Bonhams has just released the information that they will be auctioning a vintage Panerai 3646 Type D/E with case number 260873 on June 22, 2016 in London. It is interesting to see so many vintage Panerai watches come up for sale lately.
The present watch is difficult to classify as the case number suggests a Type E but the style of the case back says Type D. The explanation for this overlapping is probably simpler than expected.
Bonhams Lot 76, Panerai/Rolex 3646, 260873
The offered watch is a late Ref. 3646 with painted brass dial and was probably assembled in 1944 during or after the occupation of Florence by the Nazis. The case number of this watch suggests that the watch belongs to the Type E group. A special feature of Type E watches is that the case backs and the movements lack of any Rolex stamps. The case back of this particular watch however bears the same Rolex stamps like typical Type D watches. Even the movement is branded. Regular Type E watches have totally anonymous movements.
The watch face
The plexi crystal of this watch has developed a fantastic patina, consisting of tiny cracks around the edge which suggest as cause an elusion of the emollient inside the material over time. Time and weather did the rest.
This watch has a painted brass dial. It is completely anonymous and was probably produced by Arturo Junghans S.A. in Venice in order to achieve a higher luminosity than regular Rolex California dials.
The case of this watch appears to be quite beaten up. It is definitely not in a good condition as it shows signs of heavy corrosion. It would be interesting to know how this watch ended up in this condition. The onion crown and the tubus appear to be in a good condition.
As mentioned above, this watch is hard to classify. Although the case number suggests a Type E, the style of the case back stamps clearly screams Type D. Typical Type E watches have no reference number at all and the case number is further away from the center.
According to new findings made by Ehlers & Wiegmann, the Rolex stamps of Type E watches appear to have been removed. There is at least one example of a Type E watch with slightly visible Rolex stamps. Case backs of Type E watches are therefore much thinner in the center and have the case number at a different position. I guess the case numbers on typical Type E watches were later restamped. Since the center was already quite thin, the new stamps were executed further away, where the case back was still thick enough.
A possible explanation for the unsual stamps on the present watch could be that the stamps on these watches have been removed in precipitance and that somehow the present watch slipped through the process and was forgotten.
The outher case back of this watch also show signs of corrosion.
The movement of a Type E watch is supposed to be completely anonymous, without any Rolex markings. Six Type E watches with lower case numbers than the present watch have movements without any Rolex engravings.
The movement of the present watch appears to have suffered a minimal water damage. The corrosion on the back of the case at six looks like it could have made the case leaky. This is of course pure speculation.
The present watch is an absolute exception. It represents an overlapping of different groups that is not easy to explain. For me this watch is a very important part of the puzzle as it could be a timepiece that remained untouched in times of precipitance. At some point during 1944 Rolex felt the need to remove all signatures from these watches. My theory is that Rolex got wind that the watches had been commissioned for/by the Nazis. For some reason they might not have dared to stop the supply, so they decided to remove the stamps instead. The Panerai history during the last year of WW2 remains a mystery.
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Thanks for your interest.