Saturday, March 30, 2013

The ROLEX PANERAI Design Language Connection

Design Language Connection

Part 1

One Mystery Leads To Another
Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

This is an article I have thought about writing for years. My plan is to likely write it in 3 parts, with this being Part 1. Much of Panerai's Vintage history is a big mystery. As Winston Churchill once said "It's a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key." My goal is to find the key and unlock mystery.

The objective of this story is to once and for all separate the fact from the fiction on some key Rolex/Panerai history, as well as to shed more valuable light on the ethos of the history and evolution of dive watches.

There has been an ongoing debate for years about wether or not Rolex or Blancplain was the first to come out with a diving watch in the early 1950s. This question largely revolves around the advent of the rotating bezel. I believe Rolex invented and was first to market with earlier Turn-O-Graph models with rotating bezels, but that is a different investigation for a different day.

It is a fact, the very first diving watch, a.k.a. a Diving Tool Watch ever made in the world was a Panerai watch, made by Rolex, for the Royal Italian Navy. This watch is known today as a Radiomir Panerai [Reference 3646] and it is pictured below. The 3646 is a timeless art-deco minimalist masterpiece. Consider it a beautiful gift from the past...

Radiomor Panerai [Reference 3646] Circa 1936 to 1938

The Rolex made Panerai featured a Rolex Oyster Case with a black dial with what today is referred to as a "California" dial. The 3646 was 47MM and featured lugs that were soldered onto the Rolex Oyster, waterproof pocket-watch case. 

Pictured below, is another original 3646 Panerai made by Rolex. Notice the 3646 has no brand designation text on the dial. Why? For one, these watches were part of a classified military program by the Royal Italian Navy, and they possessed technology they wanted to keep secret. In particular, their amazing lume which was powered by Radium, which would allowed the watch to glow very brightly in the dark indefinitely. 

Over time, in the mid 1950s, the 3646 Panerai evolved into a new model named the Reference 6152-1 which maintained the 47MM waterproof Rolex Oyster case diameter but added fat lugs that were machined out of the same steel as the case. The watch also gained the now trademark Panerai 3, 6, 9, 12 dial as well as evolving the onion crown into a significantly beefed-up 8MM Rolex Brevet crown.

This is a highly controversial topic, and I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I will simply put all the puzzle pieces I know of on the table, so we may all examine them, and I will attempt to put them together to solve this fascinating puzzle.

 A Reference 6152 Rolex Model from 1955

There are several mystery Rolex watches that remain enigmatic, and to the best of my knowledge this is the first time they are all showcased together. The first one we will examine is a Rolex Oyster Precision Reference 6152 made in 1955. This watch is featured in Mario Paci's Panerai book.

Mario Paci is a former Panerai employee from Italy, and he left Panerai when it was purchased by the Richmont Group in 1997. The description in Mario Paci's Panerai book for the watch pictured above is in green italics below and it reads:

Watch ref. 6152 with Rolex dial

This watch with Rolex inscriptions on the dial, ref. 6152 case and Rolex movement Cal. 618 (16 lignes). After many years of skepticism and doubts about the authenticity of this watch in the year 2000, the owner of the watch wrote directly to the House In Switzerland to ask for some explanations. In a letter dated 08/03/2000, Rolex of Geneva confirmed the authenticity of the watch and indicated 1955 as the production year, thus resolving any reservations the owner previously had. In these pictures, you can see one of the few pieces in existence.

This watch, which is as rare as it is impossible to find proves the deep bond between Rolex and Panerai. The case is the unmistakeable on that was used in the later models 6152.

Here is a copy of the Rolex Letter mentioned by Marion Paci above:

I translated the above letter from Rolex from Italian to English and it reads:

Dear Mr.

In reference to your request of March 1 us, hereby we inform you as follows:

1 / For the first clock, the serial number indicated to correspond to a model Rolex Oyster Perpetual steel reference 5501, cal 1530, manufactured in 1962. Some of these watches were intended for our center Rolex Bexley, and rode a dial Explorer.

2 / The second clock corrisopnde a Rolex Oyster model, reference 6152, cal 16, manufactured in 1955.

Thank you for I'attenzione, we take o'occasione disticti to offer you my greetings.

Two Reference 6154 Rolex Models from 1954

Next, let's take a look at two 1954 Rolex Reference 6154 Models.

The first one is a Rolex Oyster Precision Reference 6154 made in 1954. Over the years there has been controversy surrounding the authenticity of this watch. So is it real? I don't know for a fact that it is real, but let's assume it is.

Pictured above and below are two different versions of this watch. The one pictured above was sold by the Antiquorum auction house as [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. Amazingly, the price almost tripled in 14 months!!!

The first watch pictured above 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.

Antiquorum said "To our knowledge only 6 pieces were made of this model: this is the first one." 

A Reference 3646 Rolex Prototype from 1942

This next watch is even more controversial than the models shown above. This watch has been presented as being a prototype or very rare 47MM watch which appears to have an authentic Rolex/Panerai 3646 case. The California dial has Radium markers, and has an unusual wrist position, with the twelve o'clock marker located under the winding crown, which is usually positioned over the 3 o'clock marker.

Many experts have argued over wether or not this watch is authentic and 100% original. Some people have agued they believe it is likely the dial and movement came from and were transplanted from an authentic 47MM Rolex Oyster Pocket-watch. Others argue it was a prototype made by Rolex or Panerai, which never went into production. One thing is for certain, and that is the fact the watch looks pretty cool and interesting.

One of the obvious questions, is wether or not all or any of these watches are 100% authentic and original, or are they the result of somebody investing a lot of time and resources in making customized fantasy watches with genuine parts?

I plan to write Part 2 of this article in the future as time permits. Part 2 will take us deeper into evaluating the design ethos of the first real tool watches ever made, as well as diving deeper into the authenticity of the above shown watches. In Part 3 we will will explore how much of the DNA from the Rolex made Panerai watches ended up in the first Rolex diving watch known as the Rolex Submariner–which went on to became the most iconic and copied watch in history.

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