Rolex-Panerai Carabinieri – The Origins – At Phillips Hong Kong

Rolex-Panerai watches featuring special matriculation numbers are the pinnacle of military watch collecting. After the spectacular sale of an old Japanese Panerai collection in November 2020, Phillips in Hong Kong got their hands once again on a special and historically important Rolex-Panerai which will be offered today at The Hong Kong Watch Auction: XII (June 5/6, 2021).

The watch in question is a Carabinieri-issued Ref. 6152/1 featuring the iconic crown-protecting device that gives Panerai a unique look. But not just any Carabinieri. It is the Numero Uno, the very first of its kind. The Italian Carabinieri are a national military force, primarily carrying out domestic policing duties.

The present watch is important in many respects. First, of course, due to its historical significance as the very first Carabinieri-issued Rolex-Panerai and secondly, because it is the perfect example for what the very first so-called “Luminor” models looked like. They were – as a matter of fact – not yet Luminor but Radiomir!

Lot 820 – Modified Rolex-Panerai Ref. 6152/1 Carabinieri Sommozzatori C.C. No 1, 124682

C.C. No 1 is the first of around 30 Ref. 6152/1 watches supplied by Panerai to the Carabinieri Sommozzatori. So far, only 12 of the 30 pieces have surfaced. C.C. No 3 belonged to Commander Gianfranco Allegretti, a co-founder of the Carabinieri Sommozzattori unit.

Lot 820 – Rolex-Panerai Ref. 6152/1 Carabinieri C.C. No 1


It can be assumed that the present watch – C.C. No 1 – belonged to a similarly important figure.

Auction link: Lot 820 – Panerai Ref. 6152/1 Carabinieri Sommozzatori (Phillips Auctions)

Radiomir Dial

The dial of this watch is a typical Radiomir dial from the late 1950s which developed a lovely cream-coloured patina on all markers and numerals. A Geiger counter measurement shows high levels of radioactivity (see Instagram post at the bottom of this article). The skeletonized hands aged beautifully with slight traces of surface oxydation.


A special feature of this watch would be the original plexi crystal with its distinct and highly sought-after spider-web-like craze but unfortunately, it cracked in some areas. For this reason, Phillips will include a replacement crystal.


Ref. 6152/1 was manufactured by Rolex in 1955. All of the produced 500 pieces featured signature Rolex Big Crowns (8mm) known from the Rolex “King Sub” Ref. 6200.

8mm Rolex “Big Crown”


The first Ref. 6152/1 examples delivered to the Italian Navy were equipped with highly radioactive radium-based Radiomir Panerai dials. Around 1958, Panerai started heavily modifying Ref. 6152/1 by removing the Big Crown and adding their own patented crown-protecting device.

“Destro” Rolex-Panerai Ref. 6152/1 with crown-protecting device and Radiomir dial (Photo: G. Panerai e Figlio archive, late 1950s)


To do so, the 6152/1 cases had to be machined in order to provide a flat seat for the large half-moon shaped crown guard.

Modified Ref. 6152/1 case


Later in the mid 1960s, Panerai developed their tritium-based luminous compound named Luminor. All watches delivered to the Italian Navy and other customers such as the Carabinieri Sommozzatori thereafter were equipped with Luminor dials. The ones for the Italian Navy were engraved with Marina Militare, other customers like the Carabinieri received Luminor Panerai engraved dials.

Around the same time, the Marina Militare started gradually replacing all highly radioactive Radiomir dials on previously received watches with the latest Luminor dials. In the same breath, all watches also received new, slightly thinner hands painted with tritium-based luminous compound.

Only a handful of these early Ref. 6152/1 watches supplied between 1955 and the mid 1960s retained the original Radiomir dials. In most cases, this occurred because the watches were gifted to retired divers and were never serviced thereafter. C.C. No 1 is such a rare piece. In addition, it is also the only known Carabinieri watch to feature a Radiomir dial.

Rolex Oyster Case

C.C. No 1 shows clear signs of wear and tear but is still in great shape for its 60 plus years.


The crystal of this watch is quite interesting. It is lower than usual and appears more domed.


The Rolex reference and case numbers between the lugs are still crisp and perfectly visible. 124682 is a typical Rolex case number from 1955. At the end of 1954, Rolex reset the case number after reaching 1 million. That is the reason why Ref. 6152/1 has lower numbers than earlier Ref. 6152 (1953) and Ref. 6154 (1954).


The special feature of this watch are the Carabinieri C.C. No 1 engravings on the outside of the caseback which are well preserved.


The inside of the caseback features typical Rolex stamps from the era in addition to the reference number 6152/1.


The iconic crown-protecting device features “Brev. Ital.” engravings which refer to the Italian patent filed by Giuseppe and Maria Panerai on Nov. 30, 1955. The first Panerai watch to ever feature the half-moon shaped crown guard was the GPF 2/56 from 1956.


Most Panerai crown guards found on Ref. 6152/1 are stamped with numbers between 1 and 10. The significance of these numbers is unknown.

Movement

The Cortébert-made Rolex 618 caliber with 17 jewels, overcoiled Breguet hairspring and Incacloc shock protection is in nice condition with slightly oxydized crown and ratchet wheels.


The watch comes with its original soft-iron cover which shields the movement from strong magnetic fields emitted by limpet mines, etc.


As of today, only 12 of the 30 Carabinieri watches have surfaced but only the present one features a Radiomir Panerai dial.

MatriculationCase numberDialOwner
C.C. No 1124682Radiomir PaneraiUnknown
C.C. No 2124XXXUnknownWatch reported as stolen
C.C. No 3124898Luminor PaneraiComd. Gianfranco Allegretti
Co-founder Carabinieri Sommozzatori
C.C. No 6124XXXLuminor PaneraiUnknown
C.C. 7124XXXLuminor PaneraiUnknown
C.C. 8124880Luminor PaneraiUnknown
C.C. No 151246846Luminor PaneraiUnknown
C.C. No 17124XXXLuminor PaneraiUnknown
C.C. No 20124801Luminor PaneraiUnknown
C.C. No 22124754Luminor PaneraiUnknown
C.C. No 24124XXXLuminor PaneraiUnknown
C.C. No 28124762Luminor PaneraiUnknown

Carabinieri Sommozzatori

The Italian Carabinieri are a national military force, primarily carrying out domestic policing duties. The name Carabinieri originates from carbine, a long-barreled firearm whose barrel is shorter than that of a standard rifle or musket. The carbine was originally developed for cavalry troopers as it was easier to handle. Established in 1814 as Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (Royal Carabinieri Corps), the force was renamed in Arma dei Carabinieri after the second world war when Italy became a republic. As the fourth branch of the Italian Armed Forces, the Carabinieri are under the authority of the Ministry of Defense.


Following the pioneering work of Italian Navy frogmen during World War 2 (Decima Flottiglia MAS, Gruppo Gamma), the Carabinieri established their own underwater unit named Carabinieri Sommozzatori (Carabinieri Divers) in 1953. The main purpose of the unit was to deal with crime scenes at the bottom of water bodies such as the sea, lakes, rivers and wells but also to carry out rescue missions in case of floods, etc. Initially performed with the help Italian Navy divers, the Carabinieri soon became more and more self-suficient. In 1955, the two initial bases in Genoa and Napoli were merged into one headquarter in Genoa. As a result of the great success of the unit, their services were expanded in 1964 and new local bases were set up in a number of major coastal cities. Around the same time, the headquarter in Genoa became the national training centre. Prior to this, all Carabinieri frogmen received their basic training at the ComSubIn base in the Varignano Fortress in Porto Venere, La Spezia. In October 1971, the headquarter in Genoa changed its name from Centro Carabinieri Sommozzatori to Centro Carabinieri Subacquei.


The Carabinieri divers performed several notable missions. In 1965, they helped locate a midget submarine that went missing in the Lago Maggiore near Locarno, Switzerland. The Carabinieri Sommozzatori were assisted by Luigi Ferraro, the famous Gruppo Gamma frogman who, disguised as an Italian diplomat, single-handedly sunk several ships in Alexandretta, Turkey during WW2.

Carabinieri Sommozzatori on the Lago Maggiore in Switzerland, 1965


Another notable intervention was the heroic rescue of several crew members from the British merchant ship “SS London Valour” in 1970. The large vessel had been driven aground by strong winds just outside the harbour of Genoa. 20 of the 58 crew members died in the accident.

Wrecked SS London Valour outside the harbour of Genoa


When in late 1971 a Hercules C-130 of the Royal Air Force crashed into the sea near Livorno, Italy, Carabinieri divers helped recover the remains of all 46 passengers and six crew members.

G. Panerai & Figlio supplied the Carabinieri Sommozzatori with a total of around 30 watches. All of them featured special engravings on their casebacks. C.C. for Carabineri, followed by the individual watch number. Since the watches were delivered in small batches, there are some slight variations in the way the casebacks were engraved.

The Carabinieri Sommozzatori were not the only customer outside the Italian Navy to receive these watches. Other law enforcement agencies such as the Guardia di Finanza (G.F) or the Polizia di Stato (P.S.) created their own diving units and bought their equipment from G. Panerai & Figlio as well. Their watches featured similar engravings.

Thoughts

When I first heard about this watch a couple of months back, I was naturally excited. But it was not until I received the first pictures that I became aware of the Radiomir dial. This is not just any 6152/1, it is one of the super elusive examples that show us what the very first so-called “Luminors” looked like. Add the Carabinieri provenance and you got a super collectible piece of Panerai history right there.

Thank you for your interest.

Read more: Carabinieri Reloaded
Read more: 6152/1 – Corpo Dei Carabinieri

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.


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 heavy synthetic paper and laminated.

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

To order shoot me a DM on Instagram: @perezcope

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