Vintage Panerai 3646, 260818

A Panerai 3646 Type D with case number 260818 is being offered on several platforms. This watch entered the market only a few month ago in April 2016 after it was auctioned by Auktionshaus Eppli in Germany. The watch was orignally equipped with a brass dial but the new owner replaced the brass dial with a “California” dial for cosmetical reasons.

The watch was sold for € 80.900 (Euro) at the Eppli auction in April 2016, a very high price for a watch with brass dial. The new owner is now asking € 115.000 (Euro) for the whole set, including the replaced brass dial.

This watch bears a few surprises. Especially the extraordinary solution used to attach the dial fuels some very interesting speculations.

panerai_3646_260818_eppli
Picture of the watch from the original auction in April 2016

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Provenance

According to the present owner, this watch was brought to Auktionshaus Eppli by the widow of the original owner, a former Nazi Kampfschwimmer from Baden-Baden in Germany.

The watch is being offered with a book and the picture of the former owner and “Kampfschwimmer” Karl Heck.

panerai_3646_260818_Karl_Heck
Picture of the original owner and “Kampfschwimmer” Karl Heck

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An interesting observation is that the uniform worn in the picture belongs to the Luftwaffe (German Airforce). Two badges can be seen on his chest. The one on the left is the “Deutsches Reichssportabzeichen” (DRL= Deutsche Reichauszeichnung für Leibesübungen), awarded for passing five specific tests in sports. The other badge on the right is the “Verwundetenabzeichen”, awarded to soldiers who have been wounded in battle.

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The dial swap

As mentioned above this watch came originally with a brass dial. Commonly brass dials are not very sought-after, probably due to their fuzzy look.

panerai_3646_260818_brass_dial
260818 with its original brass dial

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The outside of the case back bears no engravings.

panerai_3646_260818_caseback
View from the back

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The new owner sent the watch outright for a service and had the brass dial replaced with a NOS (New Old Stock) “California” dial.

panerai_3646_260818_brass_california_dial
260818 with swapped “California” dial

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The full disclosure of the dial swap is exemplary! The watch is listed with a vast amount of pictures which show almost every detail. Something that instantly caught my eye were two tiny screws at 6 and 12 on the brass dial.

panerai_3646_260818_brass_screws
Brass dial with tiny screws at 6 and 12

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I inquired with the owner whether the brass dial had soldered dial feet or not and he provided an additional picture showing the back of the brass dial. The dial has no dial feet and there are no traces that feet have ever been soldered to the brass disc.

panerai_3646_260818_brass_dial_back
Back of the brass dial without dial feet

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According to the watchmaker who serviced the watch, the two tiny screws at 6 and 12 were screwed into the movement retaining ring in order to hold the dial firmly. No traces of glue were found.

This information was extremely precious as I had come across a few “California” dials that were floating around and had similar slots at 6 and 12. But the slots did not make any sense back then.

cali_dial_slots
“California” dial (left) with slots at 6 and 12

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As you can see on the following picture, the “California” dial on the left side has no dial feet either. “California” dials were made by Stern for Rolex and they always came with dial feet. On the dial in question it appears that they have been removed. However, the brass dial on the right side has clearly visible dial feet.

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“California” dial (left) with removed dial feet

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Here is another “California” dial with removed dial feet and slots at 6 and 12. The marks around the removed dial feet indicate that they were probably removed with a machine and in a very rough way from a horological point of view.

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California dial without dial feet

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There are several other 3646 with the very same dial “construction”.

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Brass dial attached with screws at 6 and 12

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The interesting thing is that there are brass dials as well as “California” dials with these slots. It seems to much of a coincidence to have been occured by chance during a service or repair.

The following watch, 260739, has the same construction. The provenance of this watch is quite interesting as apparently it was given to a British soldier of the bomb disposal unit by a German prisoner of war in Italy in 1944.

> Bonhams Lot 357, Rolex 3646, June 2013

panerai_3646_260739_detail
Panerai 3646 260739

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The next picture shows the movement rings and dials of three different 3646. The one on the right is from case number 260726. This watch is quite interesting as it features the dial of a Ref. 6154 which did not deteriorate in the same way as the usual dials.

Read the story about the 3646 with case numeber 260726 here.

However, the movement ring of this watch has distinctive marks at 6 and 12. These holes could have been used to attach a brass dial as described above.

panerai_3646_260726_screws_ring
260726 with distinctive marks at 6 and 12

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The movement ring in the center is also from a watch with brass dial. It belongs to a later watch of the Type E group with case number 261084. Neither the dial nor the ring have any marks at 6 and 12. There are several watches with brass dial that have regular dial feet.

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Update February 27, 2017

After months of research, the true reason for these peculiar slots and screws could finally be discovered. Essentially, Rolex made a mistake when they ordered California dials from Stern Freres. Rolex forgot to mention that the dials were needed for wristwatches with crown at 3. Since the Cortebert Cal. 618 was a pocket watch movement, Stern Freres assumed these dials were meant for pocket watches with crown at 12 and soldered the dial feet accordingly.

Read more: Vintage Panerai – A dial taxonomy

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The movement

This watch is powered by what appears to be a typical Rolex 618 Type 1b. The owner also provided pictures showing the serial number.

panerai_3646_260818_movement
Rolex 618 Type 1b

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The number is quite surprising as so far all movements within this range are “Anonymous”, without Rolex engravings. There is another detail that marks an absolute exception from all other movements made by Cortebert during this period. On the right side of the movement there is a partial minute track for testing purposes.

panerai_3646_260818_movement_serial
Serial number 7.527.900

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The following comparison makes clear that Cal. 616/618 movements made by Cortebert have the same marks within the same serial range. Cortebert changed the test track slightly after serial number 7.521.000, placing it further inside.

This find does not automatically mean that there is something wrong with this watch, en contraire, it is an interesting curiosity and opens up a new enigma. To me the movement looks perfectly fine!

The initial Cal. 616/618 had no test track at all. The first Rolex 618 Type 1a used in 3646 Type A and B were plain as well.

comp_test_minute_track_01

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The first marks appeared around 1942 and serial number 7.515.000. Rolex 618 Type 1a movements used in 3646 Type C watches typically have this type of test track.

comp_test_minute_track_02

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The same style was still in use in Rolex 618 Type 1b movements for typical 3646 Type D watches.

comp_test_minute_track_03

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Around serial number 7.521.000 the test track was slightly repositioned closer to the center of the movement.

comp_test_minute_track_04

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The next pictures shows the dial side of a Rolex 618 Type 4 compared to a historically corresponding Cortebert 616. These movement have neither a serial number nor a test track.

comp_test_minute_track_05

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Read more: Movements used in vintage Panerai watches

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Thoughts

To me this watch is very interesting, especially due to the way how the original brass dial was attached. I am not a big fan of brass dials myself so I can understand the owner for swapping the dial for a more elegant “California” dial. Ultimately this is how Rolex probably delivered the watches to G. Panerai e Figlio. As long as the replacement is openly communicated everything is fine.

This watch provides further strong clues that the brass dials were indeed produced by a third party without any involvement by Panerai, most certainly after Florence had been liberated in August 1944.

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Thanks for your interest!

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

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