All so-called Panerai watches produced in series between 1936 and 1955 were made by Rolex. This is an undeniable fact, proven by Rolex logos, Rolex reference numbers, Rolex case numbers found on all casebacks and, in addition to that also by a number of Rolex letters. Some enthusisasts argued, since the watches were exclusively made for Panerai, it is the same as were they made by Panerai themselves. Not in my book. Panerai made only the dials and a dial does not make a watch.
But don’t take this from me, important is ultimatelly how Giuseppe Panerai defined the watches. To Mr. Panerai, they were Rolex watches. Today you will see never-before published documents from the Orologeria Svizzera that speak for themselves.
The modern Panerai’s Alternative Universe
Ever since its creation in 1997, the modern Panerai owned by Richemont has been trying to burry the truth. The company keeps claiming the watches were made by G. Panerai e Figlio but equipped with Rolex movements.
To back this claim, the modern Panerai refers to a bizarre letter which Rolex supposedly wrote to Francesco Ferretti in 1990. Here is an excerpt from Legendary watches, an official Officine Panerai book written by Giampiero Negretti in 1997/98.
On page 38/39 it says:
‘The movement, caseback and winding crown were marked Rolex, a fact which, together with the design of the dial, gives the impression that this was a small series of military watches created by the famous Geneva house, rather than a product designed by Panerai. But it is clear that this was not the case.
In a letter of 11 January 1990 to Francesco Ferretti, a well-known Italian expert and collector of military watches, Rolex itself wrote:
“We would like to make it clear that Rolex has never made military watches. A single exception, if it can be so defined, is the Radiomir Panerai produced for the Italian Navy in the 1940s by our agents in Florence. This watch was specially created for the famous teams of underwater raiders and it was designed and made by the company mentioned above. Rolex limited itself to providing movements and for this reason the watches do not carry our name.”
Such a document removes any doubt: the Panerai watches were indeed made by Panerai but using Rolex movements, and in the beginning at least other parts as well, such as the screw-down winding crown.’
Let’s break this down, point by point. So Rolex never made military watches? Really? This does not sound right, does it? What about the famous Milsubs specifically made for Royal Navy divers?
Ok, next. If the watches were indeed designed and made by Panerai and for this reason do not carry the Rolex name – as stated in the letter – then how is it possible that the casebacks of all vintage “Panerai” watches carry the Rolex name, a Rolex reference number and a Rolex case number? The statement made in the letter totally contradicts reality. See for yourself.
That Rolex limited itself to only providing movements makes no sense either. Why would an experienced watch retailer like Panerai – who knew the Swiss watch industry in and out – order Cortebert movements from Rolex? Cortebert could easily have made movements for Panerai with the exact same specifications as for Rolex, and even apply Panerai engravings on the bridges if requested. No, there was absolutely no need to source Cortebert movements through Rolex.
What to make of this? My impression is, the above mentioned letter does not exist. The story was possibly fabricated to legitimize the 1:1 replication of the so-called Radiomir (Rolex 3646), starting with the PAM21. Rolex replicas were only introduced after 1997 by the modern Panerai company. The original company or Guenat Montres Vagine, the Swiss company that designed and produced the Luminor in 1993, did not dare to make a 1:1 copy of the Rolex 6152/1.
I asked Francesco Ferretti on several occasions to send me a copy of the letter mentioned in the 1998 Panerai book and as expected, I never received anything. By the way, Legendary Watches, the outdated book from 1997/98 is still being distributed by Panerai Boutiques.
Here is a Rolex letter from January 1984 in which – in stark contrast to the statements supposedly made to Francesco Ferretti – Rolex openly talks about having produced 720 pieces of Ref. 3646 in 1943, meant for the Italian Navy.
“…im Jahre 1943 wurden 720 Stück dieser für die damaligen Zeit aussergewöhnlichen Taucher-Uhren fabriziert. Die ganze Serie wurde nach Italien verkauft und an die italienische Armee geliefert, die ihre Froschmänner damit ausrüstete. Es ist vielleicht bekannt, dass die Italiener auf diesem Gebiet bahnbrechend waren.”
Translation: 720 examples of these extraordinary diver watches were produced in 1943. The whole series was sold to Italy and delivered to the Italian army as equipment for their frogmen. Perhaps it is known that the Italians were absolute pioneers in this field.
The cushion case was a typical Rolex Oyster feature of the late 1920s. The watch below has a diameter of only 26mm but the case shape and the wire lugs are almost identical to Ref. 3646.
In Oct. 1935, Rolex sent an oversized version (47mm) of the Rolex Oyster to G. Panerai e Figlio in Florence. The reference number of this watch was 2533. This was the very watch which was tested by the newly formed special units.
The invoice below was found in Giuseppe Panerai’s office in the Villino Panerai and marks the very beginning of the famous watches made for the Italian Navy.
Ref. 2533 appeared for the first time in a Rolex retailer catalogue from 1935. The watch is depicted in the upper right corner. This is probably where Giuseppe Panerai saw the watch and thought it would be a good fit for the Regia Marina.
Not many of these watches were made and so far, none has surfaced. The picture below shows a digital reconstruction of Ref. 2533.
A few months later in June 1936, Rolex sent 19 pieces of Ref. 2533 made in stainless steel to Panerai in Florence. The rest is history. The following invoice was also found in Giuseppe Panerai’s office.
Panerai aficionados are confronted with two different story lines. One from a young company that seems to live in an alternative universe and one from an established and highly respected watch brand that wrote history over the course of more than 110 years. Who to believe?
The truth is, neither the modern Panerai company nor their current external advisors who were involved since 1997 care about the real history of Panerai. The modern Panerai is an artificial construct, blown up by marketing steroids. As a matter of fact, the historical timeline put forth is mostly made up.
The company shows a Rolex-made watch from 1944 and states it was the first Panerai-made prototype from 1936. It claims the luminous compound Radiomir was patented when in reality the patent refers to sights that were treated with common radium compound to be visible at night (Radio Mire = Radium Sights). Another complete fabrication is the so-called Radiomir 1940 case which in reality was designed and produced by Rolex in 1952/53 (Registered Design – Modèle Deposé). According to the modern Panerai, Luminor, the tritium-based luminous compound, was introduced in 1949. That is more than a decade ahead of the Swiss watch industry. A laughable claim. These are only a few examples. I could go on and on.
The following case shows how the modern Panerai company manipulates the history of the original brand. In Dec. 2017, Panerai posted an altered historical image of the Orologeria Svizzera on Instagram. After a massive backlash, Panerai deleted the post and published the original picture instead.
In the following, you will see previously unknown documents which unmistakably prove what so-called Panerai watches actually are.
Last week, I met with the son of Ferdinando Pacciolla in Southern Italy. Ferdinando Pacciolla was a Decima Flottiglia MAS member pre and post September 8, 1943. In 1948, the Egyptian government hired him to establish a secret military frogman school in Alexandria, Egypt. Pacciolla’s assignment marks the very beginning of Panerai interesting Egypt chapter that culminated in the production of the gigantic GPF 2/56, Panerai’s first own model.
When Pacciolla became a member of the Decima Flottiglia MAS in Dec. 1942, he received his own Rolex-made diver watch. The following picture from 1951 shows Pacciolla wearing his diver watch.
The next picture shows Pacciolla next to a high-ranking Egyptian Navy Officer. On his wrist his trusted diver watch.
In mid 1954, Ferdinando Pacciolla’s contract with the Egyptian Ministry of War was terminated. He returned to Italy and sent his trusted tool watch to the Orologeria Svizzera – Panerai’s watch shop at the Piazza San Giovanni in Florence – for a service. After more than 10 years, dial and hands did no longer glow. The zinc sulfide that reacted with the radioactive radium had desintegrated completely. Like many other 3646 that were serviced by Panerai in the 1950s, Pacciolla’s watch most certainly received a new Radiomir dial and modern hands.
The close-up below shows the watch before the service. Clearly visible are the Radiomir Panerai engravings on the dial.
According to Pacciolla’s son, his father was in Tobruk, Libya when the watch was ready.
Pacciolla asked his friend Raffaele Selleri from Florence to collect the watch. Selleri picked up the watch as agreed and personally spoke to Giuseppe Panerai about it. Selleri was even able to get a discount of 5,000 Lire. This event is documented in a letter to Pacciolla.
Firenze 5/4 1955
Finalmente dopo tante beghe ho avuto l’orologio tanto a te gradito, ho parlato personalmente col Sig. Panerai e mi ha assicurato che puoi lavorare fino a 30 metri di profondita, la spesa (sfera) era di 30.000 lire che dopo un lungo dibattito con lo stesso Sig. Panerai me lo ha rilasciato per Lire 25.000 per quella simpatia che ha acquisito sia per l’incaricato presunto cugino, sia per il proprietario dell’ orologio di cui trattasi.
Pertanto mentre mi fo interprete dei loro buoni auspici nei tuoi riguardi, abbiti anche da me i migliori auguri di buona pasqua e di progresso per il tuo avvenire.
Con affetto tuo Raffaele
Il latore della presente ti consegnera personalmente l’orologio e ti dira quanto per esso io abbia fatto.
Translation: Florence April 5, 1955
Finally, after lots of hassle I received the watch you tresure so much. I spoke to Mr. Panerai and he assured me you can work with it up to 30 metres of depth. The expense was of 30.000 Lire which after a long debate with Mr. Panerai himself, he discounted to 25.000 Lire for the sympathy he acquired for both, the presumed cousin (Pacciolla told the Orologeria Svizzera Selleri was his cousin) and the owner of the watch in question.
Therefore, I’m sending you their best wishes as well as my best wishes for a happy Easter and for your future.
With love your Raffaele
P.S. The bearer of the present letter will personally hand over the watch and tell you how much I’ve done for it.
This amazing letter refers 100% to a diving tool watch and gives us for the first time ever insight into the depth rating of reference 3646. 30 real meters! This was more than enough for Italian frogmen since their oxygen rebreathers were not recommended for depths below 12 metres. Pure oxygen becomes rapidly toxic at depth and can lead to convulsions and even death.
The following picture shows the Orologeria Svizzera envelope in which Selleri’s letter and the service invoice were sent by courier to Pacciolla in his home town Gallipoli.
And here comes the ultimate revelation. This is the original invoice for the service. Pacciolla’s 3646 is referred to as l’orologio Rolex, the Rolex watch.
“Si consegna in data odierna al Sig. Selleri l’orologio Rolex, lasciato al suo tempo. La spesa inerente all’oggetto in parola e di lire 25.000″
Translation: Delivered today to Mr. Selleri is the Rolex watch, left at its time. The expense related to the object in question is 25,000 lire
There you have it in black and white. This is absolutely groundbreaking! We know now, Giuseppe Panerai never pretended the 3646 was anything but a Rolex watch. He did not take credit for something he did not make or design himself.
25,000 Lire were around 40 USD in 1955. Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to 375 USD today. The service was not cheap but considering that dial and hands had to be replaced, the price was certainly justified.
The modern Panerai brand is all smoke and mirrors. The Orologeria Svizzera invoice published in this article proves unequivocally that the watches made by Rolex for the Italian Navy were considered Rolex watches even by Giuseppe Panerai.
The only watches truly designed and produced by G. Panerai e Figlio were the GPF 2/56 and the Mare Nostrum chronograph, both in the mid 1950s. As you can see in the picture below, these two models have a completely different design than the watches designed and produced by Rolex.
Giuseppe Panerai had a deep understanding for intellectual property. As an inventor himself, who filed several patents for his own creations, he respected the intellectual property of others. Actions speak louder than words.
The modern Panerai brand has nothing to do with the original Florentine company. In 1997, Richemont took over a brand that had been badly misrepresented during the Pre Vendôme era. When Giuseppe Panerai died in Feb. 1972, he took all the knowledge about the watches to his grave.
The Pre Vendôme guys could not make heads and tails of anything related to the watches and filled the gaps with fairy tales. The Luminor advertisment from 1993 claims Luigi Durand de la Penne wore a Luminor when he sank the HMS Valiant in the British Naval Base of Alexandria in late 1941. The original Mare Nostrum, which obviously is a design from 1950s, was described in the Pre Vendôme ad as a prototype from 1943.
Richemont took the bait and kept fabricating further nonsense. Instead of conducting a proper research, they relied on external advisors who had invented some of the stories themselves to sell their made-up watches with a maximum profit.
For true vintage Panerai enthusiasts, the situation today is unbearable. There is a reality with facts and then there is the modern Panerai brand that seems to exists in a different universe.
They not only take credit for other other people’s intellectual property, they also lie to their customers, over and over again. Not only about history but also about their products.
Take the PAM 203 for instance. Panerai lied about the provenance of the Angelus 240 calibers, claiming they were historical G. Panerai e Figlio movements. In reality, the movements are converted key-winding clocks with no historical link to G. Panerai e Figlio. Another example is the PAM 318 scandal. Panerai made a maximum profit by installing the most standard and undecorated version of the ETA 6497. In January 2017, Panerai unveiled the PAM 721, an homage to the watches delivered in slave labour to the Nazis in 1944. To legitimize this model, Panerai claimed the design originated from 1938.
A brand is not what it thinks it is. It’s the perception of the customers that counts. The longer Panerai procrastinates setting the record straight, the more credibility it will lose.
Thank you for you interest.
The Panerai Time Machine
The following infographic shows the current state of research related to Panerai history. Please click the graphic to download the highres version.