Vintage Panerai watches were used as tools for underwater sabotage missions. The assault diver did not really care about them getting scratches and dents. They were part of the equipment and efficiency was paramount. Cosmetics didn’t matter.
This is the reason why so many watches are a mix of different parts. Movements, dials, hands and crowns had to be replaced in order to keep the watch running. It was quite easy to grab a corresponding pocket watch and replace whatever was neccessary.
In circles of Vintage Panerai experts this is simply called “grey” zone.
One fits all
The following story beginns with a simple auction. It is the year 2001. On Antiquorum they offer a 6152 (yes, the rare one!). Case number 956642. The pictures however reveal the watch is not the sought after Ref. 6152 but a 6152/1 with crown protecting device. This watch probably had the case back from a 6152, which is not uncommon.
The crown looks odd on the picture but could have been photoshopped. Also sections of the crown protecting device look strange…
The watch was sold for CHF 17,250.00.
A few years later in 2007 the very same Ref. 6152 with case number 956642 reappears in a Christie’s auction. This time also the 6152/1 case number 124758 is being displayed. The watch had indeed a case back from a 6152.
The interesting thing is that this watch has a totally different dial now. It is a sought after “Marina Militare” dial with fantastic patina. The movement seems to be one of those replacement units which were found in stock by Angelo Bonati and went into the PAM 21’s.
This time the watch was sold for CHF 85,000.00.
Update Dec. 31, 2015
Christie’s used the wrong front view to picture this watch. The picture shows case number 124949 from the same “Important Pocket Watches and Wristwatches” auction in 2007 instead.
The correct watch is the one showed below. It has a very characteristic minute hand and also has an altered Kampfschwimmer dial.
The very same dial was installed in this 3646 with case number 261352 before the Christie’s auction in 2007. A distinctive detail of this watch is the odd set of hands.
The same 3646 (261352) with odd hands next to Ref. 2533 (116272).
The following comparison of the Marina Militare engravings shows that the dial is identical. Another distinctive detail that absolutely matches is the stain in the number 2.
In 2008 a 3646 Type D “Kampfschwimmer” with case number 260726 and german engravings “BK” was offered at a Dr. Crott auction in Germany. Kampfschwimmer watches usually have anonymous dials. But not this one. It came with the inscription Radiomir Panerai.
Watches within the case number range of this one usually have brass dials (Kiefer) or very sought after “California” dials. There was a discussion whether this group should have California dials or not but in this case it is totally irrelevant. Fact is these watches have low bezels and thin dials (1mm).
This Radiomir Panerai dial has many individual characteristics. Thanks to that it was easily identified as the dial which was in the first watch mentioned above, the 6152/1 case number 124758 with 6152 case back 956642.
This part has all characteristics of a Ref. 6154 dial from 1954. It is as thin as a brass dial but still a sandwich construction.
The story of parts which mysteriously swapped between watches – years after having been part of hardcore missions – would end here… if a little detail was overlooked.
The sixth sense
As mentioned before the patina of the “Marina Militare” dial which misteriously appears in 2007 on Ref. 6152/1 with case number 124758 is simply stunning.
A closer look reveals that the 6 and 9 are clearly more “open” than those usually seen on “Marina Militare” dials.
The next picture shows the numeral at 6 of a Marina Militare dial in detail.
Marina Militare dials have 6’s and 9’s with almost closed loops. The “open” loops from the dial in question remind me of anonymous Kampfschwimmer dials of Ref. 3646. A direct comparison reveals a great similarity.
We can only guess what this is all about. One guess is a Kampfschwimmer dial was engraved with “Marina Militare” to achieve a higher price at the auction. I remember a discussion about highly radioactive Luminor dials. Well, this could be the reason why…
Image sources: Antiquorum Lot 501, 2001, Christie’s Lot 323, 2007, 2013, Phillips Lot 223, 2015, Dr. Crott 2008, t.bone