Vintage Panerai 3646 duo at Christie’s

Christie’s in Geneva will be auctioning a couple of vintage Rolex “Panerai” 3646s with “Radiomir Panerai” dials on November 14, 2016. Since both watches are known for several years, they are quite well documented.

Update Nov 12, 2016
The assumption that Lot 99 (1010024, Xa. FLOTMAS No. 038) was possibly brought to America by a returning GI after WW2 was incorrect. I received the information from two reliable sources independently, that this watch was originally sold in Italy by the very same seller as Lot 209 (1010279).


Lot 99, Rolex “Panerai” Ref. 3646, 1010024, “Xa. FLOTMAS No. 038”

Lot 99 is an early Rolex “Panerai” 3646 with 7 digit pocket watch case number 1010024 (Type B) and “Radiomir Panerai” dial. This watch was made around 1941 and bears the important engravings “Xa. FLOTMAS No. 038” on the case back. It was most certainly used by the Italian Decima MAS “Arditi Incursori” (Daring Assaulters) during WW2, probably for the first successful attacks.

The first 3 series of Ref. 3646 (Type A, B and C) were produced within the pocket watch serials of Rolex. From Type D onwards Rolex switched to “Oyster” case numbers.

> Christie’s, Lot 99, Rolex 3646, case number 1010024

Estimated price CHF 60.000 – CHF 90.000 (USD 62.815 – USD 94.225)

Lot 99, Rolex “Panerai” 3646, case number 1010024 (Image: Christie’s)


Dial and hands

“FLOTMAS No. 038” has an early sandwich dial with “sexy” dark red arabic numerals and markers. The dial appears to sit slightly crooked but in this case it is only a minor issue.

Beauty shot of the dial with “sexy” dark red patina (Image: Chuck A)
Beautiful early sandwich dial (Image: Chuck A)


Early 3646s (and 2533s) were probably sent into action with rivet plastic dials with closed 6 and 9. This type of dial was very prone to deformation, for reasons that are unknown. Perhaps the warp was caused by exposure to the hot mediterranean sun, perhaps by the strong radioactive emissions of the “Radiomir” (Radium) luminous material. Whatever the cause, in some cases the warp was so severe that the hands were blocked from turning and thus compromising the functionality of the watch.

Since these early dial constructions were not satisfactory, G. Panerai e Figlio developed the classic sandwich dials, a rigid multi layer structure where the dangerous “Radiomir” was retained behind a transparent layer. The distinctive open 6 and 9, that gives “Panerai” watches their unmistakable look, were not just a design feature. This feature was essential and absolutely indispensable to achieve this type of construction.

Painted open 6 and 9 have been a design feature of Rolex dials since their very beginning. Open 6 and 9 were also used in date wheels until the mid 1980s. I would not be surprised if Rolex somehow gave the inspiration for the design of the sophisticated sandwich dials.

The arabic numerals and markers of “FLOTMAS No. 038” developed a “sexy” dark red patina. This is a typical characteristic of the first sandwich dials produced by G. Panerai e Figlio.

Sexy dark red patina (Image: Chuck A)


An almost perfect dial with only a minor flaw. There is some missing white filling colour in the E of Panerai. The engravings appear to be completely original.

Minor flaw in the E of Panerai (Image: Chuck A)


The “blued” steel hands have a nice colour gradient from dark blue to slight purple. Depending on the heat that was used to blue the hands in order to prevent them to rust, the colour may vary.

Blued hands with spectacular colour gradients (Image: Chuck A)



The case appears to be in a good condition for a watch that is almost 75 years old. The following picture also shows that the crown has obviously been replaced since April 2011, whehn the watch was offered online. The cylindrical crown (Oyster no. 13) was not original. This type of crown was meant as replacement for the “onion” crowns that, at some point after WW2 were no longer produced by Rolex.

“FLOTMAS No. 038” with cylindrical Oyster crown no. 13 (Image: Chuck A)


The leather strap is not original and appears to have been made by “Adeeos”. The buckle is aftermarket as well.

Profile view of the case


The watch has been re-fitted with what appears to be an original “onion” Oyster crown no. 11.

Current condition with “onion” Oyster crown no. 11 (Image: Christie’s)


Movement and case back

The movement matches the case number perfectly, at least from a visual point of view. It is in a very good condition for an almost 75 years old watch. The unit is a Rolex Cal. 618 Type 1a with “Rolex” engravings which follow the upper curved line of the train gear bridge. The movement serial number is unknown. It should be around 7512000.

A matching movement, Rolex 618 Type 1a


Read more about the movements used in vintage Panerai watches here.

The movement retaining ring with its distincitve “brass” colour matches the case number as well.

The inner case back with reduced “Oyster Watch Co” stamps is typical for Ref. 3646 Type B series. Type A and Type B watches (and also Ref. 2533) were produced under a parallel brand of Rolex SA. Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex, had created several parallel brands to increase his revenue and also due to the simple fact that the contract with Aegler in Biel prohibited him to sell watches with Aegler Rebberg movements in certain markets.

Reduced “Oyster Watch Co” stamps (Image: Chuck A)


The sought-after “Xa. FLOTMAS No. 038” engravings. It appears that someone tried to remove the markings at some point. What a silly idea… However, why would someone try to remove these engravings and then not finish the job properly?

Xa. FLOTMAS No. 038, Decima MAS matriculation number (Image: Chuck A)


This type of matriculation numbers were probably issued to the famous SLC units (Siluro a lenta corsa, human torpedos). I have no information about the provenance of this watch. It is possible that it was brought home by an American GI as a souvenir after WW2.

Update Nov 12, 2016
The assumption that Lot 99 (1010024, Xa. FLOTMAS No. 038) was possibly brought to America by a returning GI after WW2 was incorrect. I received the information from two reliable sources independently, that this watch was originally sold in Italy by the very same seller as Lot 209 (1010279).

> Original sales post from April 2011 with lots of images of the watch


Lot 209, Rolex “Panerai” Ref. 3646, 1010279

Lot 209 is a Rolex “Panerai” 3646 Type C from 1942/43 with 7 digit case number. This watch is a very familiar face as I examined the watch in all details back in March 2016, when it was for sale on Chrono24.

This watch has a “Radiomir Panerai” dial from the 1950s, a low bezel and a few other “modifications”. Some modifications are well documented, others not at all.

Read my article about 1010279 here.

or check out the lot on Christie’s:

> Christie’s, Lot 209, Rolex “Panerai” Ref. 3646, case number 1010279

Estimate CHF 50.000 – CHF 80.000 (USD 50.985 – USD 81.576)

Lot 209, Rolex “Panerai” 3646, casee number 1010279 (Image: Christie’s)



“FLOTMAS No. 038” is certainly a very special watch. It combines everything which makes a historical Panerai watch desiderable. A beautifully aged, early sandwich dial with dark red patina and a Decima MAS military matriculation number. To date, only 6 watches are known to have this type of engravings and only one watch that has a lower number. The rest of “FLOTMAS No. 038” is great too, everything is how it should be.

The second watch, 1010279, has a few issues. Not knowing when the major modifications were executed, such as dial and bezel replacement, makes it difficult to assess this watch. The original owner, a Spanish collector, acquired this watch in the old days of Panerai collecting along with several other vintage Panerai watches from the same Italian seller. Many watches from this specific seller turned out to have issues.

Thanks for your interest.


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