With Phillips Geneva set to auction one of the visually most striking examples of Rolex-Panerai Ref. 6154, a watch that once belonged to none other than legendary Panerista of the first hour, Alan C. Bloor aka “Hammer”, I was reminded to update my 2016 overview of all known examples of Ref. 6154. In addition, there is new research I would like to share related to the most puzzling 6154 in existence, the one example featuring a Rolex “Oyster Precision” dial.
Auction link: Lot 293 – Rolex-Panerai Ref. 6154 “Tropical”
Rolex-Panerai Ref. 6154
With its streamlined, “reduced to the max” case proportions, Ref. 6154 produced by Rolex in 1954 is a masterpiece of elegance, especially considering it is a tool watch in the truest sense of the word. Legend has it Ref. 6154 was produced for the Egyptian Navy, thus nicknamed “Egiziano Piccolo” (small Egyptian). While at least two watches were reported by credible sources to have been acquired in Egypt, concrete and tangible evindence to support the story has yet to materialize. A watch that was undeniably produced for Egypt is the gigantic Panerai GPF 2/56 from 1956. It is very much possible that when Egyptian Navy officers visited Panerai in Florence for the first time around July/August 1956 (according to Maria Teresa Panerai), Giuseppe Panerai gave them a few unused 6154s in gratitude for the big order made.
Since my last article on all known Ref. 6154 watches published March 2016, two previously unknown pieces have emerged, including details of a Ref. 6154 caseback that is mounted on a Ref. 6152/1, a watch I had the pleasure to personally inspect in Jakarta, Indonesia. This brings the total number of known Ref. 6154 pieces to 21.
All known Ref. 6154 watches at a Glance
The two new watches which surfaced since March 2016 are the numbers 03 and 20 in the above overview. Number 03 has case number 997578 and was offered in automn 2016 on ebay by the same person who had had already listed 997580 (05) in early 2016. The seller stated he bought both watches in Iraq in 2001. Number 20 is one of three Ref. 6154 watches belonging to the Archivio Storico Panerai (Panerai Museum). The internal museum designation is PAMPR006. Number 04 is a Ref. 6152/1 with case number 124887 featuring a Ref. 6154 caseback with case number 997579. The dial of this watch has developed an absolutely gorgeous patina. During a trip to Jakarta, Indonesia in early 2018, I had the opportunity to handle this magnificent specimen in the flesh (see below).
Said watch can be traced back to two Christie’s auctions which took place in London, one in November 1992 and the other in June 1993. Today, the Ref. 6154 caseback still features a Christie’s sticker.
Additionally to the newly discovered Ref. 6154 watches, the knowledge about previously unknown movement details could be expanded as well, as can be seen in the following movement overview.
The Unusual Sandwich Dial
Connoisseurs of Ref. 6154 may have noticed there is a peculiar gap between sandwich dial and inner bezel (see arrows below). This gap is absolutely unique to Ref. 6154 and reveals a lot about this model.
The following section through the 6154 case tells the story. Underneath the inner bezel, which normally is meant to cover the edge of the dial for aesthetical purposes, there is not enough space to house a thick sandwich dial. To be able to install one, Panerai had to improvise. The 6154 sandwich dial builds up the necessary height within the diamater of the inner bezel which leads to the aforementioned gap. This detail is a clear indication that Ref. 6154 was not designed to house a thick sandwich dial but a regular 0.5 mm thick brass dial instead.
Compared to other Rolex-Panerai references, the sandwich dial of Ref. 6154 is extremely thin. The thickness is only about 1 mm whereas the usual height varies between 2 and 2.5 mm depending on the period of production. In addition, the 6154 dial has a peculiar step at the edge, something other Panerai sandwich dial do not have. Without this step, the gap would be much deeper and the movement ring would become visible.
This brings me to the following, highly controversial Ref. 6154 watch bearing case number 997572 that was auctioned by Antiquorum on several occasions between 2005 and 2007. The dial of this watch is clearly inspired by the Rolex Submariner, which by the way was introduced to the market around the same time Ref. 6154 was produced. Accordingly, the case numbers are very close. 988,XXX for the first Ref. 6204 Submariner batch and 997,XXX for Ref. 6154. In 2015, this very watch watch appeared at Sotheby’s but was almost immediately withdrawn after concerns about the authenticity of the dial were expressed.
Not much is known about the provenance of this watch. From what I gathered it could have been found at the old Panerai premises in the early 1990s when Italian Panerai dealer Francesco Ferretti was invited to go through the decomissioned inventory and take everything he saw fit. In 2016, Ferretti sent me a list of all Ref. 6154 watches he sold over the course of time, 16 in total. 997572 was on the list as well.
The “Oyster Precision” dial fits the watch perfectly. From a watchmaking perspective, this is how a dial would be properly installed in a watch. The comparison below shows the “Radiomir Panerai” dial sits much higher, thus covering half of the inner bezel.
The main issue with the “Oyster Precision” dial is that the graphics appear to be printed rather than obtained by galvanic process (gilt) as it was common at the time. There is also no chapter ring, another standard feature in those days. However, if we look at the next comparison, the graphics are spot on. Back in 2005, none of the Italian counterfeiters were capable of reproducing this level of detail.
It is understandable why this dial is controversial but given the details, it could be ok and by taking the case construction of Ref. 6154 under consideration, it is likely the watches were sent to Florence featuring something like this.
Ref. 6154 is the “shredded” brother of Ref. 6152 from 1953. If Ref. 6152 was Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ref. 6154 would definitely be Frank Zane, the king of aesthetics. With around 35 pieces each, both references were made in small numbers, probably for testing purposes before a big order of 500 pieces was made in 1955 (Ref. 6152/1). From a logical point of view, Ref. 6154 appears to have been made on Rolex’s own intiative, to propose a more wearable watch to the Italian Navy. Panerai sandwich dials were over-engineered and unnecessary thick but by no means more luminous than what Rolex could produce. Radiomir was nothing but regular radium lume after all. In light of all of this, 997572 makes perfect sense.
What happened after the delivery of Ref. 6154 is unclear. Fact is, most examples surfaced with a Panerai sandwich dial and some pieces were reportedly found in Egypt. In 1955, Rolex produced Ref. 6152/1, a simplified version of Ref. 6152. Clearly, the bulkier model had prevailed. It is interesting to note the 6152/1 case was designed to take a fat sandwich dial of up to 3 mm in thickness but when tritium-based Luminor was introduced in the mid 1960s, the dials became considerably thinner due to a different inner construction. This resulted in a massive gap between dial and inner bezel as can be seen in the picture below.
997572 is a very interesting watch in my opinion. If the current owner of the watch is reading this, please get in touch with me. I would love to inspect the watch further, especially the back of the dial, and of course the radioactive emissions. If its autheticity were to be confirmed, this watch could be the ultimate discovery with an unmeasurable value.
With its “reduced to the max” approach, Ref. 6154 reminds me of the last batch of Ref. 3646 that featured a slimmer middle case (5.4 mm vs. 6.3 mm) and a low bezel to house the emblematic “Error-Proof” dial (California dial). As with the latter, Ref. 6154 was not designed to house a thick Panerai sandwich dial. Rolex’s goal was always to create the perfect watch. Panerai sandwich dials made the watches needlessly thick but offered no real advantage over conventional dials. They were the kind product a precision workshop like G. Panerai & Figlio would make due to lack of other means. The Italian dial became necessary due to strict “buy Italian” policies imposed onto the armed forces in preparation for war. A foreign product could only be accepted if at least parts of it were made in Italy. Let me be clear, original Panerai sandwich dials are amazing and the combination with Rolex watches created something truly exceptional in the horological world.
Thank you for your interest.
The Panerai Time Machine
Ref. 6154 is an important milstone in the history of these amazing watches. The timeline below represents the current state of research into vintage Rolex-Panerai (click to zoom in).
This timeline is available as a high quality print in two sizes:
- 120 x 68 cm (47 x 26 inch): EUR 95.00 (plus shipping)
- 150 x 85 cm (59 x 33 inch): EUR 135.00 (plus shipping)
Printed with HD Inkjet on photo 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