BY OJ WHATLEY
Part of the 1993-present civilian-era culture of Panerai is and has always been the easy inter-changeability, versatility and availability of straps made exclusively for wear on Panerai watches. So much so that it spawned an entire universe of aftermarket custom strap makers devoted to producing straps exclusively designed to be worn on Panerai watches.
Many of these custom straps celebrate the history and tactical heritage of Panerai. Today, there are custom Panerai straps made from almost every material imaginable including leather taken from vintage WW2 ammunition satchels and pouches, straps made from material taken from flags, from sections of deceased loved ones’ belts in memoriam. In one extreme case, reports exist of straps made from leather recovered during the salvage of a wreck from 1841; the brass accents from the chest the leather material was taken from was melted down into buckles for the straps.
Clearly, the Paneristi love their straps. And one thing I know remains clear; as much as they love their aftermarket straps, these collectors love to buy and sell their Panerai watches complete with the original OEM Panerai straps that came with the watch when purchased new. It is not unheard of for the typical Panerai enthusiast to swap out the OEM Panerai straps for after-market custom straps even before the first wearing, only to preserve the original OEM straps for repatriation at resale time.
Other watch companies have released limited or special edition watches with additional inter-changeable straps but in so many cases, there are no dedicated tools to encourage the hassle free strap change and the logistics of going to a watch dealer to have them do a strap change is either too complicated, too daunting, too petty for them to deal with, or too intimidating since the watch wasn’t purchased from that dealer.
I always admired Panerai for being the first watch brand to champion the DIY strap change and make this a reality. In my opinion, it was nothing less than sheer stroke of genius to empower the owner and successfully enable hassle free DIY strap changes a reality by including a customized screwdriver complete with a special tip designed exclusively to fit perfectly into the watches’ pin lugs. Please note, these tips were so special, once upon a time you could see just the Panerai screwdriver tips for sale on eBay at prices between $50 and $100 for just the tip.
Panerai truly was the first watch company to make hassle-free strap changes a reality for its enthusiasts. With the inclusion of this special screwdriver/strap changing tool, Panerai was able to ensure a DIY strap change done in the privacy of one’s home, without having to go to the mall, a watch maker, or a watch dealer – and without destroying or marking up your watch. To Panerai’s credit, it even included an additional strap, usually a rubber waterproof sport strap or other variant to encourage more frequent DIY strap changes in reality – not just in theory.