Vintage Panerai 3646 Type E at Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s will be auctioning an interesting vintage Panerai 3646 Type E at their “Important Watches” auction on the 8 of June 2016 in New York.

Lot 166, Panerai / Rolex 3646, 260907

The featured watch is a late Ref. 3646 produced in 1944. Typical characteristics of Type E watches are the missing Rolex stamp on the case back, which has problably been removed by Rolex and a Rolex 618 Type 1 anonymous movement lacking any Rolex marks.

According to Sotheby’s the present 3646 Type E was recently overhauled and partly restored by Officine Panerai (Richemont). Aside from a full service, including a complete overhaul of the movement (cleaning, oiling), the watch also received a new re-manufactured dial to replace the original painted brass dial. The reason for its replacement is unknown.

The original painted brass dial and all papers concerning the service and restoration are included in the lot.

> Sotheby’s Lot 166, Panerai/Rolex 3646, 260907

Sotheby’s Lot 166 Panerai / Rolex 3646, 260907 (Photo: Sotheby’s)


Crystal and dial

The original plexi crystal of this watch has aged impressively! It developed tiny cracks around the edge, caused by time, weather and probably due to elusion of the emollient inside the plexi material. It is nice to see that the crystal was retained.

As mentioned above the orginal painted brass dial was replaced by a re-manufactured dial with the latest Superluminova luminous material. The new dial features “Radiomir Panerai” engravings with a similar font like the inscription on plastic rivet dials from earlier periods. The shape of the indices 3-6-9-12 remind of later references like the 6152 1.

Impressively aged crystal with tiny cracks around the edge (Photo: Sotheby’s)


The initial painted brass dial was preserved and is included in the lot. According to Officine Panerai (Richemont) the brass dial is not original. OP was not able to determine whether the dial had tritium or radium luminous material and therefore advised the owner to replace the dial.

Statement of Officine Panerai (Richemont) in regard of the dial


These statements of Officine Panerai (Richemont) leave me puzzled. What do they mean by saying “The dial is not an original one”? And how is it possible, that they cannot simply take a Geiger counter and measure the radioactivity in order to determine whether it is radium or tritium?

However, painted brass dials are not very sought-after. The design is not very appealing and they were possibly not even produced by G. Panerai e Figlio, but by Arturo Junghans in Venice, after the Nazis had to give up Florence in early August 1944.

Read the full story here (Panerai and the Nazis)

It is possible that the owner did not like the design or perhaps he was afraid of the “Radium” with which the indices and markers are filled. Radium is highly radioactive and has a halftime of over 1600 years.

Replaced painted brass dial (Photo: Sotheby’s)


An interesting detail of this painted brass dial is the complete lack of dial feet. There are no visible marks which indicate soldering points, so it can be assumed that this dial never bore any dial feet. There are other painted brass dials without dial feet. Some of them have small openings at 6 and 12 and were attached to the movement retaining ring with two tiny screws. Not this one. Difficult to say how it was attached to the movement initially, perhaps with double sided tape or glue.

Replaced painted brass dial lacking dial feet (Photo: Sotheby’s)


The case

The case of this watch is in a great condition and was probably slightly polished during the overhaul. The bezel of this watch is the low version, specifically used for California and brass dials.

Nice case in profile view (Photo: Sotheby’s)


The case back of this watch has no Rolex stamps. According to new findings discovered by Ehlers & Wiegmann the stamps were probably removed by Rolex before the shipment to Italy. The center area of the dial is thinner than around the edge and indicates that material has been machined off.

Case back without Rolex stamps (Photo: Sotheby’s)


The movement

A very clean and original Rolex 618 Type 1 anonymous powers this watch. The serial number is a perfect match. Unfortunately the original red filling of the engravings on the train and balance bridges has been washed off during service. I would have expected Officine Panerai (Richemont) to refill the engravings after the cleaning.

Overhauled Rolex 618 Type 1 anonymous (Photo: Sotheby’s)


It looks like the original swirl finish (soleil) on the ratchet and crown wheel has been removed during service. But maybe it is just the angle of the picture.

All movements used in vintage Panerai watches



Overall a nice and recently serviced watch. Strap it on and literally wear it in good health. The re-manufactured dial might be an absolute no-go for some purists but it also has some advantages. Without a Radium dial it is absolutely safe the wear, even if the crystal should break at some point. Since the replacement has been fully disclosed and the original painted brass dial is included in the lot, there cannot be any objection.

The missing dial feet on painted brass dials is a mystery  and part of an ongoing investigation. I hope to come up with new findings soon.

Please don’t hesitate to comment and share your thoughts at the end of the page. If you have any question please use the comment function to get in touch with me. Comments are only displayed after approval.

Thanks for your interest.

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