Most people know the tale of Panerai’s rise in the early 1990s, thanks to the enthusiasm for the brand from a certain action film star. In the early Eighties, Officine Panerai, then based in Florence, was still only a small producer of instruments for scientists and the Italian navy. At that time, the head of Panerai’s mechanical design department, Alessandro Bettarini, found some old records and drawings in the archives from Panerai’s days making the now-famous dive watches for the Italian and Egyptian navies. He was interested in reproducing these watches, updated to modern specifications and usable as wrist instruments for Italy’s naval divers and a few prototypes were built, like the one pictured above from 1984, which was tweeted by our good buddy Kristian Haagen of

While there was some interest in serial production of watches, Panerai was still small, and to undertake this task was too much for it to handle. The idea sat dormant for some years until the publication of a book about Italy’s World War II attack divers and some strong interest from Japanese collectors convinced the company to start building watches again. A first batch of watches – the Luminor and Mare Nostrum models – was built in Switzerland. The second production run of watches was built entirely in Italy but the company fell into financial difficulty and was soon sold to the Vendome Luxury Group. Bettarini worked with Panerai for a few more years designing the new timepieces, by then getting famous thanks to the interest of Sylvester Stallone.

But the company’s sale to a large conglomerate left Bettarini dissatisfied and he left Panerai to start a new watch company with Florentine roots, with his friend, Luciano Nincheri. They called their new company, Ennebi, a sly combination of their surnames’ initials (NB). Ennebi’s watches to this day bear a striking resemblance to the Panerai prototype pictured here, with the minimalist design and naked bezel, devoid of markings other than the raised descent marker.

So if you like the looks of the 1984 Panerai prototype shown here, you’ll either need to be wealthy and well-connected enough to acquire one of the few that exist, or you could just order an Ennebi.

(image via @KristianHaagen)