Dear Panerai, Stop Putting the Navy SEAL Trident On Watches

Dear Panerai, Stop Putting the Navy SEAL Trident On Watches

An Open Letter to Panerai, From Watches of Espionage

In 2022, Panerai released the limited-edition “Navy SEALs collection” available intended for purchase by the public, and not exclusively Navy SEALs.  The watches are operator-chic , complete with a Navy SEAL Trident on the dial or caseback and a “Time to Target countdown” feature. The prices range from $10,000 - $60,000, the high-end models including an invitation to a multi-day Special Operations experience (Xperience) which, according to one journalist, means the “buyer of the watch joins retired Navy SEALs on an immersive adventure that will include a rigorous training and rescue mission.”

panerai navy seal product page trident
(Photo Credit: Panerai)

The releases continued through 2023 and into 2024, with the latest Xperience occurring last week in Florida.  As an influential voice in the NatSec watch community, we feel compelled to comment on the matter.  To be clear, our intentions are pure. We’re apolitical and see watches as a vessel to look at the larger world of NatSec, Military, and Intelligence. We want Panerai and all watch brands to succeed and provide a service to our community and the broader public.  But we think Panerai needs a course correction when it pertains to this watch and this “Xperience.” 

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Dear Panerai,

I first learned of Officine Panerai in the 2010s, sitting in a third world capital having drinks with a SEAL colleague.  My friend explained that Panerai had a strong following in Naval Special Warfare (NSW) due to the brand's lineage that can be traced to the Italian Frogmen of WWII.  Like many others, he bought his first Panerai to commemorate a deployment and the Luminor Marina was a nod to those who came before him.  In our community, history is everything. Tradition matters. 

panerai luminor submersible product green strap

I was immediately intrigued.  The signature case shape appealed to my alpha-driven tastes and the history of the brand appealed to me.  Over the next year, I visited boutiques in London, Istanbul, and Johannesburg to try on some Panerais before ultimately making a purchase: a tobacco dial titanium Luminor Marina 8 Days PAM 00564.  I wore it throughout the next overseas tour as a CIA case officer, including during the chaotic events of a coup d'etat. While my taste in watches has shifted over time, I will never sell that watch and it’s not an understatement to say your brand has had a strong influence on my passion for timepieces.

navy seal panerai watch tactical crye
U.S. Navy SEAL on training exercise (U.S. Army  by Staff Sgt. Jacob Dunlap)

Heritage Matters

Several watch blogs have called into question Panerai’s claimed lineage and marketing narrative and even resorted to personal attacks on your leadership, but this discourse does not specifically interest us.  The fact is, Panerai of today does have a strong customer base in Naval Special Warfare (NSW) regardless of exactly how it was formed.  I have personally seen your timepieces on the wrists of operators overseas, at Chick’s Oyster Bar in Virginia Beach, and in SCIFs in Northern Virginia.  No matter exactly how it happened, the connection between Panerai and the SpecOps community is real. 

That said, we think that your latest iteration of the “Navy SEAL” watches, and specifically the use of the SEAL Trident - an eagle clutching a U.S. Navy anchor, trident, and flintlock-style pistol - for the commercial market is a little too much- likely a well-intentioned marketing scheme gone awry.

panerai case back navy seals green rubber strap tactical
(Photo Credit: Jake Witkin, aBlogtoWatch)

To be clear, I do not speak for the NSW community.  I haven’t earned the Trident myself, which is why I would never wear it on a watch or t-shirt.  I have spoken with over a dozen active and former “Team Guys” and opinions vary from disgust to admiration- the majority rolling their eyes, having bigger things to worry about.  We can assume that you have support from some in the NSW leadership and have gone through the legal requirements to license the Trident.  Further, we understand that a (unspecified) portion of the proceeds benefit the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, which is fantastic.  But just because you can put the Trident on a commercially available watch, doesn’t mean you should.

Panerai navy seal issue lunaroyster custom
A Panerai purchased by SEAL Team 3 member and sold on the secondary market. (Photo Credit: Lunaroyster)

The Best Things (Watches) are Earned Not Bought:

The Navy SEAL Trident is earned by those who qualify for the Navy Special Warfare Operator (SO) rating after completing the arduous selection process: the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT).  The “Budweiser” is a strong source of pride and reminder of service, sacrifice, and far too many lost brothers. 

navy seals bud/s buds training beach life jackets
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) (Official Navy/DOD Photo)  

We understand that a limited number of the watches are reserved for active and retired Navy SEALS at a steeply discounted price (~60% off retail) and an (unspecified) portion of the proceeds are donated to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum and at least one watch was auctioned for charity.  Well done. 

navy seals underwater diver training buds
BUD/S Phase 2 training (Official Navy/DOD Photo)

Discretion is the Way

There is nothing wrong with SEALs wearing a Trident on their watch and we are aware of several unit-specific watches (by Tudor and others) that incorporate the Trident into the design.  I know several SEALs purchased your Panerai and treasure the watch.  It’s the civilian versions that give me pause.  A simple solution is to reserve the Trident-laden watches for the SEALs and sell a separate “military-inspired” version without the Trident or “Navy SEALs'' on the dial. 

Special Operations Experience (Xperience)

navy seals experience training buds tactical panerai
(Photo Credit: Panerai Central)

It’s tempting to criticize the “Navy SEAL Xperience” that comes with the $60,000+ PAM01402, and yes, it's borderline corny.  That said, anything that pushes people to better understand the commitment and sacrifice our SEALs make on our behalf is a good thing.  We understand you employ former SEALs to guide participants through this crucible and we are confident that they provide an experience that exceeds expectations.  

panerai navy seals luminor wrist shot desert camo
(Photo Credit: Jake Witkin, aBlogtoWatch)

Assume Noble Intent - never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by naivety.

To be clear, I actually don’t think this is a cash grab and I believe the “SEAL Watch” concept is likely a well-intended but naively-crafted strategy.  When it comes to the military and the broader NatSec community, watch brands are naive. They simply do not know the complexities of the community.   SpecOps personnel generally don’t seek out jobs in the marketing departments of luxury watch companies.  That said, many other watch brands get it right and there is a template for success.  Look at the special projects programs of Tudor, Omega, Bremont and your sister company IWC (also owned by Richemont) and you will find successful strategies that respectfully honor our community.  

tudor unit watch secret service hawkeye pelagos
HAWKEYE Tudor Pelagos “Unit Watch” - available only to member of the Secret Service Counter Assault Team 

Solution 

You don’t highlight a problem without presenting a solution. The key to any successful marketing initiative is authenticity. 

-Focus on Unit Watches - A unit watch is a timepiece that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization and can only be purchased by current or former members.  Most brands offer these at a discount.  While initially secret, inevitably pictures leak out, which is fantastic publicity that drives sales and promotes brand loyalty on the civilian side, while still remaining exclusive to the military side. 

As a recent example, Omega quietly released a special Seamaster Diver 300M (with the Trident discreetly engraved on the caseback) that is available to current and former Team Guys.  There was no press release; however, they ultimately found their way onto social media, creating a positive return for marketing for the brand.  It’s a sound business decision and a win-win for everyone. Most importantly, it’s authentic.

omega seamaster diver 300 navy seals

-Be transparent about donations:  Last year our small company, Watches of Espionage, donated $24,800 to Third Option Foundation.  How much did Panerai donate to NSW museums and charities as a result of sales? According to bar napkin math, if Panerai sold all of the watches in 2023, you would have generated over $30 million in revenue. How much was given to the museum or NSF? 

-Be transparent about US Navy lineage:  According to a September 2022 Forbes article, “Panerai’s historic team verified the legitimacy of an order and approval dating back to 1953 for Panerai watches and diving instruments for the US Navy.”  This is a fascinating development that seems to be glossed over.  What are the details of this order and for “watches and instruments”?  Is there official documentation available? Many from the watch and NatSec community would find this fascinating.

navy seals cast and recovery old vintage navy seal museum
(Photo Credit: Navy SEAL Museum)

-Listen to the SEALs:  Again, you have a real customer base in the NSW community.  Reach out to them, ask for their input and feedback and incorporate this into the design.  Anecdotally, I know several SEALs expressed concern about the Trident on the dial and the overall design of the watch.  Listening to the intended end user is crucial for product development.

-Lastly, keep the Trident and “Navy SEALs” off commercially available watches.  It’s really that simple.

panerai navy seals xperience experience black rubber strap tactical
(Photo Credit: Jake Witkin, aBlogtoWatch)

Again, this is not meant to be a rabble rousing post–it’s quite the contrary; we want to see Panerai flourish and sell watches to the Intelligence and SpecOps community for generations to come.  With a slight azimuth adjustment we think you can get back on course. 

If someone from the NSW community would like to respond to this we would be more than happy to run that article.  

We all know SEALs love to write.

Sincerely,

-W.O.E.

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cia watches digital spy watch tactical navy seals

27 comments

I was a National Service Infantry/ Troop transport driver during the Rhodesian War.
When people ask what I did during the war, I first ask; “have you heard of the Special forces?”
When they answer I say; “well, I was in the not-so-special forces!”
I don’t need any glory, just the companionship of others I served with.

Bert Furmston

While I agree with the article’s sentiments, I can’t help but think this one was out of WOE’s lane. I guess it was another opportunity to highlight Panerai though.

Frank

I’m a career US Navy officer and worked alongside and operationally with SEALs my last 4 years at USSOCOM. I’m not a SEAL but I know how they hold that Trident near and dear to their hearts. Panerai is one of my favorite watch brands but without ABSOLUTE approval and support of the SEAL community they should to be using the Trident or reference to SEALs in ANY manner.

DeeSquid

Leave it to the NSW teams to decide. The capacity of what they do is not apparent to the public, as it should be. Have donation department for families, and museums. They are in harms way every day. Times change, and Italian watches are well made, and designed.

Roger Fournier

I remember when Oris came out with a USMC FORCE RECON watch . Probably a good watch , but as a retired force recon marine , just not my thing to go running around with that kind of watch , as well as tee shirts or anything else with naval jump wings and a scuba bubble. That’s just me . To each their own.

Tim Manion

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