As this year’s auction season is quickly approaching, the story you are about to read will definitely put you in the right mind set for the upcoming sales. This story combines all hallmarks that make a great crime thriller novel and here is why: A vintage Panerai Ref. 6154 sold in October 2013 by the renowned auction house Sotheby’s turned out to be completely made up. All bits, except for the case and the crown are fake. And the best part is, the original 6154 case was possibly stolen from a renowned Italian vintage Panerai dealer.
Sotheby’s auction in October 2013
On October 8, 2013, Sotheby’s offered a vintage Panerai Ref. 6154 during their Hong Kong autumn sales that was unlike any other 6154.
Direct link: Sotheby’s Lot 2185 Rolex/Panerai
“A very rare stainless steel cushion-form military diver’s wristwatch Ref. 6154 RADIOMIR made for the Egyptian Navy in 1954 with a later Ref. 6152/1 caseback.”
The above picture with a dial close-up in the background was the only available photo. This watch clearly stands out from the rest of the known 6154s. All watches of Ref. 6154 have heavily faded dials whereas this example seems to have a black dial. The keen eye will also catch the odd hands. They look like they were custom made.
Read more: All 6154s at a glance
The footnote in Sotheby’s description mentioned this watch had some inconsistencies due to its nature as a military tool:
“As is commonplace with military watches, the present lot has been fitted, presumably during a routine service, with a non-standard, although similarly rare, Panerai Ref.6152/1 caseback, replacement brass hands and a Panerai Ref.6152 dial.”
I still remember registering this 6154 in my database. It felt somehow odd as it wasn’t what I expected from a 6154. In addition, the watch had fetched only HKD 575,000 (around USD 75,000), a very low price for a 6154. In comparison, a 6154 with case number 997603 sold at Christie’s one year earlier had fetched USD 326,500.
The watch resurfaces
In June 2017, a vintage watch dealer from Singapore posted a picture of this watch on his Instagram account as the watch was for sale. I recognized the dial right away due to its peculiar inscriptions. What amazed me most about this new picture was that the dial appeared to have a bluish tint to it.
An interesting observation is that the hands had been replaced in the meantime with another set of custom made hands. These new hands are slightly better than the ones depicted on the Sotheby’s image but they still look odd.
At that time, I had just finished writing an article about two mysteriously bluish tinted vintage Panerai dials. Both watches belonged to the same collector. The results of my research indicated that the blue dials were most certainly counterfeits. However, I had to hold back the article as the owner of the watches didn’t feel confortable with having his watches exposed.
The Singaporean vintage watch dealer communicates mostly via Facebook and a visit of his FB page revealed further pictures of the 6154 in question, including pictures of the movement and caseback. I already had mixed feelings due to the bluish tinted dial but when I saw the movement everything was crystal clear.
The movement is an altered Rolex pocket watch movement, a thin caliber 622 from the 1930s. Someone had removed the original engravings only to reapply new engravings to make it look like a Rolex 618 Type 4 from Ref. 6152/1.
The fact this was a thin movement from a pocket watch became evident by looking at the altered movement retaining ring. The casing screws are recessed, whereas the casing screws of genuine Rolex 618s sit on top of the ring. Recessed casing screws are a clear indication that the installed movement is thinner than usual.
The engravings look nothing like the ones on an original Rolex 618 Type 4. Also, the Côtes de Genève are wrong. Original movements only have three stripes of real Geneva Stripes. The area between the stripes has a brushed finish.
After this revelation, I contacted the dealer to inform him that the dial was most certainly fake and that the movement was an altered pocket watch movement from the 1930s. Without any hesitation, the dealer offered to take the watch apart and make close-ups of each part. He told me the watch belonged to a Hong Kong dealer/collector and he was selling it in commission.
Let’s have a closer look at the parts.
Let’s have a look at the dial first. According to Sotheby’s description from October 2013, the original dial of this watch was replaced with a Ref. 6152 dial.
“As is commonplace with military watches, the present lot has been fitted, presumably during a routine service, with a non-standard, although similarly rare, Panerai Ref.6152/1 caseback, replacement brass hands and a Panerai Ref.6152 dial.“
Let’s examine if this is the same dial that was found in the 2013 Sotheby’s auction.
The following comparison between the 6154 offered in Singapore (left) and the watch offered by Sotheby’s in October 2013 leaves little doubt. It is indeed the very same dial and I believe it is a counterfeit, a so-called Rinaldi dial, as the quality is nowhere near an original vintage Panerai dial.
Let’s compare this dial to a proper 6152 Radiomir dial as found in a 6152 with case number 958687. The numerals and markers of the Sotheby’s watch (left) are considerably thinner. The engravings are off-center and crooked compared to a proper 6152 dial. The lume is awkwardly uniform without any trace of the usual crackles.
In addition, the cut-out of the number 2 in the numeral at 12 is misaligned. The comparison below shows another bluish tinted dial with the very same issue. This dial proved to have been a replacement for the original dial of a 6152 with case number 956636.
This very same bluish tinted dial was installed in a 3646 sold by Antiquorum in June 1998. It found its way into the mentioned 6152 with case number 956636 after this auction. The picture below is from the June 1998 Antiquorum catalogue. The watch in the center is the 3646 with the blue dial. The watch left from it with the number 132 on the strap is a 6154 and is still part of the Rinaldi collection today.
After months of extensive research, I was finally able to find the original dial of the 6152 with case number 956636 in oder to restore the watch to its original condition and the owner agreed to publish the article.
Let’s have a closer look at the letters on the dial. Typically, the last R in RADIOMIR is slightly shorter on original Panerai dials (b). As you can see, whoever engraved the bluish tinted dial was not aware of this tiny detail and used the same letter (a) for all Rs.
I found several anonymous Kampfschwimmer dials that were engraved with RADIOMIR, LUMINOR or MARINA MILITARE and they all feature the same mistake. Most of these dials were probably engraved by Rinaldi.
Read more: Manipulated vintage Panerai dials
A picture of the movement dial side showing the serial number 6807511 confirmed what I thought about the movement.
The serial number 6807511 identifies this movement as a Rolex 622 from a 1930s Rolex pocket watch movement.
The following picture shows the altered bridges with reapplied engravings and Côtes de Genève. See the Cort stamp underneath the balance wheel? That stamp is not original as well. Cortebert introduced this stamp in the 1950s.
Let’s compare this movement with a proper Rolex 618 Type from a 6152/1. The engravings (1) are very thick and executed with the wrong font. The Côtes de Genève (2) are very strange compared to the original movement. The Rolex 618 Type 4 was equipped with an Incabloc shock protection (3) and a Glucydir balance wheel whereas the old 622 from the 1930s had just a cap stone and a monometallic balance wheel.
Furthermore, the old movements had ratchet and crown wheels with a beautiful “Swirl” finish (4) while the “modern” Rolex 618 Type 4 had wheels with very simple adornments. Another important detail are the recessed casing screws (5) on the altered movement retaining ring. The movement ring had to be modified to be able to fix the thinner movement.
The following comparison is an example of how the casing screws need to be recessed in combination with a thinner pocket watch movement. The movement ring on the left was altered in order to fix the movement properly.
A proper Rolex 618 Type 4 from a 6152/1 has no serial number. Cortebert ceased to apply serial numbers on their movement by the end of WW2. Earlier Rolex 618s had serial numbers between 7,500,000 and 7,530,000, a completely different range than Cal. 622.
Bridge view of the Rolex 618 Type 4.
The following picture shows the difference in height between Cal. 618 (4.95 mm) and Cal. 622 (3.65 mm).
The photo below shows how the Sotheby’s movement probably appeared before the bridge engravings were removed.
The serial number of this movement is less than 1000 numbers away.
As mentioned in the Sotheby’s description from 2013, the caseback of this watch is from a 6152/1.
“A very rare stainless steel cushion-form military diver’s wristwatch Ref. 6154 RADIOMIR made for the Egyptian Navy in 1954 with a later Ref. 6152/1 caseback.“
The watch also includes an original lead gasket and the antimagnetic dust cover.
Case and Crown
The case of this watch is without a doubt an original 6154 case. The slim profile and crease that goes around the case are quite obvious. The crown of this watch is a typical Rolex Big Crown from the 1950s. Rolex used this type of crown for the first time for the Submariner Ref. 6200 and later Ref. 6538/5510.
A picture of the empty case set.
This is where things becomes very interesting! An extremely peculiar detail of this watch is that someone applied the Ref. 6152/1 case number 124520 between the lugs. Ref. 6154 from 1954 is in a different case number range than Ref. 6152/1 from 1955/56. Ref. 6154 has no case number between the lugs. Due to the thinness of the case, the case number was only applied on the caseback (outside/inside).
Why would someone apply a 6152/1 case number to a 6154 case? This is indeed a very good question and a possible explanation could be that the case was stolen and someone tried to disguise this 6154 as a 6152/1.
However, after seeing all this a legitimate question arises: How on earth could a watch like this pass Sotheby’s quality check in 2013? And where were the established “experts” when this watch was sold to an Asian collector?
A Stolen Case
In 2015, I started publishing the results of my vintage Panerai research on Paneristi.com. One of my posts caused serious trouble with some senior members of the forum, which ultimatelly led to my banishment from Paneristi.com. I presented indisputable evidence that one of the most famous Panerai 6154 models was equipped with an incorrect pocket watch movement and that the watch had received a replacement dial. The watch belonged to no other than Ralf Ehlers, the famous German co-author of the famous Vintage Panerai books.
During the heated discussion, Francesco Ferretti, a famous vintage Panerai dealer, stepped forward to clarify. Beside explaining why he replaced the dial, Ferretti made some very interesting additional statements.
In 2002, Ferretti had sent a naked 6154 case including the plexi crystal to his machinist. The bezel of that 6154 was broken and had to be remanuafactured. But for some reason, the machinist lost the case and the crystal.
“Nel Novembre 2003 ho venduto il 6154 ad uno Spagnolo che te ben conosci. A questo orologio avevo cambiato il quadrante e le lancette con quelle di un altro 6154 che aveva la ghiera superiore rotta, io avevo dato la cassa ad un mio amico tornitore che, non solo non ha fatto la ghiera ma mi ho perso la cassa ed il vetro.”
.(Translation: In November 2003, I sold the 6154 to a Spaniard. I had replaced the dial and the hands of this watch with those from another 6154 that had a broken bezel. I gave the case and the crystal to a friend of mine who was a machinist. He not only did not make the bezel but he also lost the case and the crystal.)
“Parlando del 6154 vi spiego la storia: Nell’anno 2002 ho dato la cassa con il vetro ad un mio amico tornitore che doveva rifarmi l’anello ferma vetro,ma purtroppo mi ha perso la cassa ed il vetro. Mi rimaneva il quadrante con lancette, il back e la meccanica che ora sono esposti nel mio museo eccetto il quadrante che lo cambiai con quello del 583 perché era più bello e perché quello che c’era montato aveva un piedino rotto.”
(Traslation: Speaking of the 6154 let me explain what happened: In 2002, I gave the case and the crystal to a friend who is a machinst in order to machine a new bezel. Unfortunatelly, the machinist lost both, the case and the crystal. I was left with the dial, hands, caseback and movement which are now exhinbited in my museum, except for the dial which I replaced with the one from 997583 since it was nicer and because the original dial had a missing dial foot.)
Read more: The Odyssey of Panerai 6154, 997583
The following picture was taken in Ferretti’s museum in Montecatini Terme, which is located in Italy. The orphaned 6154 caseback has case number 997600 and the original dial of case number 997583 is still exhibited.
Was the Sotheby’s watch assembled using Ferretti’s “lost” 6154 case? Does the watch come with a wrong 6152/1 caseback cause the 6154 caseback remained with Ferretti? Considering that except for case, caseback and crown, all other components of this 6154 appear to be fake or made-up, it is very likely that this watch was assembled using Ferretti’s stolen case. Ref. 6154 is extremely rare. Only around 20 watches have surfaced so far.
Read more: All 6154s at a glance
Studying Vintage Panerai is an extremely fascinating field for researchers. The deeper you go the better it gets as all kinds of bizarre anomalies unfold. All of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of some sort of crime thriller novel. The present investigation is without a doubt one of the most fascinating cases I have ever encountered.
When Giuseppe Panerai passed away in February 1972, he left a knowledge vacuum which nobody was able to fill. His deep understanding about the watches produced by Rolex and himself was suddenly gone. The Pre V people tried to reconstruct this fascinating history the best they could, but without conducting proper research and also for pure marketing purposes, all they actually created was even more confusion. In order to gain credibility as a watch manufacturer, and to skirt around violating Rolex’s intellectual property, they tried to hide the fact that most watches had been completely produced by Rolex.
This vaccum was a fertile ground for all kinds of myths, created by clever vintage Panerai dealers with the sole intention to profit from and sell as many made-up and fake watches as possible. When Officine Panerai SpA moved from Florence to Cascine del Riccio in the early 1990s, two dealers, Francesco Ferretti and Luciano Rinaldi, were invited to collect everything they wanted in order to make the relocation of the company as easy as possible. Parts, machines, documents, etc, were taken, as Panerai would have thrown everything away.
Lots of frankenstein watches were assembled from these very parts. If a part was missing, Luciano Rinaldi would simply remanufacture whatever was necessary. This is how completely fake dials and made-up movements entered the market. Original Panerai dials are true works of art and precision. So much so, nobody has ever figured out yet how they were originally made. Dials that lack in quality, have bubbles or a strange patina are most certainly the product of Luciano Rinaldi. Back then, the brand was still a mystery and none of the collectors suspected anything.
At some point, some of the hardcore Paneristi/collectors became aware of the FUNNY BUSINESS and many got rid of their questionable watches. The watches were sold for high amounts of money on the Asian market and are now with Asian collectors who believe they have invested in something of value. The interesting thing is that none of the early collectors ever said anything in public.
The collectors, in order to protect their failed investments lied by omission by attempting to sweep everything under the carpet. In other words, they tried to safeguard the value of their vintage Panerai watches by passing the buck and taking advantage by selling them to unsuspecting collectors.
The modern Panerai under the umbrella of Richemont seems to neither be able nor willing to acknowledge all the Frankenstein and fake watches that are scattered across the globe. As a matter of fact, they even show some of the fakes at their very own exhibitions. I implore Panerai, which is owned by the Richemont Group, and is under the leadership of Johann Rupert, to right these wrongs. It is high time to get their head out of the sand and acknowledge the mistakes made in the past so they will not be repeated in the future. Failing to take such corrective action serves only to further damage Panerai’s reputation, as well as harming many collectors investments.
Thanks for your interest.
The Panerai Time Machine
Ref. 6154 is a milestone in Panerai’s rich history as a military supplier. The watch plays an important role in the Panerai Time Machine. Please click the graphic to download the highres version.
This timeline is available as a high quality print in two sizes:
- 120 x 68 cm (47 x 26 inch): EUR 85.00 (plus shipping)
- 150 x 85 cm (59 x 33 inch): EUR 120.00 (plus shipping)
Printed with HD Inkjet on high quality photo paper.
Limited edition: 50 pieces, numbered and signed by Maria Teresa Panerai in Giuseppe Panerai’s very own laboratory at the historical site of the Villino Panerai (Panerai Villa) in Florence: Sold out
More information: The history of Panerai watches at a glance
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