Ref. 6154, a very rare Vintage Panerai reference is known among Connoiseurs of the brand as the “Egiziano Piccolo”, the little egyptian. Some even treasure it as the “Maserati” among the Panerai watches, due to its elegant lines. Apparently, only 36 watches were ever produced on special request of the Egyptian Navy.
Francesco Ferretti, an early vintage Panerai collector and renowned Panerai dealer in Italy, received the information about the number of watches produced directly from Rolex. This is quite interesting, as we all know how reserved Rolex can be when it comes to provide information of any kind.
However, there is another Panerai watch which was produced for the Egyptian Navy, the GPF 2/56 from 1956. This watch is known as the “Egiziano Grosso”, the big egyptian, named after its monstrous dimensions of 60mm in diameter.
There are reports of GPF 2/56’s which were found in Egypt. One of them for instance was bought by a well known collector in a Bazaar in Cairo in 1985. The watch, he was told, came from Alexandria.
Unlike several watches of Reference 3646 and 6152 1 which were found with the original frogmen who wore them during their missions in WW2 and later, there is absolutely no such case reported of Ref. 6154. Why is that?
6154 – A cluttered reference
The around 20 existing examples of Ref. 6154 are fitted with several different movement types. There are watches with old Rolex mechanisms from the 1940’s (3646) with 17 Jewels, other with modern but simple 15 Jewel movements and one of them even has the thin movement from a 1930’s Rolex pocket watch, a Cal. 622.
The following picture shows the Rolex 618 Type 1b unit of the 6154 with case number 997575. This movement is the high end version with 17 jewels and fully jeweled escapement wheel made in 1943.
There is a variety of hands as well. Most examples have broad double pencil hands similar to Ref. 6152 1. Some examples have the thinner “sharp” double pencil hands and also some blued hands can be found. Most watches don’t have radium luminous material on the hands anymore.
What all have in common is a case/crown combo in excellent condition, almost NOS (New old stock), and faded dials in different shades and patterns which suggest a tropical area of operations. The indices of these dials have a very unique signature, the crackled radium underneath the plexi inlay.
All these dials were black at some point. It is said, that the high level of radiation caused by G. Panerai e Figlio’s patented “Radiomir” was responsible for the fading of the color.
Italy was a devastated nation after its five years involvement in WW2. The peace treaty signed on the 10th of February 1947 in Paris was onerous for the Regia Marina. Several restrictions were imposed, among them a ban on owning battleships, aircraft carriers, submarines and amphibious assault groups. The Decima Flottiglia MAS was disbanded. However, the experience gathered during the war was not lost, it was preserved in units scattered across the newly formed Marina Militare in 1946.
Political stability in the Mediterranean was a primary goal directly after WW2. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 led to serious discomfort in the Arab world. The Italian Secret Service worked undercover with the Israelis and the Egyptians simultaneously, in order to form assault groups on both fronts. It was Ferdinando Pacciolla, a former X MAS Flottiglia Gamma Group member, who went to Alexandria in Egypt to establish a diver commando school for King Farouk.
“In 1952 Pacciolla also accompanied some Egyptian Navy admirals to Italy in order to buy the necessary underwater equipment needed by an aussalt group. Documents belonging to Maurizio Pacciolla, Ferdinando’s son, indicate that the chosen supply companies were Salvas, Galeazzi and Pirelli without any mention being made of G. Panerai e Figlio. Pacciolla left the Egyptian raiders in Ras El Tin in 1954 having completed his mission.
The command of their raider group was assigned to Frigate Commander Fawzi, who thanks to assistance of the Italian Secret Service had participated in a swimmer-raider course in Varignano in 1955 and during those six months had come to appreciate the qualities of the instruments produced by Guido Panerai e Figlio.
On his return, after having completed the course, he recommended to the High Command that they ask for various important instruments he had used including the watch produced by the Florentine company. This request was made directly to the Italian Navy High Command as they had exclusive trading rights with Guido Panerai e Figlio for military supplies.”
Source: Panerai – Una storia Italiana, page 298
The agreement between G. Panerai e Figlio and Rolex
Apparently there was an agreement between G. Panerai e Figlio and Rolex from the pre-war period regarding the underwater watches. The terms of this agreement are unknown.
What we do know is that hundreds of Ref. 3646 watches were supplied to the Nazi regime during WW2. These watches, known today as “Kampfschwimmer”, had anonymous sandwich dials without any inscription on it. It is not clear whether these watches were supplied directly by G. Panerai e Figlio or by the Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy).
Several Swiss watch brands like Cortebert, Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC are known to have supplied watches to the Nazis, especially to the Kriegsmarine. These watches are easily identifiable by the “KM” inscription on the dial.
Rolex has never officially sold watches to the Nazi regime. They were the suppliers of the good guys, the British Armed Forces. Rolex was founded in 1905 in London and had a special relationship to Great Britain.
Had Rolex been informed that so many of their watches went to the Nazis? I doubt it!
I believe Rolex became aware of these supplies and reacted by leaving out the “Rolex” brand to avoid being identified as supplier of the Nazi regime. The last batches of Ref. 3646 are completely anonymous. In my opinion, this anonymity had nothing to do with concealing the identities of the frogmen, since all of them carried ID cards in special water-resistant rubber bags.
On the 19th of November 1954 an additional agreement was formulated, probably as a reaction to all the watches that ended up with the Nazis during WW2 and in order to avoid a similar situation in the future.
The additional agreement was the following:
“In clarification of the agreement already existing between G. Panerai e Figlio company of Florence and the Rolex company from Geneva, it is clearly agreed that the underwater watches using case models G.6152 and G.6154 (or similar models) made for over fifteen years at the request of and exclusively for the Panerai company are absolutely exclusive to the G. Panerai e Figlio company and they may not be supplied to any other customers, either with a Rolex movement or with any other type of movement. This exclusivity agreement for the aforementioned models is valid in any other foreign country as well as in Italy.”
Source: Giampiero Negretti, Panerai Historia – From the depths of the sea, page 32/34, 1999
The very same official agreement is also mentioned in the book “Panerai – Una storia Italiana” on page 158.
Panerai e Figlio basically agreed not to supply any of these Rolex produced watches to any other customer or country. It is also interesting to see the movements explicitely mentioned. Obviously G. Panerai e Figlio had already asked Rolex for a movement with a longer power reserve.
According to this agreement, supplying Ref. 6154 to the Egyptians would have been a blatant breach of contract with Rolex. Giuseppe Panerai was a man of honor and a friend of Hans Wilsdorf. It is hard to believe that he would have risked his relationship to Rolex by ignoring the agreement and cheating his friend.
The GPF 2/56
I believe it was this additional agreement with Rolex that forced G. Panerai e Figlio to produce their own watch, the GPF 2/56, in order to be able to supply a watch to the Egyptians.
Commander Fawzi, who recommended the acquisition of instruments made by G. Panerai e Figlio to the Egyptian High Command, received his training in Italy in 1955. Chronologically this absolutelly coincides with the development of the GPF 2/56 (2/56 = 2nd project of 1956). According to Maria Abetti Panerai, the widow of Giuseppe Panerai, the Egyptians visited Florence for the first time after Maria and Giuseppe’s wedding in July 1956. The first examples of the GPF 2/56 were possibly delivered around 1958 and only 50 pieces were made.
Ref. 6154 – A scrapped model?
If Ref. 6154 has never been requested by nor ever been delivered to the Egyptians, what is the story of this watch?
My theory is that Ref. 6152 and Ref. 6154 were produced in small numbers for testing purposes and after extensive tests the Marina Militare decided to go with Ref. 6152, respectively its evolution, Ref. 6152 1. Simpler movements with only 15 Jewels could have been used in order to keep the initial costs low, before the actual big order of 500 watches (Ref. 6152 1).
The surviving examples of Ref. 6154 were returned and stored at Piazza Galileo Ferraris, in the old premises of G. Panerai e Figlio. It can be assumed that some of the movements were removed to serve as replacement for other watches. This would explain why some 6154’s are fitted with older mechanisms from 1943/44.
The heavily deteriorated dials could be the result of 40 years of storage in a humid place, without special precautions to preserve these “worthless” watches. Perhaps the deterioration is a result of the big flood which destroyed large parts of Florence in November 1966. The inundation did not reach the higher grounds like Piazza Galileo Ferraris, but the long period of heavy rains caused many basements to be flooded as well.
By looking at those dials one could easily get the impression that some might even have been artificially brought into “tropical” colors. From a logical point of view the dark ring is the area which was less affected by the radium. How is it possible that this area overlays the marker at 6 on the next picture?
The multiple radial effect on the following watch is also very peculiar. How can such an effect be scientifically explained, especially considering the lack of radium on the hands? Which forces must have worked here?
Radium burn rings are a common “phenomenon” in these watches. Compared with other watches which also suffered a severe radium damage, one could conclude that Ref. 6154 watches never ceased to run…
There is at least one example of a completely black 6154 dial which was found first in a Ref. 6152 1 and later ended up in a Ref. 3646 Type D. Why did the high level of radiation not affect the surface of this specific dial?
Was Ref. 6154 discovered in the old premises of Officine Panerai S.p.A. in Florence during the early 1990’s, when early birds had the opportunity to go through the inventory of the struggeling company and bought old machines, instruments, watches and all kinds of parts? Was the story around the “Egiziano piccolo” fabricated to create interest for the 6154 and sell it with maximum profit?
The book “Panerai – Una storia Italia” does not mention the term “Egiziano piccolo” with a single word. I guess once you start to research Ref. 6154 you come to the conclusion that the “Egypt” story could be made up…
However, there are some “experts” who still support the “Egypt” story. I wonder how long…
Thanks for your interest.