Fake Rolex Stamps On Anonymous Rolex-Panerai Ref. 3646 Watches

Let’s cut straight to the chase. An entire group of Ref. 3646 watches defined by Ehlers & Wiegmann as Type F for featuring Rolex stamps among watches that are completely anonymous (unbranded), was found to be highly questionable. The Rolex stamps, the very feature which sets these watches apart from their siblings left and right, well those Rolex stamps are fake.

It is not the first time the German vintage Panerai experts and book authors Ehlers & Wiegmann were tricked into thinking something fake is real. Wiegmann’s very first 3646 for instance, was fake too and to this date, it is still listed in their database as the real deal. Over the past few years, I uncovered that several of the published watches were either made-up, mixed-up or outright counterfeits. The authors never felt compelled to make amendments, actually they even doubled-down and kept featuring the controversial watches.

The German duo identified seven different Rolex Ref. 3646 batches made for the Italian Navy between 1940 and 1944. Based on the Rolex stamps found on the inside of the casebacks, the two experts divided the watches into Type A, B, C, D E, F and G. Their taxonomy is flawed on many levels as it relies on superficial details only. Significant details like case shapes or movement serial numbers were not taken into consideration.

In their most recent book, the two experts dedicated an entire chapter to the Type F category, which they came up with in their first publication from 2009. 34 pages of complete and utter nonsense, as you will soon see with your own eyes.

Overview Type F (261100 – 261120), Vintage Panerai – The References


The flawed information became popular knowledge among vintage Panerai enthusiats, so much so, even counterfeiters produced fakes based on it. One particular watch which falls into the imaginary Type F category – an awkward-looking piece with case number 261352 qualifies as a fake – or I should actually use the past tense “qualified” – as the watch no longer exists in that shape or form.

261352 is of special interest as it was Wiegmann’s very first vintage Panerai which he acquired in late June 2003 from the renowned Italian dealer Francesco Ferretti. 261352 is mentioned at least eight times in their latest books.

The picture below shows the watch in question. Attentive readers of this website may note some of the flaws right away. Forget the weird hands for a moment, focus solely on the dial. See the wide open six and nine? That is no Marina Militare dial. That is a typical anonymous Kampfschwimmer dial altered with fake Marina Militare engravings.


A Marina Militare dial has no business in Ref. 3646 anyway as Marina Militare branded Panerai dials were only introduced in the mid 1960s.

Read more: Manipulated Vintage Panerai dials


More interesting than the altered dial are the caseback stamps of this watch. A comparison with other Ref. 3646 casebacks in close case number proximity reveals some interesting discrepancies.

The case number 261352 was stamped with a completely different typeface. In addition, the letter-spacing between the numbers is too large. The Rolex stamp looks ok at first glance – but – a closer inspecition reveals a number of flaws, the most obvious one being the letter “e” in Rolex. The shape is completely off.


Rolex used this type of stamp between 1938 and 1945. The next picture shows a Ref. 3133 Bubbleback caseback from the 301k case number range which is slightly later than 261352. As you can see, the stamp design did not change. The letter “e” in Rolex is exactly the same as on the proper examples shown above.

Rolex Ref. 3133 Bubbleback caseback (case number 301k)


The stamps of 261352 are fake, pure and simple. But there is more, the middle case looks strange too. It has a symmetrical profile in combination with wire lugs that are too long. Something that is unseen. Add the altered Kampfschwimmer dial and a movement pieced together from mismatched parts, and you get the ultimate fake and franken watch. As mentioned earlier, 261352 does no longer exist in this shape or form. The altered Kampfschwimmer dial of this watch ended up in a Ref. 6152/1 with crown-protecting device auctioned by Christie’s in 2007.

Read more: Vintage Panerai – Entering the grey zone


In a letter from 1984, Rolex stated they produced 720 pieces of Ref. 3646 in 1943. That is without a doubt the case number range 260400 – 261120. I was able to find a number of other Rolex references produced in the same period of time with slighty earlier and slightly later case numbers than that. There is a clear pattern. Before the Ref. 3646 batch, there was a batch of Ref. 3139 Bubblebacks and after, Rolex produced a Ref. 2940 batch. Case number 261352 belongs to a Ref. 2940 watch. It is an open and shut case.

Case NumbersRolex Reference
260018, 260178, 260323, 260362, 2603943139
260400 – 2611203646
261271, 261346, 261683, 2617152940

In their books, Ehlers & Wiegmann also mentioned a Ref. 3646 with case number 261324. Evidently, that one must be a fake too.

The two experts claim to have documented a total of 11 Type F pieces within the 261100 – 261352 range. Type E, which according to Ehlers & Wiegmann ranges from 260850 – 261099, is completely anonymous. The Rolex stamps on these watches were removed for some reason. More on this later. The picture below shows how the original Rolex stamp is still slightly visible on some of the anonymized watches.

Ref. 3646 caseback with removed Rolex stamps (Photo: The References)


The next image shows the same caseback with a superimposed Rolex stamp to illustrate what the caseback looked like originally. Note that the Rolex reference and case numbers were removed as well. The case number was restamped at a different position where the caseback was still thick enough.


The movements of Type E were anonymous as well. None of the movement bridges had a Rolex signature, only 17 Rubis and Fab. Suisse was applied.

Comparison branded vs. anonymous Rolex 618


Type G, the group succeeding Type F, is completely anonymous as well. However, Type G is in a later case number range. The earliest known Type G watch has case number 317488, the last 317530. Type G movements have similar serial numbers as the ones installed in Type E/F which suggests Type G was assembled in the same breath as Type E/F.

The table below shows Ehlers & Wiegmann’s Type D to G taxonomy. As you can see, Type D consists actually of two different kind of watches. One with a thicker case and taller bezel, and one with a thin case and a low bezel. The latter has movements with later serial numbers. These are by no means the same type of watches but since they have the same kind of caseback, the German duo arranged them into the same group.

Type D, E, F & G According EHLERS & WIEGMANn

TypeCase NumbersMiddle CaseBezelStampsMov. SerialsMov. Specs
D260400 – 2606956.3 mmTallRolex S.A.7519XXXRolex (Type 1b)
D260696 – 2608495.4 mmLowRolex S.A.7527XXXRolex (Type 1c)
E260850 – 2610995.4 mmLowRemoved 7528XXXAnonymous
F261100 – 2613525.4 mmLowRolex S.A.7528XXXAnonymous
G317480 – 3175305.4 mmLowRemoved7528XXXAnonymous

Another thing that becomes apparent in this overview, is that Type F, although featuring Rolex stamps, has the very same anonymous movements as Type E/G. From a logical point of view, this makes little sense.

A comparison of 261109, one of the Type F watches, with the fake 261352 shows the stamp has the very same flaws, ergo, the Rolex stamps on Type F must be fake too.


Naturally, the thickness of the caseback would be less in the center after removal of the stamp. The reason why the case numbers were restamped near the edge was to prevent deformation. A case number near the edge means the stamps were removed. Period.

It appears the caseback of 261109 was measured with a micrometer and was slightly thicker in the center than near the edge. 1.12 mm vs. 1.10 mm. In average, anonymized casebacks have a thickness of 0.75 mm in the center and 1.20 mm at the edge. The reason for the discrepancy seen on 261109 is pretty simple. Stamping causes material displacement. Think of a meteor impact and the subsequent crater. As a result, the whole area is uneven. Cause and effect. The measurement was simply not meaningful.

If we compare the fake stamp of 261109 to the original stamp of 260730, we can make another interesting observation. 261109 was obviously stamped on top of the perlage finish. Material displacement is clearly visible everywhere. 260730, on the other hand, was first stamped and then finished with perlage finish. The stamp of 260730 does not show any material displacement as it was grinded down by the perlage finish. Do you not love horological forensics?


Some Type E watches feature fake Rolex stamps as well. 260918 for instance. The removed original stamp is still slightly visible underneath the fake stamp.

Rolex Ref. 3646, case number 260918, with fake Rolex stamp


The fake Rolex stamp of 260918 is considerably smaller than the original stamp.


The whole Type F story falls part with case number 261111, located right in the middle between 261100 and 261120. The caseback is completely anonymous, as it should be.


261111 surfaced in the United Kingdom, in safe distance from the usual suspects. It was brought there as a souvenier by a returning British soldier after World War 2.

Two numbers away, the caseback with case number 261113 is completely anonymous as well.

Ref. 3646 caseback with case number 261113


Ehlers & Wiegmann documented 11 Type F watches. The first being 261100, the last 261352. Interestingly, 261100 is registered in my database as well. As of January 2001, the watch had no fake Rolex stamps.

Rolex Ref. 3646, 261100 documented in Januray 2001


Here is what happened. In mid July 1944, the British 8th Army reached the southern outskirts of Florence. Most of Italy had been occupied by Nazi forces since September 1943. Before their retreat behind the heavily fortified Gothic defensive line north of Florence, the Nazis paid G. Panerai & Figlio a visit and looted all their machines, including all the watches, instruments, etc. The stolen goods were brought to Venice which was still under German control, and would remain so until April 1945. Venice was of crucial importance to the Germans as they had established a secret Kampfschwimmer training facility on a small island named San Giorgio in Alga located in the Venetian Lagoon.

Allied aerial reconnaissance of the San Giorgio in Alga training facility


Decades later in the early 1990s, the old Arturo Junghans watch factory, located on the island of La Giudecca, was transformed into lofts and a theater. The island of San Giorgio in Alga is only 2.5 km away from the former watch factory.

Map of Venice (Google Maps)


During the clean up of the old premises, they found lots of Panerai items, mostly dials but also around 30 Ref. 3646 watches in New Old Stock condition featuring unbranded Rolex Error-Proof dials (aka California dials). Most of these items ended up with the usual suspects, Francesco Ferretti and Luciano Rinaldi.

Since the discovered watches were completely anonymous, they were hard to sell as Rolex watches, especially in those early days with barely a handful insiders aware of the Rolex-Panerai story. For this simple reason, they reapplied the Rolex stamps. Is it not ironic, the lack of Rolex signatures, the very feature that makes these watches so historically important, was a big question mark back in the day. As you can see in the picture below, those dealers even altered some of the anonymous movements with fake Rolex engravings.

“Anonymous” Rolex 618 movement with fake Rolex engravings (Photo: The References)


The following Ref. 3646 watches feature fake Rolex stamps according to my database.

Case NumbersDialsStamps
260918Rolex Error-Proof (California)Rolex S.A. (fake)
260984Rolex Error-Proof (California)Rolex S.A. (fake)
261109Rolex Error-Proof (California)Rolex S.A. (fake)
261110Junghans 3-6-9-12Rolex S.A. (fake)
261120Rolex Error-Proof (California)Rolex S.A. (fake)
261324 (fake)n.a.Rolex S.A. (fake)
261352 (fake)Altered KampfschwimmerRolex S.A. (fake)

Why were the last batches of Ref. 3646 watches anonymous in the first place? We don’t know for sure but one logical explanation could be that Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, became aware the watches were no longer destined to the Italians but used by Nazis forces instead. Wilsdorf was of German descent but had become a British citizen in 1911. His first wife May Wilsdorf Crotty was British. His company Rolex had its origins in Britain. Supplying the Nazis with his watches was the last thing he wanted. Due to his German-sounding name, he had experienced the Anti-German sentiment that developed after World War 1 first-hand. The reputation of his company and everything he had worked for was at stake. On the other hand, the Panerai family in occupied Florence was in danger. If the supply of watches would abruptly come to an end, they could have gotten into trouble. To keep the Panerais out of harms way, and to protect the reputation of Rolex, Wilsdorf realized that the right thing to do was to keep up the supply but remove all Rolex signatures from the watches.

The following table shows how the different batches should be rearranged now that Ehlers & Wiegmann’s Type F is debunked.

TypeCase NumbersMiddle CaseBezelStampsMov. SerialsMov. Specs
D260400 – 2606956.3 mmTallRolex S.A.7519XXXRolex (Type 1b)
E260696 – 2608495.4 mmLowRolex S.A.7527XXXRolex (Type 1c)
F260850 – 2611205.4 mmLowRemoved 7528XXXAnonymous
G317480 – 3175305.4 mmLowRemoved7528XXXAnonymous

Thoughts

This case illustrates beautifully how important it is to get your facts straight before going public. All details must be checked, double-checked, triple-checked. We owe this to our readers. Of course, mistakes can happen as the puzzle of horological truth, especially in the case of Panerai, slowly reveals itself and so we sometimes need to take a step back to go forward again. Research is rarely a static thing as fresh revelations can lead to new ways of thinking. One should, however, have the integrity to admit ones mistakes and correct them. In 2016, I was absolutely sure I had solved the mystery of certain Ref. 3646 watches that featured Junghans dials fixed in place by the means of two tiny screws at 6 and 12 o’clock. My assumptions turned out to be totally wrong. Years later I came across the real reason for those modifications, which I went on to publish, contradicting my earlier work. I know how it feels when ones work is proven wrong but there is no alternative to truth.

Ehlers & Wiegmann knew about the questionable stamps since at least October 2019 when I discovered a fake stamp on a Ref. 3646 with case number 260918 offered at Sotheby’s. At the time, a friend of mine discussed the matter on Ehlers & Wiegmann’s Facebook page but, lo and behold, the post was soon deleted.

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, several watches featured in Ehlers & Wiegmann’s books are highly questionable – if not outright fake. One of these was a rare Ref. 6152 from 1953 with a strange blueish dial. “One of the most significant historical Panerai watches in our database” the two Germans stated. As it turned out, the seemingly rare blue dial turned out to be nothing but a Rinaldi fake which had been installed decades earlier. Not only did I uncover the true nature of that dial but in a stroke of luck, I was also able to locate the original dial after more than 20 years so as to return the watch to its original condition.

Read more: Vintage Panerai – The mysterious bluish tinted dials

Thank you for your interest.

The Panerai Time Machine

The timeline below represents the current state of research into vintage Panerai watches. Please click the graphic to download the highres version.


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One comment

  • I was one of the first onto the vintage Panerai band waggon 25 years ago due to my time spent in Florence. However, the ensuing fakery that came into play put me off as I just didn’t know enough on the subject. If I’d had this knowledge to hand allowing me to make more informed purchases, there is little doubt many more of my clients would be rocking Panerai watches now Jose. Such a shame Panerai have fallen from such grace now both in the modern variety & the old. Great work yet again, especially for the Panerai collector though I’m sure there are a few crying into their wine today!

    Like

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