Combat Mode: Inside Panerai's Marina Militare Comsubin Experience
This past month, Watchonista was invited to take part in a once in a lifetime training session with the COMSUBIN, the Italian Navy’s elite frogmen force. We take you inside this unusual and unique experience that all money in the world can't buy.
La Spezia, Italy – From the minute we arrived at the Teseo Tesei military base, I knew we would be a part of an exclusive squad never before assembled. For one single day, we were completely a part of the COMSUBIN special forces. Watch collectors, enthusiasts, and yes, a few select members of the specialized watch press were gathered to see what so few had seen. For the first time in the history of this elite fighting squad, a handful of civilians would have a taste of life in the world-renowned Italian Special Forces.
A day of intense training that only a watch can provide
At this year’s SIHH, Panerai launched a unique experience-based concept (read HERE). For many brands, the relationship between buyer and seller ends the day you leave the boutique. But what if you could buy a watch that’s also bundled with one of a kind experiences? That’s the goal of Panerai with their three already sold out Limited Edition “experience” pieces.
The focus of today’s story is the Panerai Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech. Sized at 47mm and limited to 33 pieces, this watch is tied to the medals awarded to these elite Frogmen. While the watch is thoughtfully designed, many purchased this watch not for the contents of the case, but for the experience attached.
After acquiring the Submersible Marina Militare Cartbotech (PAM961), not only you get the timepiece, but you also receive a ticket to a sweat and adrenaline filled boot camp xperience with the Italian Special forces, "Comando Subacquei ed Incursori, ie. COMSUBIN.
It was a privilege to experience such an adventure as it’s rare in this field for no one to come before you. For the first time, COMBUSIN ever opened its base near La Spezia in Italy. Luckily, our trainers ended up giving us a condensed version of boot camp, COMSUBIN style! While our mission that day was softer than those endured by special forces, we still had a hard time keeping up. A fact that made us all admire the day to day job of these elite men (and women) — a situation that requires constant training, endurance, and strength.
This intense day of training made us realize how far Panerai goes to make you live the Panerai experience. From shooting MP5 machine guns and HK416 assault rifles to navigating an exhausting obstacle course, and finally ziplining across a gorge, this was not an experience for the faint-hearted. It was indeed an incredible and unprecedented opportunity to discover this super-secretive world.
Our training challenging was the adventure of a lifetime, and you could feel the technicity and strategy behind every part of the training, opening our minds to new horizons.
A team trained for the impossible: COMSUBIN
This elite Italian Raider and Diver Group was created Back in the 1960s from the mind of Admiral Gino Birindelli. This elite frogman force is part of the Italian special forces. They are regarded by many to be the inventors of today's modern Naval Special Forces.
Their motto, "E Fluctibus irruit in hostem" (From the sea we assault the enemy) represents their objective: to destroy naval enemies. The COMSUBIN is made of six top of their class divisions.
In fact, these specials forces connect so much to their tradition that they still use the same Italian Navy Diving gear dating from some 170 years ago to teach the newest trainees that are joining the squad. It is like starting with the hardest part of the job so that it will be easier to understand the past, the present, and the future of their coveted position.
Panerai’s historical connection
Military heritage is a massive part of the brand’s DNA. Founded in 1860, the brand produced military-grade timepieces for well over a century before they were made available to the public in 1993. Being exclusive to the Italian military ever since its foundation Panerai has been a devoted supplier to some of the world’s most elite fighting (and diving) forces.
Through their work with the Royal Italian Navy, the Radiomir was born. A watch that featured self-luminous (Radium) material for the first time. A revolutionary, albeit radioactive material, which made it possible to see time in the dark, especially underwater and in the skies.
During World War II, Panerai played an essential role in assisting frogmen of the Decima Flottiglia MAS in their operations. For decades, collectors sought out these military-grade instruments, and the cult following became so overwhelming that Panerai decided to make their pieces available to the masses. Thus the modern Panerai was born. Luckily for collections, the legend goes back to its roots in 2019 with these highly sought after experience pieces.
Interview with CEO, Jean-Marc Pontroué
During our experience, we had the opportunity to sit down with Panerai CEO, Jean-Marc Pontroué. We wanted to know how he put all of this together? He started by emphasizing that he never gave up on this project, even when he was continuously told no. Indeed, it took over 50 calls with the Italian Navy only to be told, "what is that for a concept?" - "We are here to defend our country. We are not Hollywood." Pontroué said it was the 51st call that sealed the deal. The gentlemen on the other end, finally relented and said, "Why not?"
"At first, all they wanted was to allow us to visit a museum, and I told them, I am not bringing people from all over the world to visit a museum.” Pontroué's unrelenting spirit didn’t get all he wanted, but and at the end of the day, “We still ended up doing more than what was expected or scheduled as we had even a submarine surfacing experience."
When I asked how Jean-Marc came up with the idea and why such a bold move, the CEO of the Florence based brand said: "We are a laboratory of ideas, that is what we do, we come up with ideas for watchmaking but experiences as well. We want to shake the routine and offer things that were never offered before.”
While we know these experiences aren't going to be for everyone, when asked about how he felt the Paneristi crowd thinks about the new direction of the brand, Pontroué replied, “We have fans of Panerai that know the brand more than I know it. They’ve already visited the manufacture, they already have been to every boutique and bought every book we've ever made. How do you want to impress even the most ardent Panerai collector? So, we decided to offer them a historic environment linked to the brand, but one that is exciting and lifestyle focused. This was a way to surprise all of our collectors."
I would like to thank Jean-Marc Pontroué and all of the Panerai team, Admiral Paolo Pezzutti, and the Teseo Tesei team for this amazing lifetime Xperience!
(Photography by Panerai and Watchonista)