worked really well by Cartier, improvements such as ceramic ball bearings help the watch wind more efficiently and provide a sealed unit that doesn’t require servicing. The watch will run for 48 hours without winding. Most importantly that movement is protected to a respectable 300m down, it’s good to know the watch is fully sealed despite the fact it’s unlikely to ever reach that depth.
Panerai goes down a completely different route. Cartier takes all the best of French design and muscles it into a svelte case to make it as useable as possible. Panerai chooses to go a different way with its sports watches, making them as distinctive as possible.
The Luminor Submersible uses the idea of a diving watch and marries it to classic Panerai designs. The hallmarks are all there, let’s start with the most obvious, the one that makes it onto pretty much every Panerai watch right now. The cushion shaped case has been around for a while in different sizes. This one’s 44mm from corner to corner, however, it’s made to look even bigger by a wide metal diving bezel with lume dots and the numbers of the quarter hours engraved on it as well.
The stand out feature on this watch compared to the usual lineup is a Rolex-esque style magnifying lens over the date aperture. While Rolex calls their magnifiers the Cyclops, Panerai chooses not to make a big deal of it, a good choice on their behalf as well, I think it looks nice but the problem, as experienced with the Cyclops, is that unless you are viewing it dead on the date will appear distorted if it’s there at all, meaning that most of the time it’s just an unnecessary bump on the crystal and to top it off who’s actually going to look at the date under water?
Not to fear, though, the rest of the watch more than makes up for what I see as a bit of a blunder, in my own personal opinion of course. For instance, the Luminor Submersible does come with Panerai’s signature crown guard, a neat little device which adds a lever lock to the crown which won’t allow for adjustment unless the lever is deliberately deployed, meaning you can rest in peace knowing that the crown won’t gradually unwind itself as the watch is worn.
Inside the stainless steel case is an Officine Panerai OP III automatic winding calibre which has a steady 42 hours power reserve, not much different from its competition. It also makes use of the Incabloc system which helps protect the movement from damage due to sudden jolts, a feature becoming rarer in today’s watches, or maybe I’m just not looking close enough! Just like the Cartier the case of the Panerai Luminor Submersible Automatic Acciaio will protect the valuable insides to 300 metres below sea level.
It’s now time to make our decision and I’m really not interested in beating around the bush with this one. It’s a close call no matter which way you look at it, but I will say this. If what you want in your life is an all in one sports watch that’s capable of playing dress up then my advice is to go with the Cartier. The complex design which features a synthetic cabochon in the crown makes for a breathtaking piece that plays well in any light. The Panerai should be the primary choice for those who want a sporty watch that’ll fit right in at home in an activity focused watch collection. In fact, it might just well be your new centrepiece, for $7200 you do get a lot of bang for your buck.
But if you pay just a little more you’d get the watch I personally prefer. That’s right, it’s come down to personal choice yet again (we just are the worst here aren’t we?!), the Cartier is the winner this month for a strong versatile performer. Bravo Cartier!
HARLAN CHAPMAN-GREEN – MANAGING EDITOR
A keen bass guitar player, Harlan enjoys all the perks modern watchmaking technologies the industry has to offer. Although you might catch him sampling Omegas or the “odd” Rolex, Harlan loves all things Haute Horology, with his three favourite brands being Breguet, A.Lange & Söhne and Vacheron Constantin. He hopes to study timekeeping more in depth someday and will never be able to thank his father enough for introducing him to the industry. You can follow him on Instagram Read his articles here