Vintage Panerai 3646 for “presentation” purposes

Officine Panerai presented two remakable Special Editions (PAM00685 and PAM00687) at this year’s SIHH 2017 in Geneva. Both watches feature a dodecagonal (12-sided) bezel with “OFFICINE PANERAI – BREVETTATO” engravings.

PAM00685 AND PAM00687
PAM 00685 and PAM 00687 (Image: Officine Panerai)

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According to Officine Panerai, the inspiration for these 2 watches came from a Ref. 3646 Type A produced in the late 1930s: “…one of the most sought-after historic Radiomir prototype watches supplied by Panerai in the late 1930s to the Royal Italian Navy”.

The watch Officine Panerai is referring to, has a case and movement from 1943, a dial and hands from the 1950s and a bezel that is nothing but a display caseback from the 1960s. Claims that this watch is a “prototype for presentation purposes from the late 1930s” are a fabricated myth.

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The historic reference for the PAM 00685 and 00687

On Instagram, apart from images of the two new references, Panerai also posted an image of the late 1930s prototype they are referring to.

I was just stupefied when I saw the picture of this “prototype”. After having undergone some serious scrutiny on Perezcope back in January 2016, this watch and its claim of being a “prototype for presentation purposes from the late 1930s” stands on very shaky grounds.

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3646 with dodecagonal bezel

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On Officine Panerai’s website the PAM00685 and PAM00687 are described as:

In the late 1930s, Panerai made a number of Radiomir watches with a special 12-sided bezel, engraved with the words “OFFICINE PANERAI – BREVETTATO”. This inscription referred to the patented luminous substance Radiomir used on the dial, and it suggests that the watches were used not for military operations but for presenting to the authorities of the Royal Italian Navy, which was evaluating new instruments for underwater missions. The Special Edition Radiomir 3 Days Acciaio reproduces all the fundamental characteristics of these vintage watches, respecting their identity and giving collectors the opportunity to appreciate a fascinating chapter in the Panerai story.

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The above “historic” watch with a deteriorated “tropical” Radiomir Panerai dial was assembled with parts from different time periods. Some of these parts, the dial and the display casebacks for instance, could have been extracted from the old Panerai premises at Piazza Galileo Ferraris in Florence during the late 1980s/early 1990s. Most components of the watch underwent a detailed inspection back in January 2016 but no evidence was found to support the “late 1930s prototype” claim.

Early 3646 have an asymmetric profile. This watch however, has most certainly the symmetric case of a late 3646 Type D or Type D (Nazi Kampfschwimmer) from 1944.

The movement (Cortebert serial number 7519321) with straight “Rolex” engravings is without a doubt from a 3646 Type D and the movement ring, another very inportant part, is from 1943 onwards.

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Rolex 618 Type 1b with serial number 7519321

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The comparisons below show the small differences between early Rolex 618 Type 1a from 1940 to 1942 and the Rolex 618 Type 1b from 1943/44. The “Rolex” engravings on early movements follow the upper curve (1) of the train gear bridge whereas on later movement the engravings are completely straight (2).

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Another difference is the shape of the letter A (3) in “FAB. SUISSE”. On early movements, both stems of the letter A form a pointy apex. On later units, the stems are connected by a horizontal bar. Kerning and font size are clearly bigger on later movements.

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Read more: All movements used in vintage Panerai watches

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The deterioration of the dial cannot deflect from the fact that it was made in the 1950s. Post WW2 dials have a noticeably different construction. The “double-pencil” hands are from the 1950s as well and belong to a Ref. 6152/1.

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The most obvious indication though, that this watch cannot be from 1938, is the dodecagonal bezel/caseback with “OFFICINE PANERAI – BREVETTATO” inscriptions. G. Panerai e Figlio started only in the mid 1950s to use the word combination”OFFICINE PANERAI – BREVETTATO” and display casebacks were only introduced in the late 1950s/early 1960s, when Panerai started to work with Angelus Cal. 240 movements.

This particular watch was presented as “3646 Type A for demonstration purposes from 1938” in Ehlers & Wiegmann’s book “Vintage Panerai – The References” from 2009. This assessment however, was not based on a properly conducted research. It was merely a repetition of old myths. The current owner bought this watch, along with several other watches that were also showcased in “Vintage Panerai – The References”, from the authors of the book.

A watch with very similar “tropical” 1950s dial and 6152/1 hands was auctioned in April 1995 by Antiquorum in Geneva. Case and crown are completely different though.

Rolex, Officine Panerai Firenze, “Radiomir”, Ref. 3646, unique example produced for a special exhibition in 1938, for the Italian Navy Commandos.

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Antiquorum Lot 18, Geneva, April 22, 1995

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There is another 3646 with dodecagonal bezel and “California” dial that was assembled with parts from different time periods. This watch is the only “prototype for presentation purposes from 1938” with a closed caseback and serial number (case number 1009498, 3646 Type A).

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“Prototype 1938” (Image: Antiquorum 2013)

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One glimpse at the soldering around the crown tube however, is enough to understand that the middle case is not from a 3646 Type A.

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Comparison soldering around the crown tube

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The movement of this watch is quite peculiar. It is fitted with Cortebert Cal. 616 bridges instead of usual Cortebert Cal. 618 bridges. Cortebert 616 and Cortebert 618 are basically the same caliber, the only difference is the bridge design. The bridges are completely interchangeable. Most movement manufacturers like Cortebert designed their calibers with up to 4 different bridge designs in order to offer individual solutions. However, this type of bridges is very uncommon for vintage “Panerai” watches and I am not really convinced that the “Rolex” engravings are original.

In the early days of vintage Panerai collecting, this movement was believed to be the earliest version ever used in “Panerai” watches. The bridges, however, have very specific Côtes de Gèneve (Geneva Stripes), which were only introduced after 1956. Only the balance cock (AR/FS) is from a pre WW2 movement. The movement ring of this watch is from 1943 onwards.

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Comparison Côtes de Geneve

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In my opinion, this particular watch was fitted with an early 3646 caseback (case number 1009498, 3646 Type A) and a peculiar movement with the sole intention to trick people into believing the watch is an early prototype for presentation purposes from 1938.

For aficionados of the brand it is certainly difficult to understand how a brand like Officine Panerai, who is so deeply rooted in its “own” past can make such mistakes in assessing its history.

It appears that Officine Panerai does not really care whether the stories that were passed on when Cartier/Vendôme bought the brand name and the remaining stock of the original Panerai company in 1997, are true or not. If needed they simply reinvent their history, as seen with the “1940” case. Rolex developed this case only in 1953.

However, in Officine Panerai’s defense it needs to be said that the history of the original company lies literally in the dark, partly because plenty of information was lost and partly due to fabricated myths created by clever sellers in the past.

When Panerai started to get hot for collectors, there was almost no information available, besides an Italian brand name on the dials and Rolex signatures on casebacks and movements. These watches were known as “Military Rolex”. Hence, this vacuum created a fertile soil for all kinds of legends and myths.

G. Panerai e Figlio was a supplier of military equipment to the Italian Navy and accordingly, most projects were highly confidential. After Mr. Giuseppe Panerai passed away on February 7, 1972, the company was taken over by Dino Zei, a former Italian Navy Officer. The company’s name was changed to Officine Panerai S.r.l. and later in 1984 to Officine Panerai S.p.A.

In October 1993, when the company changed premises in order to bring the whole staff under one roof, lots of old documents were simply disposed of. Not the devastating flood of 1966, as another myth wants us to believe, was responsible for the loss of so many puzzle pieces but a simple reallocation of the company.

The flood of 1966 never reached the Piazza Galileo Ferraris, where G. Panerai e Figlio was located in three different buildings. Only the watch shop “Orologeria Svizzera” at Piazza San Giovanni near the Duomo was partly flooded but the water levels within that area never went over 1,5 meters.

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Old Panerai premises at Piazza Galileo Ferraris in Florence. (1) Panerai Mansion, (2) Technnical department, (3) Workshops

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However, it is quite interesting that Officine Panerai refers to above mentioned watch when, as a matter of fact, they have a very similar 3646 with dodecagonal bezel in their own Museum, the Archivio Storico Panerai (Historic Panerai Archive). Perhaps they chose to refer to the other watch because of the more desiderable “tropical” dial in order to offer the PAM 00687 with the “airbrushed” dial.

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3646 with dodecagonal (12-sided) bezel from the Archivio Storico Panerai (Image: Officine Panerai)

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The above watch was part of the vintage lot consisting of watches, depth gauges and compasses that was passed on to Cartier/Vendôme in 1997 by Officine Panerai S.p.A. after the take over of the “Officine Panerai” brand name.

A total of six vintage Panerai watches were handed over to Cartier/Vendôme:

  • 3646 “Radiomir Panerai” modified with dodecagonal bezel, display case back, Angelus style hands and 1950s dial (1944/1960s)
  • 3646 “California” Type F or G modified with display case back (1944/1960s)
  • 3646 “Transitional” Marina Militare Luminor Panerai with Angelus 240 (1960s)
  • GPF 2/56 “Luminor Panerai” with Angelus 240 (1956 – 1960)
  • 6152 1 “Luminor Panerai” with Angelus 240 and number “74” on the strap (1960s)
  • Mille Metri Titanium Prototype (1985)

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These watches had been kept under lock and key in an exhibition room at Officine Panerai S.p.A. and were therefore unreachable for the individuals who extracted parts in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

On the inventory list of the previous Panerai company, the 3646 with dodecagonal bezel was simply described as “Orologio Radiomir storico – Anni 40” (Historic Radiomir Watch – 1940s). This is of course only true to a certain extent but we need to understand that lots of information was lost with Mr. Giuseppe Panerai’s passing.

Whoever pieced the watch together Officine Panerai is referering to, must have seen the 3646 with the dodecagonal bezel in the exhibition room. Unaware of its true history, this individual simply made up the story that these watches were early presentation prototypes from 1938.

Here is an extract from a 1999 Antiquorum auction:

Some illustrations of designs made by Panerai, are dated 30 October 1938, and show a waterproof case containing an ordinary watch. That same year, according to a famous collector of military watches, another prototype was produced, but for presentation only; it featured a dodecagonal bezel with the inscription “Officine Panerai Brevettato ” and a transparent hack showing the movement.

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We know today that the first Ref. 3646 watches were delivered much later, in April 1940. For some reasons, this information has not yet been acknowledged by Officine Panerai.

The reason for this can probably be found in the recent history of the brand. Officine Panerai, the modern Richemont Group construct, is a relatively new company and exists only since 1997 (Hublot exists since 1980). With the acquisition of the company name “Officine Panerai” in 1997, this group also took over all kinds of fabricated myths and persistently stick to them ever since. It is worth mentioning that this new company has no ties to the original company or to the Panerai family. 

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The 3646 with dodecagonal bezel in the Panerai Museum

The watch with the dodecagonal bezel (12-sided) in the Archivio Storico Panerai is a very important piece of the puzzle. Having been sitting for decades in a display in the exhibition room of the old Panerai company gives this watch an undisputable legitimation.

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During the research for this article, I came across an almost identical watch on Instagram. The owner, a true gentleman and watch enthusiast, was willing to share all the information about it. According to the documentation that came with the watch, the very first owner was Mr. Valerio Verga, a reputable watch dealer (Rolex, Patek Philippe, Officine Panerai) from Milan in Italy. Mr. Verga bought this watch directly from Panerai in the late 1970s.

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Panerai 3646 Type F/G with dodecagonal bezel

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Coming from such a reputable source gives this watch an undisputable credibility. Let’s call this watch simply “Verga 3646”.

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Case

As we can see on the following picture, the middle case has a thickness of only 5,4 mm. The crown tube was soldered to the middle case in a very distinctive way (flat collar). Both are typical features of Type F or G watches from 1944.

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Movement

The movement belongs to a series of unbranded Cortebert Cal. 618 units that were produced in 1944 on special request of Rolex. The “ROLEX” engravings were added at a later date. This becomes evident by comparing the red “17 RUBIS, FAB. SUISSE” engravings with the golden Rolex inscription. Movement bridges were made of brass and later plated. The gold colour is actually just the brass shining through the plating. Furthermore, this movement is in pristine condition, probably NOS (New Old Stock).

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Dodecagonal bezel

The dogecagonal “bezel” with OFFICINE PANERAI – BREVETTATO (Panerai Workshops Patented) engravings appears to be a display case back that was installed instead of the common bezel. This type of display caseback was developed in the 1960s when Mr. Giuseppe Panerai began to experiment with acrylic glass in order to make technology visible for demonstration purposes, especially with the introduction of the Angelus Cal. 240 in Ref. 6152/1.

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The following picture shows a Panerai torch GPF Mod. Dep. 3002 (Panerai patent 563039, Nov. 14, 1956) with an almost identical “Officine Panerai Brevettato” inscription. This was probably the first time G. Panerai e Figlio used the inscription OFFICINE PANERAI – BREVETTATO in this way.

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On the right: Panerai torch GPF Mod. Dep. 3002 (Patent no. 563039, Nov. 14, 1956)

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Caseback

The “Verga 3646” has a peculiar caseback. It is the “conical” version that is common for Ref. 3646 watches that were updated with Angelus Cal. 240 movements. This specific caseback is a clear indication that this watch was probably assembled in the late 1950s/1960s.

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2 kinds of display casebacks exist for Ref. 3646. The regular flat version was obtained by milling off the center area of the original Rolex casebacks. Crucial information was lost in this process but the height of the middle case still gives us a clue about the specific 3646 type. On the “Verga 3646” this caseback was “misused” as bezel.

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The other kind of display caseback was considerably higher and had a conical shape. These casebacks had to be produced to fit the thicker Angelus Cal. 240 movements into the slim Type F/G cases of Ref. 3646. More on this later.

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Dial and hands

The RADIOMIR PANERAI dial of this watch has all characteristics of dials that were produced in the 1950s. Note that the colour is only slightly faded, probably due to exposure to light.

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Typical 1950s dial

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The following comparison shows that the numeral at 3 is almost identical to the same numeral on a 6152 dial from 1953. The lume is located directly underneath the aluminium disc.

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“Verga 3646” dial vs. 1950s dial

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The next picture shows a comparison between a 1940s dial and a 1950s dial. On the 1940s dial the lume is noticeably further away, behind a plastic layer.

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1940s dial vs. 1950s dial

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G. Panerai e Figlio changed the inner construction of aluminium sandwich dials in the post war period. As a result the dials became considerably slimmer and had a lesser depth effect because the lume was applied directly underneath the perforated aluminium disc.

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Construction 1940s dial vs. 1950s dial

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Another detail to take into account are the “Angelus” style “single pencil” hands which were introduced with the usage of the Angelus 240 movements in the late 1950s for the GPF 2/56 and in the early 1960s for modified 3646 and 6152 1. The original heat blued “double pencil” hands were probably already rusty and had to be replaced.

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Typical 1950s Radiomir dial with Angelus style hands

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The 3646 with dodecagonal bezel in the Archivio Storico Panerai is very similar to the “Verga 3646” and has the very same “flat” soldering around the crown tube. This detail is a clear indication that the case is from one of the last batches delivered in 1944.

The RADIOMIR PANERAI dial of the watch in the Panerai Museum has also all characteristics of a 1950s dial. The Angelus style hands are the same like on the “Verga 3646”.

On a side note, Officine Panerai used this type of hands for the PAM21 (SE 1997) and PAM232 (SE 2006). Since the 3646 with the dodecagonal bezel had such hands, they assumed these were correct for “Radiomir” watches with RADIOMIR PANERAI dial.

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Panerai PAM21, 1st Special Edition from 1997

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Panerai once released a Panerai Museum Guide with detailed information of each vintage piece in their museum. For some reason, the watch with dodecagonal bezel is not mentioned at all. So far, nobody outside Officine Panerai has ever seen the caseback or the movement of this watch. I would not be surprised if the watch had the same pristine movement as the “Verga 3646” in combination with the “conical” case back.

Let’s recap the most important features of these watches:

  • Case set 1944
  • Movement 1944
  • Dial 1950s
  • Angelus style hands late 1950s/early 1960s
  • Dodecagonal bezel and caseback 1960s

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Still convinced these watches are early presentation prototypes from the late 1930s, as claimed by Officine Panerai and other “experts”?

Rolex delivered this type of watches without any Rolex markings, neither the cases nor the dials (California) nor the movements were branded. New findings suggest that the Rolex stamps on the case backs have been removed. The reason for this peculiarity could not been determined yet, but considering that after September 1943 most of the late 3646 batches ended up on the wrists of Nazi Kriegsmarine and SS Kampfschwimmer, it would make perfect sense that Rolex, a company that was deeply rooted in Great Britain since its beginnings, tried to avoid being “identified” as a supplier to Nazi Germany.

Ref. 3646 was the first professional diving watch ever created. The watches were made by Rolex (case: C.R.Spillmann, movement: Cortebert) based on the very same construction as the first Rolex Oyster watches from 1925.

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World War 2

To shed further light on these two watches we have to go back to events following the Allied bombings of Rome and the Allied invasion of Sicily during WW2 in July 1943. As a result and in a vain attempt to extricate Italy from the war, Benito Mussolini, the fascist Dictator of Italy and ally to Nazi Germany, was toppled from power and imprisoned on July 24, 1943. Immediately after Mussolini’s fall, several Nazi divisions entered Italy and swiftly occupied large parts of the country. Italy signed an armistice with the Allies on September 3, 1943 and later declared war to Nazi Germany.

The Italian landscape, consisting of hills and mountains was ideally suited for defense and it took the Allies several months to break through the “Gustav Line”, a heavily fortified Nazi defensive line south of Rome.

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Nazi defensive lines during WW2

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On August 11, 1944, more than a year after the successful landing in Sicily, Florence was finally liberated from the Nazi tyranny by the British 8th Army.

In an attempt to slow down the Allied advancing, the Nazis had destroyed all historical bridges over the Arno, except for the Ponte Vecchio.

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Destroyed Ponte Santa Trinita with still standing Ponte Vecchio in the back

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Before their retreat from Florence, the Nazis looted the whole region and murdered several freedom fighters and political opponents publicly in the streets and squares of the city. The Nazis also paid G. Panerai e Figlio a visit and confiscated everything that appeared to be useful. According to “Panerai – Una storia Italiana”, a book by Loris Pasetto and Luciano Cipullo, the Nazis seized all the machinery and useful material from the workshops. One can imagine that G. Panerai e Figlio was literally out of business after this episode.

Many decades later, during the 1990s, around 30 NOS (New Old Stock) 3646 and a vast number of “California” and unfinished brass dials were discovered at the premises of Arturo Junghans S.A., a watch factory on the island of La Giudecca in Venice. The old factory buildings were about to be converted into residences. It is said that all 30 3646 had “California” dials and were still in their cardboard boxes when they were found. These watches were in the same condition as they had left Geneva in 1944.

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Arturo Junghans S.A. on the island of La Giudecca in Venice, 1943

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Large parts of northern Italy remained under the control of the Nazis after their retreat from Florence. It can be assumed that all the seized material from G. Panerai e Figlio was shipped to Arturo Junghans S.A. in order to keep the urgently needed supply for water resistant watches flowing. In an act of desperation, hundreds of Nazi Kampfschwimmer had been deployed to slow down the relentless Allied advancing closing in from west and east towards Berlin.

* The “California” dial was a signature design by Rolex and was patented under No. CH221643 as “Cadran de piece d’horlogerie” (Watch dial) in July 15, 1942.

**Arturo Junghans S.A. in Venice was originally founded in 1878 by the Fratelli Herion (Herion brothers). Mr. Arthur Junghans, the founder of the Uhrenfabrik Junghans in Schramberg, Germany, became a partner in 1899 and only a few years later in 1903 the company had factories in 8 different locations and was considered to be the largest watch factory in the world. The daily watch production in 1920 of the Venice branch was of 1500 watches. After the occupation of Italy by the Nazis in 1943 the factory became a producer of military fuses.

Read more about Panerai and the Nazis here

What does this summary of the Italian campaign during WW2 have to do with the 3646 with dodecagonal bezel in the Archivio Storico Panerai? Well, since both “original” 3646 with dodecagonal bezel are based on Type F or G from the very last batch of 1944 it becomes obvious that the Nazis did not seize all watches. Around 40 examples or so remained in Florence.

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Post war period

The peace treaty of Paris, signed in August 1947, prohibited Italy to build new underwater assault groups. Facing a new international threat with the change of the geopolitical situation caused by the rise of the Soviet Eastern Bloc, Italy became a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1949. In order to actively contribute in the organization, the Paris peace treaty restrictions were definitely abolished by the end of 1951. In consequence, Italy “officially” started to rebuild its underwater aussalt groups named “Gruppo Arditi Incursori” that later became COMSUBIN (Comando Subacquei e Incursori).

G. Panerai e Figlio, who had been producing lathes and other machinery since the end of the war, was approached by the new formed Italian Navy (Marina Militare) for the supply of new water resistant watches and instruments.

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G. Panerai e Figlio lathe from the early 1950s

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The case construction of Ref. 3646 was completely outdated and the soldered wire lugs had proven to be weak and an unnecessary complication when it came to changing straps.

Given that G. Panerai e Figlio still had no expertise in manufacturing watches, it was a logical step for Mr. Giuseppe Panerai to once again ask Rolex to develop watches for the Navy.

Ref. 6152 was the first development in 1953 and only a small number of watches were produced, probably for “testing waters”. The case had a similar cushion design like Ref. 3646 but it was based on a new generation of Rolex Oyster cases with lugs that were made from the same block of steel.

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Ref. 6152 from 1953

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It can be assumed that this watch was entirely designed by Rolex. The case back of Ref. 6152 bears the unequivocal stamps REGISTERED DESIGN – MODELE DEPOSE on the outside.

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Caseback of a Ref. 6152 with REGISTERED DESIGN – MODELLE DEPOSE inscription (Image: Panerai – Una storia Italiana)

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The 6152 is what Officine Panerai nowadays refers to as “Radiomir 1940”. In reality it has absolutely nothing to do with the 1940s since it was developed by Rolex in 1953.

G. Panerai e Figlio was once again responsible for the highly visible dial with strong luminosity for murky harbour waters on the basis of RADIOMIR, just like in the pre WW2 period. Panerai tried to simplify the production of these dials by changing the inner construction slightly and as a result, the dials became considerably slimmer.

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Construction 1940s dial vs. 1950s dial

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Ref. 6152 with an overall height of 17mm was probably not completely satisfactory and Rolex was asked to redesign the watch considerably slimmer. The new watch turned out to be very elegant and streamlined. But it appears that this new Reference did not perform as expected and the decision was made to develop a new Reference on the basis of Ref. 6152 but without the elegant crease around the case nor the recess for the crown. Although these kind of adornments surely look nice, the have only little functionality in a military watch. In the following large order of 500 pieces of Ref. 6152 1, the lack of such adornments surely also resulted in considerably lower production costs.

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The Suez Canal Crisis

Italy had been secretly supporting Egypt’s efforts to establish underwater assault groups since 1948. In 1955 G. Panerai e Figlio was approached by the Egyptian Navy for the acquisition of underwater instruments and watches. The Italian Navy High Command had approved a request by the Egyptian Navy and direct talks with Panerai, who was an exclusive supplier to the Italian Navy, were allowed.

Rising tensions between Egypt and Great Britain, a colonial power in decline, were at a dangerous level. Facing a possible attack by Great Britain and also to gain influence in the region, Egypt decided to purchase a large amount of arms from the Soviet Union. As a further provocation, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and closed the Straits of Tiran for Israeli ships. The situation escalated rapidly to what would become the Suez Crisis, culminating in the invasion of Egypt by the UK, France and Israel.

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During the battle for the Suez canal the Egyptians sank ships to create a blockade

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This situation was a great business opportunity for Mr. Giuseppe Panerai and his company G. Panerai e Figlio. The contract with Rolex gave Panerai exclusive rights for Ref. 6152 and Ref. 6154 but forbid G. Panerai e Figlio to sell watches to anyone else than the Italian Navy. It can be assumed that the GPF 2/56 (2/56 = 2nd project in 1956) project was probably initiated due to this fact.

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GPF 2/56 (Image: Christie’s)

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Enthusiasts of the brand may have wondered why the design of the GPF 2/56 is so completely different than Ref. 3646, 6152, 6154 or 6152 1. The reason for this is pretty simple, the exclusivity agreement with Rolex was only valid for 15 years and the intellectual property for the watch design of the previous watch and all patents remained with Rolex.

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GPF 2/56 (Image: Artcurial)

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The idea for the crown-protecting device was developed during the design process of the GPF 2/56, where it was homogeneously attached onto the case. The story that the crown-protecting device was developed during the 1940s and only patented in 1956 for secrecy reasons is another myth.

An interesting episode during the Suez Crisis is that the Italian Arditi Incursori (daring aussault swimmers) had been secretly deployed under the commando of the British SAS for reconnaissance and targeting missions around the Suez Canal. The Italian assault swimmers operated mostly during the night and helped the British locate frequently changing Egyptian artillery positions.

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The late 1950s/early 1960s

In the late 1950s/early 1960s, Mr. Giuseppe Panerai began to experiment with the “slim” NOS (New Old Stock) 3646 leftovers from WW2. The wire lugs, which had proven to be the weakest point on the 3646, were removed and solid lugs were welded to the case instead. The cases were then sandblasted to achieve a matte surface. The outdated Cortebert Cal. 618 were replaced with Angelus 240 8-days power reserve units.

170109_panerai_3646_welded_lugs_dial
Photographic plate Panerai archive: Modified 3646 from the late 1950s/early 1960s

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The original “flat” casebacks had probably been modified beforehand but due to the thickness of Angelus 240 (6,3mm vs 4,95mm) and even though the central area had been removed, the new movement would not fit properly. The slim 3646 middle case had been reduced by Rolex to the minimum possible height of only 5,4 mm. The axis of the Angelus 240 stem is vertically not centered unlike on most movements and so a larger part of the movement needed to fit in the caseback.

170109_panerai_3646_welded_lugs_profile
Profile of a modified 3646 with welded lugs and Angelus 240 movement

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The Angelus 240 caliber is a pillar construction and therefore very sensitive to vertical pressure. The slightest amount of pressure on the bridges can cause the movement to stop.

The following drawing is a cross section through a standard 3646 Type F/G with Cortebert Cal. 618 from 1944.

170117_cross_section_3646_fg_cortebert

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Fitting an Angelus Cal. 240 with the corresponding movement ring did not work, as there was not enough clearance for the dial. In addition, the standard caseback cannot be clamped against the middle case.

170117_cross_section_3646_fg_angelus_standard

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An Angelus Cal. 240 could only be installed in combination with a high bezel and a high caseback. G. Panerai e Figlio solved the clearance problem by developing a new type of caseback with “conical” shape. As a result, the overall height of the watch was around 16,5 mm compared to the original 11,5 mm of the standard Rolex watch.

170117_cross_section_3646_fg_angelus_conical

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It can be assumed that around 30 of these watches were built. They were probably intended as gifts for Italian navy officers and as awards for former Decima MAS members. They are known as “Transitional 3646” but the term “transitional” is misleading. These watches do not represent a transition in the traditional way. The first reference with solid lugs from the same block of steel as the case, Ref. 6152, was delivered by Rolex already in 1953.

It was probably during this process that someone at G. Panerai e Figlio, having several parts lying around, screwed one of those already modified “flat” casebacks instead of the regular bezel on a 3646. The case construction of Ref. 3646 makes it possible to easily play around with such parts.

The watch got a different look instantly and it is likely that Giuseppe Panerai decided to make a few of them for sale to increase the revenue of the company. After almost two decades in storage, the original “California” dials made by Rolex were no longer luminous and the blued hands had probably already started to rust. In order to offer these watches in pristine condition, Panerai installed contemporary RADIOMIR PANERAI dials and new Angelus style hands.

Panerai introduced tritium-based LUMINOR dials around 1960. It can therefore be assumed that the 3646 with dodecagonal bezel were modified before the introduction of the new and less dangerous LUMINOR dials.

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Thoughts

The 3646 with dodecagonal bezel, at least the 2 examples I consider to be originally assembled by G. Panerai e Figlio, were made in the late 1950s/early 1960s with leftovers from WW2 and updated with new dials and hands.

The watch Officine Panerai is referring to for promotion of the PAM 00685 and the PAM 00687 is noticeably different than the watch in the Panerai Museum or the “Verga 3646”.

However, the point here is not whether this particular watch was originally assembled by G. Panerai e Figlio or not, but rather whether the 3646 watches with dodecagonal bezel are early presentation prototypes from the late 1930s, as claimed by Officine Panerai. Obviously they are not.

The true story behind these watches is so much more exciting than the fabricated one. Officine Panerai could put more effort into researching the history of the original company instead of repeating the same old stories over and over again.

To conclude, I would like to quote parts of the foreword in Giampiero Negretti’s “Panerai Historia – From the depths of the sea” from 1999, an official Officine Panerai publication:

“The truth of history is the starting point for testing the originality, authenticity and identity of a work of human ingenuity, whether it be large or small.

In the world of today, with its invented and even imaginary histories that go beyond customary limits and values, it is only proper that Officine Panerai should, for the first time tell the true story of its craftmen and specialists in the field of time.”

Thanks for your interest.

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