Monday, October 15, 2012

Original Panerai Tight Seal Device U.S. Patent Application

Original 1956 Panerai U.S. Patent
Tight Seal Device 

U.S. Patent Application Filed November 26, 1956
[Originally filed in Italy November 30, 1955]

Ever wonder what the origin was of the trademark Panerai Half-Crescent Crown Guard? All the original Rolex made Panerai watches featured a waterproof Rolex Oyster winding crown up until 1954.  The first watch pictured below is of a 47MM 1955 Radiomir Panerai [Reference 6152-1] which has a standard 8mm Rolex Oyster screw-down style winding crown. 

The way it worked, was that you had to grab the winding crown and turn it counter-clockwise until it released. Then you could pull it out to change the hour, or minute, or wind it. Then you would press it toward the case and screw it back down to lock it–kind of like a jar lid. 

This method created a challenge since in order for the watch to run properly, the user would have to unscrew the crown in order to wind the watch every day if they wanted to make certain it kept proper time. If the user did not do this properly with perfect finesse, it could result in the crown tube stripping and having to be replaced, not to mention it would have been a pain to unscrew, wind-up, then screw it back down.

In 1955 Panerai came up with a new idea which they called the Tight Seal Device, which created a half-cresent crown guard that would protect the winding crown. You can see this mechanism on the 1955 Radiomir Panerai pictured below, which is a Reference 47mm 6152-1. It is likely Panerai came up this the novel method of locking the crown in order to allow the user to avoid having to unscrew the winding crown daily.

This watch is unusual, in the sense it is the very first Panerai with the now trademark half-crescent crown guard, but notice it has a Radiomir Panerai dial designation, and NOT a Luminor Panerai designation, which became standard on this model just after the first prototypes were made. Both of these images appear courtesy of my friend, John Goldberger.

On of the great Panerai mysteries, is where did the half-crescent crown guard come from? Who designed it and why? Also, it is important to note that Rolex stopped making Panerai watches in or around 1955, so you have to wonder if this was due to the fact that Panerai filed for a Patent on this new method of waterproofing a watch winding crown? As previously mentioned, it could also have been an attempt to overcome the issue of the crown tubes potentially being able to be striped. Nobody knows today for certain, and an obvious question, is why didn't Panerai fit the watches with automatic movements?

Pictured below it a copy of the original Panerai Tight Seal Device Patent application filed in the United States Patent Office on November 26th, 1956. Figure 1 illustrates how the half-crescent crown guard functions.

The United States Patent Office application 2,954,665 was files by Maria Panerai and Guiseppe Panerai, both of 2 Piazza Galileo Ferraris, Florence, Italy, and it lists them both as the inventors of the Panerai Tight Seal.

The application claims priority back to an application filed in Italy on November 30, 1955. The way U.S. Patent law worked at the time, was that if you filed a patent application in a foreign country, was that you had one year to file your U.S. patent, so we see that the U.S. application was filed 6 days before the 1 year deadline.

U.S. Patent Application Number 2,954,665 (pictured above) begins:

"The present invention relates to a tight seal device for the control knob of instruments, particularly for the setting and winding knob of watches.

It is known that it is a problem to provide a tight seal for the case of an instrument which must be able to work when immersed in a fluid medium, the leakage of which medium into the said case would impair the mechanisms therein contained.

A typical but not limitative example is that of an instrument which is to be used under water."

So what does this patent application mean, and why was it filed? If I understand it correctly, Panerai is claiming that with their Tight Seal Device system, the watch can still be wound underwater, without effecting the waterproofness of the watch.

Another interesting historical note, is that all the Rolex made Panerai watches, which were made from 1936-1955, were essentially the first diving tool watches made. Rolex formally introduced the Rolex Submariner diving watch in 1954, which was the year Panerai filed the original application in Italy. It stands to reason that this is more than a coincidence.

It is also interesting to note that despite the fact Panerai first filed the Tight Seal Device patent in Italy in 1955, it likely took at least a few years to test and develop.

Perhaps in 1953 or 1954, Rolex told Paneari they would no longer continue making Panerai watches since they planned to come out with an aquatic Rolex model named the Submariner?  This brings about the question of why Panerai created and filed this application, made some watches with the half-crescent crown guard for a year or two, and then stopped!?!? 

It is likely that once Rolex introduced the Submariner diving watch, which had the rotating bezel, it functionally obsoleted the Panerai watches. I also learned that many of the Italian Royal Navy divers wanted a Tudor or Rolex Submariner because they had the spinning bezels that could time dives.

If you think about it, the Tight Seal Device is a deeply profound and mysterious gift from the mid 1950s. Why? Rolex essentially made all the vintage Panerai watches from 1936 to 1955. This is a fact. Nobody knows exactly how many watches were made over that 20 year period.

Panerai CEO, Angelo Bonati mentioned in an interview in 2012 that he believed they only made 300 pieces in total, and if you do some basic math, the vast majority of those 300 watches had a standard winding crown, so at the very tail-end of that 20 years period, some of Panerai's last models incorporated the Tight Seal Device–maybe the made 20-30 with the half-crescent crown guard, then Panerai watch manufacturing disappeared into oblivion, and remained dormant until the brand was resurrected in 1993.

The Supreme irony is that if you fast-forward to today, in 2013, the modern Officine Panerai watch company's primary trademark is the Tight Seal Device crown guard. As a matter of fact, early on when the modern Panerai company began, they brilliantly protected the Tight Seal Device crown guard as a Registered Trademark of the brand, and even engrave "REG. T.M." on many Tight Seal Crown Guard fascia. When most people think of Panerai watches today  they think of a watch that looks like the stunningly timeless PAM00372 pictured below.

The modern model (Introduced in 2012) 47MM PAM00372 is one of the most popular vintage Panerai models made today because its DNA is so similar to that of the original Reference 6152 made in the mid 1950s. The most interesting fact to me, is that the modern Panerai company is based upon a piece of mid 1950s design that was left behind in antiquity, only to be revived four decades later, and made into the cornerstone of the modern Panerai Brand. 

Talk about a magnificent gift from the Italian past!!! Panerai really is the ultimate example of the Phoenix crashing violently into the ground, then rising from the ashes to fly even higher and faster. To this day, the Tight Seal Device remains a mystery, and hopefully over time, with deeper research, I may be able to discover more of this magnificent history.

It is also fascinating to note that in 1955, if you wore a Panerai 6152 or 6154, you would have looked out of place, because at 47MM they were considered to be an enormous oversized wrist-watch. But if you fast forward, once again to 2013, human beings have  grown quite a bit on-average in height and weight, and the current PAM00372, which was based upon the original 6152 is perfectly germane today. 

The PAM00372 really is the ultimate example of a Back To The Future watch. In other words, when I wear a PAM00372, it seriously trips me out to think it was designed in the early 1950s, and looks amazing today. If you wore an original Panerai Reference 6152 from 1954, today, it would look very, very cool and apropos, far more so than a Rolex Submariner from the same year. The Rolex would still look cool, but a little on the small side, and definitely not as masculine.

If you think about it, how many things that were designed and made in the 1930s through the mid 1950s could be made almost identically today, and still be magnificently useful and beautiful. Not many, but the vintage Panerai design flawlessly transcends obsolescence!!!

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