Vintage Panerai watches were used as tools for underwater sabotage missions. The assault divers did not care about them getting scratches and dents. They were part of the equipment and efficiency was paramount. Cosmetics did not matter at all.
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 watches running. In Vintage Panerai circles this is simply called “grey zone”.
One fits all
The following story began with a watch auction in 2001. Antiquorum offered a 6152 (yes, the rare one!). Case number 956642. The pictures, however, revealed the watch was not a sought-after Ref. 6152 but a later Ref. 6152/1 with crown-protecting device. This watch had probably the caseback from a Ref. 6152, which is not uncommon.
The crown looked odd on the picture but it could have been photoshopped.
The watch sold for CHF 17,250.00.
Auction link: Lot 501 – Radiomir Panerai No. 956642, Ref. 6152 (Antiquorum)
A few years later in 2007, the very same case number 956642 reappeared at a Christie’s auction. This time they also disclosed the Ref. 6152/1 case number 124758. The watch had indeed a caseback from a Ref. 6152.
The interesting thing was, the watch had now a totally different dial. A sought-after “Marina Militare” dial with great patina. The movement seemed to be one of those replacement units which were found in stock by Angelo Bonati and went into the PAM 21 models.
This time the watch sold for CHF 85,000.00.
Auction link: Lot 323 – Rolex made for Panerai (Christie’s)
Update Dec. 31, 2015
Christie’s used the wrong front view. The picture showed case number 124949 from the same “Important Pocket Watches and Wristwatches” auction in 2007 instead.
The correct watch is shown below. Dial and minute hand were very distinctive.
Before the Christie’s auction in 2007, the very same dial was installed in a Ref. 3646 watch with case number 261352 depicted below. A distinctive detail of this watch were the odd set of hands.
The same Ref. 3646 with case number 261352 next to the famous Ref. 2533 with case number 116272.
The iconic Ref. 2533 with “baton” dial turned out to be a Franken watch pieced together with parts from different time periods. The “baton” dial itself is not from the late 1930s as claimed, it is a late 1950s design.
Read more: Vintage Panerai 2553 “Frankenstein”
The following comparison of the Marina Militare engravings shows the dial of 124758 is exactly the same that was installed in the Ref. 3646 with case number 261352. Another distinctive detail that absolutely matches is the stain in the number 2.
In 2008 a 3646 Type D Kampfschwimmer with case number 260726 featuring German engravings “BK” was offered at a Dr. Crott auction in Germany. Kampfschwimmer watches usually had anonymous dials. But not this one. It came with the inscription Radiomir Panerai.
Watches within the case number range of this one usually have painted brass dials made by Junghans in Venice or sought-after Rolex Error-Proof dials aka 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).
The Radiomir Panerai dial of this watch had a number of individual characteristics which helped identify it as the dial which was installed the first watch mentioned above, Ref. 6152/1 with case number 124758 featuring a Ref. 6152 caseback with case number 956642.
It was one and the same dial.
This particular has the same characteristics of Ref. 6154 dials from 1954. It is very thin but nevertheless a sandwich construction.
The story of parts mysteriously swapped between watches – decades after having been part of hardcore missions – would end here… if a little detail had been overlooked.
The sixth sense
As mentioned earlier, the patina of the Marina Militare dial which misteriously appeared in 2007 on case number 124758 is amazing but something is off.
Have a look the Marina Militare dial compilation usually found on Ref 6152/1.
Here is a close-up of the numeral at six o’clock. Can you see the difference?
Regular Marina Militare dials have 6’s and 9’s with almost closed loops. The “open” loops of the dial in question are reminiscent of anonymous Kampfschwimmer dials found in Ref. 3646. A direct comparison shows the numerals are identical.
Let’s compare this to a regular Marina Militare dial, shall we?
See what I mean? The dial in question is not a real Marina Militare dial. It is a Kampfschwimmer that was altered with fake Marina Militare engravings.
Image sources: Antiquorum Lot 501, 2001, Christie’s Lot 323, 2007, 2013, Phillips Lot 223, 2015, Dr. Crott 2008, t.bone