Friday, July 27, 2007

The Complete History Of Panerai

The Complete History Of


The World's First Professional Diving Watch


I originally published this Panerai history story on Jake's Rolex World, years ago in 2008, and I wanted to add it to Jake's Panerai World–where it ideally belongs.

When I wrote this story, I was completely overwhelmed with trying to put together many of the mysterious Panerai history puzzle pieces. Out of all the stories I have researched, and I have researched many, the Panerai story is unusually shrouded in mystery and intrigue, and it seems to never end. Like any good mystery, when you solve one mystery, it presents you with an additional mystery.

My Panerai history story includes many exclusive documents that were first published as part of this story, and it includes many photos, documents, and details you won't find anywhere else.

In the last couple of years, I have learned so much more about the history of Panerai, and in the future–as time permits–I plan to significantly overhaul this story to make it better, by making it more thorough, detailed and cohesive.

Rolex made all the original Panerai watches from the later 1930s through the 1950s, which explains why the Panerai History story is part 3 of my 18 part series named The Complete History Of The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER: Rolex's Conquest Of The Ocean. If you are interested in learning more about Rolex's diving watch history click the link above, otherwise enjoy this story, and I also included the table of contents for the above-mentioned story at the end of this story.

The Complete History Of
The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER
Rolex's Conquest Of The Ocean

Chapter 3: Panerai & The Italian Royal Navy
The First Professional Rolex Diving Watch

Panerai has a fascinating and colorful history which is woven in with the history of Rolex as well as with the Royal Italian Navy, the German Kampfschwimmer's and the Egyptian Army. Rolex and Panerai are thought by many as being distant cousins, but as we will learn, they are much more like brothers:

In 1860 Giovanni Panerai (1825-1897) opened a watch shop in Florence, Italy which sold high-quality pocket watches.

In 1864 Guido Panerai & Figlio was established in Florence and specialized in mechanical engineering and designing and producing high-quality equipment for the Italian Navy. This is the company that would one day become Officine Panerai.

In the early 20th Century the Orologeria Svizzera was established and grew beyond just being a watch retailer. The Orologeria Svizzera sold tools and accessories for precision engineering and also contained a repair shop for watches and clocks as well as the first watchmaking school in Florence, Italy.

-----------Section Updated December 17, 2017-----------

The image seen below was originally published in this story, but Jose from discovered it had been falsely manipulated. 

Notice how it says, "Officine Panerai" in the bottom of the window? That is fake, and was the result of photo manipulation. The correct photo, which was taken in the 1920s has been added below:

Notice this correct image says "Orologeria Svizzera" which is correct. As a matter of fact, the image below shows Giovani Panerai standing in front of his Orologeria shop around 1860. According to Panerai "Giovanni Panaerai's shop also served as a workshop and Florences first watchmaking school. The shop later moves to its current location in the Palazzo Arcivescovile in Piazza San Giovanni, changing its name to "Orologeria Svizzera" at the beginning of the twentieth century." If you look closely at the image below, you will notice an Omega sigh in the wider window about a foot above Giovanni's head.

Giovanni Panerai is pictured below at a later date.

The photo below shows the Orologieria Svizzera shop around 1934, and notice there are now multiple brand name signs in the window including Vacheron & Constantin, as well as Longines, and ROLEX.

-----------------End of December 17, 2017 Update-----------------

In 1915 Guido Panerai developed and patented a process for creating luminous markings for equipment made for the Italian Navy, which he called Radiomir. It is likely Guido Panerai had no idea his Radiomir was extremely dangerous and highly toxic since it was based upon Radium which is one of the most radioactive chemical elements known to mankind.

Radiums atomic number is 88 on the periodic table of elements and its symbol is Ra. Radium is more than 1 Million times more radioactive than the same mass of uranium and it has a half-life of 1602 years.

Since radium played such and important role in illuminating the first wrist watches in the dark, we must explore its essence.

Watches that glow in the dark today use a process named Luminova which is a phosphorescent process, which means the material absorbs light energy, stores it, and emanates it until it runs out–kind of like a rechargeable flashlight, or perhaps and even better analogy would be glow-in-the-dark stars you adhere to the ceiling in a child's bedroom.

All forms or light are essentially forms of energy. If you examine a standard soft white incandescent light bulb, you will notice it produces light based upon heat output–same with a campfire or kerosene lantern.

Phosphorescence and fluorescence light sources such as glow-in-the-dark stars, TV or compact fluorescent light bulbs produce light by reacting to radiation energy.

These methods adhere to the same fundamental principle that an external energy source excites atoms, thus causing the release of visual light known as photons.

The original watches "lume" was powered by Radium which conversely radiated stored energy that did not depend on an external source of energy. Radium was used by Guido Panerai as the essential part of his "Radiomir" process which caused elements covered with the Radiomir to glow-in-the-dark.

Radiomir was originally used on instrument dials for ships and artillery targeting equipment which was thought–at the time–to be of great benefit since it did not require and electrical source of energy. In order to understand Radium and its effect on the watch industry we must examine radium in more detail.

Marie Curie
The Discovery Of Radium

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less. –Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Radium was discovered by the famous nobel prize winning physicist and chemist, Marie Curie along with her husband Pierre Curie. Marie Curie not only discovered radioactivity, but also coined the term. Madame Curie as she was commonly referred to, was born in Poland in 1867, and she was an amazing scientist–so much so, she was the first scientist in history to win two different Nobel Prizes.

1n 1891 when Maria was 24 years old she moved to Paris to attend the University of Paris where she attained her higher degrees and performed her history changing scientific experiments. Marie was married to Pierre Curie who was a Nobel co-laureate of hers and her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie and son-in-law Frederic Joliot-Curie were also Nobel prize winners. Imagine what dinner conversation must have been like in the Curie household!!!

Pierre & Marie Currie As A Young Couple In Paris

Marie Curie amazingly discovered two different element on the periodic table of elements which were polonium and and radium. She named polonium after her country of birth–Poland.

Marie was a scientific pioneer and she pioneered the field of radiation therapy which used radioactive isotopes to treat and kill cancer cells. Marie and her husband Piere (pictured above) discovered radium in 1898 in pitchblende which came from the North Bohemia region in the former Czech Republic. The Curie's were studying pitchblende and noticed once they removed the uranium from the pitchblende the remaining material was still highly radioactive.

Next, they separated out a radioactive mixture consisting primarily of barium which gave off a bright green flame color which had never been documented. The Curie's shared their amazing discovery with the world for the first time at the French Academy Of Sciences on December 26, 1898.

In 1910 Curie and Andre-Louis Debierne isolated radium as a pure metal through a process of electrolysis of pure radium chloride solution that used a mercury cathode and distilling in an atmosphere of hydrogen gas. Unfortunately, years later, Radium exposure was blamed for Madame Curies premature death.

Radium is an alkaline earth metal that is silvery white metallic looking and when it was first used for creating self-luminous paint for watches, aircraft switches, clocks and instrument dials it was not known that it was highly radioactive and deadly.

In 1915 when Guido Panerai applied for his patent application for Radiomir, he obviously had no idea how deadly and toxic Radium was.

Nobody knows for certain how many watch dial painters who used their lips to shape camel haired paintbrushes died from radiation poisoning. At the minimum it is in the hundreds, but more than likely in the thousands–internationally.

Essentially the radium would get stored in their bones where it would get converted to calcium and replace bone marrow and kill them. Radium was used as late as the 1950s, although tritium typically replaced it. Tritium is also potentially dangerous if ingested, but it replaced radium. Today, luminova has replaced both. Luminova is not radioactive and thus it is safe.

The Radium Girls

There is a famous piece of American history typically referred to as "The Radium Girls" who are pictured below. The Radium Girls were a group of female factory workers who experienced radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with glow-in-the-dark radium-based-paint in Orange, New Jersey in the U.S.A. in 1917.

The Radium Girls were told the paint was harmless. They however ingested deadly amounts of radium when they would lick their camel hair paintbrushes to sharpen the tip.

The radium girls thought the glow-in-the-dark radium paint was fun, so they would paint their fingernails with the radium paint and even use it as makeup or put it on their teeth. Then they started dropping like flies. Five of the radium girls sued their employer in a court case which established the right of individual workers who contract occupational diseases to sue their employer.

Female employees at the U.S. Radium Corporation in 1922 painting radium onto watch dials

From 1917 to 1926, the U.S. Radium Corporation was engaged in the process of extracting radium from carnoite ore to produce luminous paints which were marketed under the "Undark" brand name.

U.S. Radium was a defense contractor and major supplier of radioluminescent watches to the U.S. Military. U.S. Radium Corporation's plant in Orange, New Jersey employed over a hundred women to paint radium glow-in-the-dark paint on watch dials and other various instrument panels.

The going pay rate for painting 250 dials per day was around a penny and a half per dial. Management knew the paint was very dangerous but they did nothing to protect the employees. After tremendous difficulty the Radium Girls won the lawsuit which set a significant precedent in American labor law.

It is profound to note radium was used as an ingredient in some foods for taste and as a preservative. It was even used as an additive in toothpaste, hair creams, and was even put in some foods as a curative agent.

The first Panerai watches made by Rolex for Panerai had the Panerai Radiomir designation on the dial and these radioactive watches were produced up until 1954.

How Radium Paint Glows

When zinc sulfide is mixed into paint with radium, the zinc sulfide emits light when it is struck by the radioactive particles from the radium. Over time the zinc sulfide "wears out" and ceases to glow. This typically leads unsuspecting wearers to think the paint is no longer radioactive, while it is still almost just as radioactive as the day it was made!!!

Ironically, it is still unsafe to wear these old Panerai watches because they still emit an unsafe level of radioactivity as we see in the two photos below that were taken by Philippe, of a geiger counter measuring the current level of radioactivity being emitted by the radium. Since the half life of Radium is 1602 years, it will be many, many years before these watches are safe to wear.

The fact that these watches are still highly radioactive does not diminish their historical and financial value. Quite the contrary. These old watches typically are valued at over $100,000 U.S. Dollars.

Panerai Tools

Let's take a closer look at Panerai. Before making wristwatches, Officine Panerai specialized in making instrumentation controls and tools for the Italian Navy. Pictured below we see a photo of an Original Panerai compass and depth gauge. It is important to note these devices as well as every original Panerai watch ever made were only available to the Italian Panerai company and were NOT sold to the general public.

In this next photo we see an original Panerai flashlight and wrist-worn depth gauge along with a Panerai professional diving watch from 1946. Soon we will be taking a much closer look at the evolution of the Panerai professional diving watches, which Rolex began producing in 1935, but it is important to note the half-moon-crescent crown gaurd pictured below, which is a patented design trademark of Panerai did not arrive until 1946.

Before we more closely examine the evolution of the professional Panerai dive watches, I want to give you a visual frame-of-reference for the size scale of the original Panerai watches. All the Panerai professional dive watches Rolex ever made for Officine Panerai were 47mm. The photo below shows a 47mm Panerai next to a Rolex Military Submariner [Reference 5517] which is 40mm.

Ironically back in the 1960s when the Rolex "Milsub" was made it was considered to be a huge watch and the Panerai from decades earlier was considered to be crazy huge. Today the standard Rolex Submariner is beginning to look dainty and the larger Panerai is becoming the standard. It is also interesting to note the Rolex Milsub 5517 (pictured below) was also not available to the general public, but only made for the British military.

The First Professional Dive Watch

As I mentioned in the last chapter, in 1926 Rolex developed and brought to market the first Rolex Oyster pocket-watch (pictured below). The first Rolex Oyster watches were not made for swimming or certainly not for diving. They were made to stop the watches movements from being negatively effected by oxidation, perspiration, and water.

So how is the first Rolex Oyster pocket watch the genesis for the first professional diving watch ever made in history? Nobody knows for certain, but there are some major clues we will examine.

The First Rolex Professional Diving Watch

This is where the mystery thickens. The image below is from a 1935 Rolex catalog. It shows a 47mm Rolex [Reference 2533] wrist watch with soldered on lugs and lumed hands and lumed indices. The challenge is there is not one known example of this watch in the world!?! This is likely because Rolex never sold any due to the fact that a 47mm wristwatch in 1935 would have looked so unusually large and thus, strange.

One thing is crystal clear to me as a designer and historian is Rolex threw everything at the wall they could think of and simply watched to see what stuck. Some of the most beautiful, valuable and rare Rolex watches are models that sold very few models because they were unpopular at the time.

I imagine since the Rolex [Reference 2533] was 47mm it probably did not sell very well, so maybe Rolex simply swapped out the dials, and movements and sold the resulting watches with no name on the dials to Panerai? This may explain why there are no known examples of the watch that appear in the 1935 Rolex catalog.

This next image is also from the 1935 Rolex catalog an it shows the Reference 2533 next to more standard size Rolex models. This gives you an idea of how massive this watch was at the time.

The First Panerai

Rolex of Geneva is renowned for being extremely private and elusive with sharing details of their history. I think Rolex of Geneva, in their archives, likely has all the specific details of how the first Panerai watches came into existence, but I may be wrong.

As a Rolex historian, it is extremely frustrating to me that Rolex of Geneva does not come forth and share this fascinating history, but as I said, it may be that they don't have the records any more? I think Rolex simply doesn't care about their history. They only care about selling watches, but they don't understand how invaluable their history is as a marketing vehicle.

My concern as a Rolex historian is that if Rolex does not put together the pieces of their history puzzle soon it will be to late. This is one of the reasons I invest my life energy in writing detailed articles like this.

The one thing we can infer, is that Panerai came to Rolex in or around 1935 and told them they wanted to make a professional diving watch for the Italian Navy. I speculate and hypothesize that Rolex may have already had the 2533 developed, but it could just as easily been the other way around.

The Evolution Of The Revolution

The one thing we know is the first Panerai professional diving watch made by Rolex was essentially a Rolex Oyster pocket watch with wired lugs that were soldered onto the case.

I wrote a super detailed article and review of John Goldberger's superb Rolex history book named 100 Superlative Rolex Watches and I created the following illustration for that review to show exactly how the Rolex Oyster pocket watch evolved into the first Rolex professional diving watch [Reference 2533] as well as evolving into the first Panerai professional diving watch.

Click on image below to see evolution of Rolex Oyster Pocket-Watch into Panerai Diving Watch:

As you see in the illustration above I credit the original discovery of this evolutionary step to the superlative Rolex historian, James Dowling. James was the first to put together the pieces of this puzzle. I just created the illustration to make it easier to see the actual evolution. James Dowling coauthored one of the great Rolex history books with Jeff Hess and you can learn more about it by clicking here.

The Rolex–Panerai Watches

I want to start this section by thanking John Goldberger for sharing the following images of Rolex and Panerai watches from his amazing book titled 100 Superlative Rolex Watches. If you want to learn much more about the history of Rolex watches, I highly recommend John Goldberger's book and you can see my review by clicking here.

Rolex made all the original Panerai watches pictured below for the Royal Italian Navy from 1936 to 1956, but I want to begin by pointing out a fascinating observation I made.

Page 24 Rolex Oyster in Stainless [Reference 2081] Circa 1928-1930

The watch above is amazing because it seems to be the watch the later Rolex made Panerai watches were based upon. The watch above is smaller at around 30mm than the 47mm Panerai's (as seen below) but the design language is clearly derivative and almost identical.

Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 6154] Circa 1954

This is the last Panerai Rolex made (pictured above). It was made for the Egyptian Army. This watch has a current value of $120,00 and is the second rarest collectable Panerai. According to the John Goldberger, only 30 of this Reference 6154 were ever made.

This watch has a nickname among Paneristi (Paneristi is the nickname for Panerai collector/fanatics) of the small Egiziano. Egiziano is Italian for Egyptian and it is named Small Egiziano because after Rolex stopped making watches for Panerai, Panerai made a 60mm prototype watch for the Egytian Army which is nicknamed the Big Egiziano.

The History Of Rolex Made Panerai Professional Diving Watches

This first Rolex made Panerai, picture below is and Ultra-rare prototype of which there is only 1 known example on earth. Yes, you read that right–there is only one know example and you are looking at it pictured below.

Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 2533] Circa 1936

The Rolex made Panerai Reference 3646, pictured below has unusual art deco dial known as the California dial which has Roman numerals on the top and Arabic numerals on the bottom. This new model was different than its predecessor in that it had an diamond shaped winding crown. In Chapter 5 of this series, we will examine how, it many ways, this watch and dial design formed the basis for the Rolex Submariner.

Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 3646] Circa 1936 to 1938

This is the first Rolex made Panerai with the trademark 3,6,9,12 Panerai Radiomor dial. The Radiomir designation on the dial of the watch was used because it used Radium lume to illuminate the hands and dial in the dark. The dial on this watch is a plexiglass Prototype. Radiomir lume was patented in 1915.

Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 3646] Circa 1938

This next Rolex made Panerai, pictured above has the classic 2,6,9,12 Radiomor Panerai dial with the diamond-shaped winding crown.

Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 3646] Circa 1940

With the introduction of the 6152/1 model, Rolex added a new winding crown guard mechanism that allowed the watch to maintain its waterproof seal in deeper water than the conventional crown. Since all the Rolex made Panerai watches were manually wound, the waterproof crown gasket would wear out quickly over time, so Rolex and Panerai came up with this new design enhancement. Rolex made 300 examples of this model.

Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 6152/1] Circa 1946

This next watch (pictured below) is the last Panerai model made by Rolex in 1956. It was made for the Egyptian army and they only produced 30 examples. The reason the dial is a light brown or even tan is because the radium based material they used for the markers and hands had a radioactive effect on the black dial and caused it to get much lighter.

This is the same watch small Small Egiziano we examined at the beginning of this section. In my personal opinion as a designer, this is one of the most timeless and beautiful professional tool watches ever made.

Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 6154] Circa 1956

The next three photos are of the Panerai Reference 6152 made by Rolex. In this first image you see the Rolex designation on the watch movement as well as on the back of the screw on back.

Remember if you want to see more detail in the photos on this page just click on them.

Page 32 Panerai Movement Photo [Reference 6152] Circa 1950

This next image is of the same watch pictured above and below. You can see the Rolex Brevet designation and Rolex crown logo on the winding crown. Brevet means patent in French.

Page 32 Panerai Brevet Winding Crown Side View with Rolex Crown Logo [Reference 6152] Circa 1950

Page 33 Panerai Radiomir [Reference 6152] Circa 1950

This Radiomir Panerai diving watch (pictured above) is 47mm and has a light brown dial. This watch has a current market value of $100,000 and according to John Goldberger only 300 of the Reference 6152 were manufactured.

The watch pictured above has its original leather band that came with the watch. The original leather bands were not only water-proof, but salt-water-proof. The leather was treated with special oils and resins so if you rinsed it after a salt-water dive it would be fine. It is a status symbol of sorts to posses an original Rolex made Panerai with the original and weathered leather band.

I must admit that until reading 100 Superlative Rolex Watches I knew very little about Rolex making all the Panerai watches from 1936 to 1956. When I tried to learn more on the internet, I found much conflicting information. For instance, the Wikipedia article seems to suggest that from 1936 to 1956 Panerai only produced a total of 300 watches.

This did not make sense to me, so I followed up with John Goldberger and he shared with me that this was not true and that they made many more. Here are the numbers John shared with me that he said were from a good Panerai source on the number of Rolex made Panerai watches:

1935 [Reference 2533] 1 Prototype
1938 [Reference 3646] 600 Watches
1943 [Reference 6152] 300 Watches
1954 [Reference 6154] 30 Watches

After 1956, Panerai kept producing their watches but Rolex no longer made them. Apparently Panerai stopped making watches for the Italian Militare in 1993 because it was no longer cost effective, and Panerai decided to focus on producing watches for the general public.

The watches were not very successful. As a matter of fact, between 1993 and 1997, Panerai only produced 1828 watches. Of course, this all soon changed and today Panerai watches are one of the most popular and exclusive brands.

The Royal Italian Navy Frogmen Commandos
The First Professional Dive Watch In Action

We have examined the evolution of the Rolex made Panerai professional diving watches and now we will examine the story behind the watch. We will meet the first men who wore these professional dive watches. This piece of the historical puzzle is amazing.

Panerai came to Rolex somewhere around 1935 and told them they needed a watch for the Italian Navy Frogmen. They had three requirements for a professional diving watch. First and foremost it had to be waterproof, which was why them came to Rolex to begin with.

Secondly, the watch had to be visible in the darkest underwater environment. The Italian Navy Frogmen were underwater commando's who would typically dive at night and they could achieve their best cover on a moonless night. Since the Radiomir Panerai used Radium to light the dial, the watches were very visible in the dark.

The third criteria was the watch had to be as large as possible to optimize the visibility.

In the image below we see an Italian Navy Frogman wearing a re-breather suit in the center of the photo and we see the diver on the far right wearing the now trademark 47mm Panerai.

The Italian Royal Navy commando above and below are wearing Pirelli muti di gomma in rubber. Note the Italian diving suit has 2 oxygen bottles on it.

The Most Amazing Panerai Story!!!!!!!!!!

When I wrote the first draft of this story, I literally stumbled into the authors Ralf Ehlers and Volker Wiegmann. I actually included the photo below of Ralf & Volker in the first draft of this story because I wanted to show a photo of what an Italian Navy Frogman diving suit with the dual canister re-breather looked like. I also mentioned a book they had published named Vintage Panerai.

I was not familiar with their first book named, Vintage Panerai – Watches With History, and after I contacted them, I learned they had just come out with a second book named Vintage Panerai –The References. When Volker share the scope of the second book I was shocked!?!?!?!?!!!!

I ordered both books since they seemed so fascinating and I must tell you when they arrived my mind was completely blown!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean I was completely mind-boggled!!!!!!!!!!!! I was so impressed and fascinated with their books, I stopped working on this series and sat down and read their books!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am so stunned and impressed with their books, in the future, when I am done with this series, I am going to do detailed review as well as a two separate podcast interviews–One with Volker & one with Ralf.

Vintage Panerai Authors Ralf Ehlers & Volker Wiegmann

In the meantime, I am going to give you an overview of these MUST HAVE Books!!!! I am so blown away by their books it is almost hard to figure out where to begin!?!?!

Vintage Panerai–Watches With History

As I mentioned at the beginning of this story, Rolex and Panerai are thought by many as being distant cousins, but they are much more like close brothers. In my personal opinion, I would go so far as to say the vintage Panerai watches are essentially vintage Rolex watches. The vintage Panerai watches also have a unique history and simple tool-watch design ethos that is unmistakable and wonderful at the same time.

Ralf & Volker completed their first book, Vintage Panerai–Watches With History two years ago in 2007. Both this book and their new book they just came out with are written in German, Italian and English. In other words, each book has the trilingual German, Italian and English description and story on each page.

The back of their first book accurately describes the book as:

"This book comprehensively documents five historic Panerai watches and their pasts. Complete with rare information on their original Italian and German owners, the book details the training and assignments of combat swimmers as well as the extensive array of combat swimmer's equipment. So different are these five watches, that it is a truly fascinating journey to dive into the histories of these amazing timepieces. A book by collectors, for collectors."

This first book just completely blew my mind!!!! The stories are amazing and the level of research detail is extremely impressive. This book gives you such an incredible sense of history and the level of precise detail is stupefying!!!!

I recently mentioned to Volker in a phone conversation that as a Rolex historian I was stunned with how great their books are and I am not easy to impress!!! Beside being a Vintage Panerai fanatic, Volker is in the printing industry and it really shows. The two books are so well laid-out graphically, it makes them an absolute pleasure to read and own.

Vintage Panerai–The References

As I mentioned, when Volker first told me what the scope was of the second book they just came out with named Vintage Panerai–The References I almost didn't believe him.

He told me he and Ralf had been working on a database to document and chronicle every known vintage Panerai on earth!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is hard to perceive but in this incredible book they do just that!!!!! They go into great detail on 34 historic Panerai watches and they document in vivid and beautiful color photography a total of the 210 vintage Panerai watches they have been able to document.

I thought I knew a lot about vintage Panerai models, but I was wowed with how many vintage Panerai models I had never seen before!!!!!!

This book is an absolutely magnificent masterpiece in-and-of-itself. It is 365 pages long and weighs 2.5 Kilos or 5.5 Pounds!!!!! One of many reasons I very, very, very highly recommend these books for your collection is because if you invest in them, you will become an advanced expert on vintage Panerai!!!!!

Why is this so profound!?! Because with Rolex, the history and models are so vast, but with vintage Panerai Rolex made what appears to be less than 1000 watches (total) and with these books you get an idea of the scope that Ralf and Volker make fathomable. [Despite the fact I have poured my heart & soul into this chapter in this series, there in very little overlapping information in their books, but I must admit that in my opinion if you read both you develop a complete understanding of vintage Panerai.]

I highly recommend you purchase both of these books to complete your vintage Panerai and Rolex collection. The books are only available directly from, and they ship internationally and accept Paypal.

All I can say is Volker and Ralf are in a class by themselves and I am so grateful for the research they have completed. I think the coolest thing about owning these two books is that it makes me feel like I have owned all the great vintage Panerai watches.

Think about it for a second...If you purchase just one nice vintage Rolex-made Panerai watch it will set you back around $150,000.00 in U.S. dollars. For the small price of these two magnificent masterpiece books you can have your own Rolex-made Vintage Panerai Museum on your coffee table.

I look forward to writing my detailed review of these books and recording the podcast interviews once I complete this series. I can't wait!!!!!

The way I originally came across Volker and Ralf was when I found these photos of Ralf's Small Egiziano which is probably my favorite vintage Panerai watch.

Nicolas who is the JLC Moderator on the Purist S Pro forums wrote a great review on Ralph's Small Egiziano which you can read by clicking here.

Ralf's Small Egiziano has a perfectly faded patina and this next shot is some kind of wonderful!!!

The Panerai company of today goes officially by Officine Panerai. Officine Panerai has a very interesting history. In many, many ways it plays on the legacy of the Italian Royal Navy commando frogmen from World War II, despite the fact it is today a Swiss company. After we examine a little more of the World War II history we take a deeper look at the modern Panerai. I included this Officine Panerai artwork because it looks cool and shows a frogman/commando in his WWII diving gear. Strangely, the person who created this artwork used a World War II British Royal Navy diver underwater suit for this illustration.

World War II & The Italian Royal Navy

The Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina Italiana) was formed on March 17, 1861 when the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) was founded after Italian unification (il Risorgimento). Prior to the formation of the Kingdom of Italy, the area consisted of many small states including Sardinia and Naples.

On June 10, 1940 the Kingdom of Italy declared war on the United Kingdom and French Republic. At the time the Royal Italian Navy was the fourth largest Navy on earth.

Fascist Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini whose nickname was Il Duce believed if the Kingdom of Italy controlled the Mediterranean Sea he could significantly expand his New Roman Empire into Tunis, the Balkans as well as Nice and Corsica. As a matter of fact, Benito Mussolini once declared the Mediterranean Sea as "Mare Nostrum" which when translated to English means "Our Sea." Ironically Panerai would later name one of its watches the "Mare Nostrum" model.

So let's go back to World War II. Toward the beginning of World War II before the American's showed up to straighten things out, the British Empire was at war with the Italian's and the German's. Egypt was part of the British empire at the time. [Think Lawrence Of Arabia].

The Italian Navy, under Mussolini had a strong and innovative program with their Frogmen who were professional divers. Panerai of course had Rolex make the watches for the Italian Navy before World War II broke out.

In November of 1941 the British Mediterranean Fleet which was headquartered in Alexandria, Egypt was in a very vulnerable and weak military position. The British fleet only had two battleships available: the Queen Elizabeth and the Valiant. The Italian Royal Navy was desperate to try and figure out how to sink the two British battleships.

The balance of power in the African war was dependent upon the two British battleships to stop the Italians from being able to sail their convoys to the Italian colony of Libya.

The Pig

The Italian Royal Navy had an elite naval sabotage unit of the Royal Italian Navy (Regia Marina Italiana). The Regia Marina Italiana developed a new secret weapon that was a two man underwater assault vehicle that was typically launched from a submarine. It had many nicknames including Pig, Hog, Chariot, Human Torpedo, Slow Speed Torpedo and Maiali. The nicknames pig, hog and maiali were because of its poor maneuverability.

The two men who would pilot the Maiali or Pig would wear a specially designed breathing apparatus that was essentially a re-breather.

This closed circuit breathing device was fueled on pure oxygen, as apposed to compressed air. This method was chosen to ovoid creating bubbles which could potentially alert the presence of a diver on top of the water. These devices named ARO were made by Pirelli and utilized a sealed system.

The Pig was essentially a Slow Moving Torpedo (SLC) and was an assault weapon of the Regia Marina during the World War II period. The Maiale SLC was equipped with ballast tanks, diving planes as well as compressed air for releasing ballast. Essentially the hog was a two man submarine that was ridden like a tandem motorcycle.

The Maiale were built in the Officine San Bartolomeo La Spezia Shipyard starting in 1935. They were 6.7 meters long and 533mm wide. They had a maximum safe depth rating of 15 meters but were regularly taken down to 30 meters. They had a range of 75 miles if they traveled at an operational speed of 2.3 knots. The range dropped significantly down to 4 miles if they went full speed at 4.5 knots.

The Weapons systems on the original Mark 1 held 220 kilograms of explosive charge and the Mark 2 version got up to 250 kilograms of explosive charge. The final version achieved a 300 kilogram capacity of explosive charge.

The Maiale was invented by SLC Lieutenant Teseo Tesei and the first prototype was made in 1936. The Pig utilized an electric motor and that could output up to 1.6 horsepower from 150 Amp batteries. The Pig's were equipped with a explosive charges located in their front compartments.

As you can see in the photo below, the Italian submarine Gongar il La Spezia was equipped with two Maiale tubes from which the Pigs could be launched to go to their ultimate target.

On the night of December 18, 1941, three, 2-men human torpedoes (hogs) were launched from the Italian Submarine Scrie, commanded by Liutenant Borhese off the shore of the port of Alexandria, Egypt. And you guessed it, the Italian Frogmen were of course, wearing their Rolex made Panerai wrist watches. The port of Alexandria had been sealed off by the British Royal Navy with large metal nets that were designed to stop incoming torpedoes.

The Italian crews on the three hogs had to cut through the metal nets that contained explosive charges and had to get by sentries to get into the port of Alexandria in Egypt. If the Italian Frogmen could get through and blow up the two British battleships, as well as a destroyer and tanker it would be a tremendous victory since the British would no longer be able to maintain a force strong enough to stop the Italian fleet.

The Italian commando frogmen rode their hogs into the highly protected harbor at Alexandria, Egypt and successfully attached their-delayed-action charges on three unsuspecting British ships: the Queen Elizabeth, The Valiant and the tanker Saratoga.

The photo below is of above actual Italian Navy Frogmen riding a hog.

The Italian frogmen experienced tremendous difficulty and were exhausted after having placed the delayed action explosive mines on the three British ships.

The three teams of Italian frogmen were captured by the British, and in a bizarre twist of fate, were interrogated on one of the ships they just wired to explode. A few minutes before the bombs were to explode, Italian Lieutenant De La Penne told the commanding British officer to save his crew.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth battleship (pictured above below) was blown up. Italian Lieutenant De La Penne was able to successfully escape during the ensuing chaos.

The tanker Saratogo sustained terrible damage and the Jervis which was refueling next to it also got hit badly along with the Valiant. The battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth was hit badly and actually sank in the shallow water of the harbor. The Queen Elizabeth was raised and restored but she was out of action for the next 17 months.

As we see in the photographic analysis from the U.S. Office Of Naval Intelligence, the British battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant were almost identical ships.
Winston Churchill later commented on the incidence in the port of Alexandria by saying "It was an extraordinary example of courage and geniality."

Churchill was referring to the cunning stealth the Italian frogmen achieved when he used the word courage and when he used the word geniality he was referring to the fact no soldiers died since Italian Lieutenant De La Penne told the commanding British officer to save his crew. In 1945, the British high command the Mediterranean awarded Italian Lieutenant De La Penne a gold medal of valor for having saved the British sailors.

The British Fleet captured the Italian Human Torpedos (Pig's) used in the attack on the port of Alexandria, Egypt in 1941 and started making their own because they were so impressed at how effective they could be.

Art Deco Returns To Egypt

As a side note, it is kind of ironic–if you think about it–that the original Rolex Oyster cushion case has a definite art deco shape, and the worldwide art deco design influence from the 1920s came from the discovery of King Tut's tomb which was discovered in Egypt in 1922.

So if you think about it, in 1941 the Italian frogmen traveled into the harbor of Alexandria wearing their art deco Panerai watches that derived their design language from ancient Egyptian design. Then, in 1954, the last Panerai watches made by Rolex were purchased by the Egyptian army. It just goes to show how interconnected the world really is!!!

German Kampfschwimmer's Wearing Panerai

This is another bit of mystery. In the six photos below we see Kampfschwimmer's (Combat Swimmer's) wearing Panerai watches. In the first photo notice the two Kampfschwimmer's on on the right side of the photo are wearing Panerai watches.

Nobody knows for certain how the Kampfschwimmer's got ahold of the Panerai watches, but it is believed the they somehow extracted them from the Italian Royal Navy in 1944.

This next photo is a of the two Kampfschwimmer divers on the right in the photo above that are wearing Panerai watches.

The Kampfschwimmer frogmen have diving suits that are distinctively different than the Italian Pirelli suits. The German suits have laces on the arms and legs. Notice the German diver pictured on the far right is wearing a 47mm Panerai watch on his left wrist.

Don't the German Kampfschwimmer divers in the photo above and below look like they are from one of those original black and white Flash Gordon movies!?! ;-) The dudes below actually look kind of spooky, and they are all wearing 47mm Panerai dive watches.

Another way you can tell the difference between the German Kampfschwimmer's and the Italian Royal Navy frogmen commando's is the German's only had one oxygen bottle on their suits, as apposed to the Italian's having two oxygen bottles.

Once again, it is not clear to me how the Kampfschwimmer's got ahold of the Rolex made Panerai watches, but it appears as if they might have taken them from them. As soon as I find out for sure, I will update this section.

Sylvester Stallone & A New Italian Renaissance

In 1993 the Officine Panerai brand was resurrected. The company based their new models largely on the historic Rolex made models from the past. Sales were not going very well, until American actor Sylvester Stallone happened to walk into the Panerai boutique in Florence. Sylvester "Sly" got so excited about the designs he bought a bunch, and wore them in the movie he was just about to make named "Daylight."

Panerai even made special limited edition versions for Sly named Slytech models. Almost overnight, Panerai took off and has been extremely successful ever since.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Panerai

Sylvester Stallone gave one of his Panerai watches to one of his good friends and fellow actor, Arnold Schwarzennegger and Arnold wore Panerai for years. This is ironic since both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger previously only wore Rolex.

One Mystery Leads To Another
Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

We have one more mystery to uncover in this chapter and that is the mystery of the Rolex Panerai-case watches that recently sold at auction from the Antiquorm auction house for some really heavy cash.

First a little background. The two following photo are of two different watches sold by the Antiquorum auction house. The first one pictured below was sold [Lot 194] in Switerland on October 14, 2007 for 221,500 Swiss Francs which is around $200,000 U.S. today. The second watch pictured below was sold at an earlier Antiquorum auction in New York on June 14, 2006 [Lot 162] for $86,400. Somehow the price almost tripled in 14 months!!!

The first watch pictured belwo was described by Antiquorum as:

"Military" Rolex "Oyster Precision", Ref 6154, case No. 997572. Made in 1954. Exceptionally rare and fine large, cushion-shaped, water-resistant, stainless steel, military diver's watch with a stainless steel Rolex buckle. Three-body, polished, screwed-down case back, strain lugs, 8mm Rolex screwed-down winding crown, dustprotection cap. D. Black with luminous round and baton indexes, outer minute divisions. Luminous "baton" hands. M. Cal 618 - 15 3/4", signed Rolex, rhodium-plated, "faussses cotes" decoration, 15 jewels, straightline lever escapement, monometalic balance, shock-absorber, self-compensating Breguet balance-spring, index regulator. Dial case and movement signed. Dim. 47 47mm. Thickness 14mm."

Antiquorum continues the description:

"The Ref. 6154 is identical in case and movement to the watches supplied by Rolex to Panerai, under the same reference number. The difference between the watch made by Rolex for Panerai and the present model is in the dial. The Rolex dial is a traditional single plate with luminous coated indexes, whereas the Panerai dial is a two-plate dial, the first plate being coated with luminous material and the second plate pierced through for the indexes and numerals. Rolex Ref. 6154 is mentioned in the combined reference booklet sent by Rolex to their various retailers and workshops in the 1950s. To our knowledge only 6 pieces were made of this model; this is the first one."

The back-story/legend/myth is when Rolex stopped making Panerai watches in or around 1954, they had a bunch of extra 47mm Panerai cases in-stock so they decided to make up these watches. The really interesting thing is the design language of these two watches look like you morphed a 5513 Submariner dial with a small Egiziano Panerai 6154 case. Brilliant!!! Simply brilliant!!!

The lost Rolex Panerai Submariner watches have finally been found and brought to auction in 2007!!! They even let us know in their expertise "To our knowledge only 6 pieces were made of this model: this is the first one." Let's do some simple math. Multiply $200K U.S. times 6 watches and you get $1.2 Million. That is a lot of money–and what a great story!!!

The challenge is that I argue the authenticity of these watches is in controversy!!! The first clue was when one of the most respected Rolex experts on earth tapped me on the shoulder and told me he thought there was a VERY high likelihood they were not authentic.

The other thing is that he has pointed out to me that many other watches sold at auction for heavy-duty cash by the Antiquorum Auction House are highly questionable.

Another obvious question, is how and why did these watches fist come to auction in 2006? To the best of my knowledge, they are previously undocumented, but if they existed, why didn't one sell at auction 10, 20 or 30 years ago? Why do they not appear in any historical books or magazines? Why are there not photos of them published by anybody including Rolex in a catalog? The watches just seem to have appeared from out of the blue!?!?

Oh, and it just happens to be a coincidence the only two examples of this watch ever sold just happened to be sold at the same auction house? This is not the first time we have seen this happen. Just look at the Ferrari red Paul Newman Daytona watches!!! I imagine it is a coincidence that every one ever sold happened to be sold by the same organization!?!

I strongly believe Antiquorum perpetuates false myths in order to achieve higher auction prices, and thus make more money. Take for example their recent auction of Steve McQueen's Rolex Submariner [Reference 5512]. It is an undisputed fact Steve McQueen wore a Rolex Submariner, but Antiquorum has been, for many years, perpetuating the myth that Steve McQueen wore an early "orange hand" Rolex Explorer II witch I argue he never wore–and they know it or should know it since they are experts that know about the the 6 missing Rolex Panerai watches.

The supreme irony is that in the same recent Antiquorum catalog they sold Steve McQueen's supposed Submariner and in that auction they also offered a "Steve McQueen" Rolex Explorer. Yet they know Steve McQueen NEVER wore this watch that has been falsely dubbed with his name to help achieve higher auction results. If in the future, the Antiquorum or any auction house on earth refers to any Rolex Explorer as a Steve McQueen Explorer, it means they are deceptive or stupid–or both.

I defy Antiquorum to produce a photo or any piece of evidence that proves Steve McQueen ever wore a Rolex Explorer of any kind. This false historical attribution must stop. This is not just my opinion, the Wall Street Journal published a huge expose on this on October 8, 2007 named "How Top Watchmakers Intervene In Auctions" and the International Herald Tribune published a story on April 3, 2008 named "Time Bomb Ticks At Antiquorum" which goes into much detail on this and far beyond.


This chapter has been the mother of all chapters and it covers so much fascinating ground!!! I must admit that when I first came across Panerai watches I hated them. As a matter of fact, in 2001, my younger brother, who is a retired U.S. Navy Seal and I were hanging out in New York. My brother was wearing his Panerai and I was wearing a my stainless Rolex Daytona. My brother was staring at my Daytona and he said "take of your watch and let me see it."

I proudly handed it to him. He shook his head and said "I just cant get into it." I shook my head and said something like "Oh, sorry Mister wearing a big mac on your wrist, or is that a hockey puck." I thought his Panerai was stupid and ridiculously big–like he was a fashion victim.

I was wrong. He was really cool and just too far ahead of me to understand. As I have said so many time before, often times I have to hate something before I can love it, and that has been the case with Panerai. These days, I like Panerai as much as I like Rolex.

In some ways more and in some ways less. In my design mind, it strikes me that perhaps there is a way to combine the two and add some flavor to achieve the ultimate watch design. Who knows? I might try to design something like this myself!?! It just goes to show, you never know!?!?

One More Thing

John Goldberger is one of the worlds leading horological experts and each year he puts together an amazing calendar that he sends out to all his friends as a Christmas gift, and unfortunately you can't purchase the calendar, but on Jake's Rolex World you can download John Goldberger's 2012 Panerai Calendar for free as a PDF.

John Goldberger's 2012 Panerai Calendar is filled with amazingly rare vintage Panerai watches and I am adding them to this story so you can see them below without having to download the PDF. John Goldberger has authored many horological book including 100 Superlative Rolex Watches, and he also publishes the amazing Vintage Rolex HD app for the iPad.

Back To The Begining

Everything in this story is new to Jake's Rolex World and the web. In other words, none of the images or significantly historical images in this story have ever been published–anywhere. I decided to add this story as Part 5 of Chapter 3 of The Complete History Of The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER.

As I mentioned in the introduction, John Goldberger is one of the worlds leading horological experts and he is sharing all the amazing Panerai images in this story with you, but there is ONE MORE THING...and this is absolutely MIND-BOGGLING!!! He also is allowing me to share the next three previously undocumented and unpublished documents that will forever change the course of Rolex and Panerai history!!! These first 3 historically significant Rolex invoices come from the collection of Francesco Ferretti.

If you are not familiar with Panerai watches, it is important to understand that Rolex made all the vintage Panerai watches, beginning in 1936, and running all the way up to at least 1956. If you are not familiar with Panerai history, I highly recommend you read the first 4 parts of Chapter 3: Panerai & The Italian Royal Navy, and if you are feeling ambitious, you can always start at the beginning of The Complete History Of The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER.

The Rolex-Panerai Receipts

If you are a vintage Rolex or Panerai enthusiast you are in for the surprise of a lifetime!!! Over the years, there has been a lot of speculation put forth about the origins of the Rolex-Panerai relationship. Specifically, nobody has ever been able to put together all the pieces of the puzzle so they fit perfectly–not until today.

Panerai Reference 2533

We begin with this first historical Rolex-Panerai document which is a paid Rolex invoice dated June 13th, 1936 for the sale of 19 Panerai Reference 2533 watches. Notice Panerai is misspelled at "PANERAJ."

Image appears courtesy of Francesco Ferretti Panerai Collection

The next two images below, show the front and back of the Panerai Reference 2533 along with the Rolex movement inside the opened case back. Over the years, people have speculated as to whether or not these Panerai Referece 2533 watches with the unusual dial were real.

They speculated they were not correct because the dial designs did not match any of the other Panerai classic 3, 6, 9, 12 dial design language, or the classic California Dial design language.

It turns out they are real and the Rolex invoice from June 13, 1936 (pictured above) confirms this fact. There are only 2 known examples of this early prototype and they are owned by Francesco Ferretti who is one of the most important vintage Panerai connoisseurs in the world. They are located in his museum located in his new showroom in Montecatini Terme, PT. This next image shows one of the first Rolex made Panerai Reference 2533 prototype models that is referenced in the invoice above.

1936 Panerai Reference 2533 47mm
First Prototype

This next image shows the backside of the Rolex made Panerai Reference 2533. The case back has been removed for this photo to expose the Rolex movement.

This next invoice is dated November 20th, 1937 and it illustrates a waterproof free service for 3 watches. Apparently the first Rolex made Panerai Reference 2533's had a lot of water-proofing challenges).

Image appears courtesy of Francesco Ferretti Panerai Collection

This next Rolex invoice is dated March 7, 1939 for the sale of 15 more Reference 2533 Panerai watches. The translation reads "Oyster steel special for divers, (dials supplied by the house PANERAJ), without leather bracelets, or boxes." So Rolex delivered the watches assembled, with Panerai dials on the watches, but without straps or boxes. Also on the invoice you notice Rolex misspelled PANERAI and instead typed "PANERAJ" twice.

Image appears courtesy of Francesco Ferretti Panerai Collection

This next historical image shows Italian Navy Captain, Mario Giorgini standing in front of Italian Dictator, Benito Mussolini who is standing next to the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III. The Panerai Reference 2533 on top of the photo comes from the family of the Italian Navy Captain, Mario Giorgini (pictured below). Note the original Panarai buckle (still attached to the watch) was made out of nickel-plated brass with chamfered edges.

1940 Panerai Reference 3646 47mm
Radiomir Panarai Dial

1942 Panerai Reference 3646 47mm
Blank Dial Designation

1942 Panerai Reference 3646 47mm
Blank California Dial

1943 Mare Nostrum Prototype Chronograph 52mm
Radiomir Panerai Mare Nostrum Dial

1954 Panerai Reference 6154 47mm
Small Egiziano with Radiomir Panerai Dial Designation

1955 Panerai Reference 6152-1 47mm
Radiomir Panerai Dial Designation

1955 Panerai Reference 6152-1 47mm
First Panerai with trademark Half-Moon Crown Guard
Radiomir Panerai Dial Designation

1955 Panerai Reference 6152-1 47mm
Marina Militare Dial Designation

1956 Panerai Reference 6152-1 47mm
Marina Militare Top Dial Designation
Luminor Panerai Lower Dial Designation
Second Hand Complication at 9 O'Clock

1956 Panerai Reference 2/56 60mm
Radiomir Panerai Dial Designation
8 Giorni Brevettato [8 Days Patented]
50 Examples Made for Egyptian Navy Commandos

1961 Panerai Reference 3646 47mm
Luminor Panerai Dial with Seconds Hand

1993 Panerai Reference 5218-201 44mm
Luminor Panerai Prototype with OP Logo

I sincerely hope you enjoyed my Panerai History story, which originally was published on Jake's Rolex World as part of my series named The Complete History Of The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER: Rolex's Conquest Of The Ocean. I included the table of contents from this 18 part series below, of which the Panerai history is part 3.

Jake :-)

The Complete History Of
The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER
Rolex's Conquest Of The Ocean

I don't know if you have ever witnessed somebody write a book in real time, but if you follow this story as I write it, you will have ;-)))

Please keep in mind that many of these chapters are in progress and not complete.

Table Of Contents