Panerai Vintage Watches

 

The political circumstances in the second half of the 1930‘s forced the Italian Navy to order a special watch for underwater use from Officine Panerai, their long term supplier for various nautical, signal, and measurement instruments. Officine Panerai had manufactured instruments for the Italian Navy over many years, before they added diving watches to their product portfolio. During the 2nd World War, the watches and other instruments made by Panerai were standard-issue tools for Italian Navy frogmen, SLC torpedo riders, and commandos (e.g. Xa Flottiglia MAS / Marina Militare). A tool set/triple combination of diving watch, compass, and depth gauge was called "Trittico".


A triple combination ("Trittico") with a 16 m depth gauge, 6152/1 Luminor watch and compass.
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From the late 1930‘s to the 1980’s, Officine Panerai developed diving watches alongside depth gauges, compasses, and torches. Almost all diving watches used movements and cases made exclusively by Rolex. The watches with Rolex movements only had hour and minute functions, as with today’s Panerai Base model.


Radiomir47 mm steel case with Rolex movement
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Later versions of the watches also had Angelus movements (8-day Power Reserve), with a small second hand at 9 o’clock – similar to today’s Luminor Marina models. Panerai added its own ideas into the early products, e.g. the self-luminescent material “Radiomir”, which gave the watch its name. Later, Panerai changed this material to “Luminor” which was still self-luminescent, but not as dangerous as the original radioactive material.

We have to note that today’s Panerai watches carry different names for different case shapes – Radiomir today relates to the case with the wired lugs (removable in current watches, but originally welded to the case). Luminor refers to the case which Panerai has been using since 1993, and is still using now. For vintage Panerai watches, however, these two names, Radiomir and Luminor, mean the self-luminescent material of the dial, not the case/reference number.

The first prototype watch, using a 47mm Rolex case with a Rolex movement and a Rolex winding crown, is called “2533”. Only one piece was made, and it still exists today, using a “Radiomir” dial.


Prototype 2533 next to a 3646
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Building upon this watch, Panerai produced watches with the reference “3646” in various versions from 1938 until the 1950‘s. These watches have also been used by German “Kampfschwimmer” units with “no-name” dials - no lettering on the dials. It is not documented exactly how many of these watches were delivered to the German “Kriegsmarine” (Navy). The “3646” initially had a Rolex dial, also called the “California Dial”, half with arabic and half with roman indices. Panerai later replaced these dials and began using the self-illuminating dials with Radiomir/later Luminor material. Panerai also changed the bezels to a deeper version because the “Sandwich” dials from Panerai were deeper than the “California” dials from Rolex.

Panerai released the “Radiomir” in platinum as a special edition watch in 1997, to the same dimensions as the vintage originals, using vintage Rolex movements (PAM 21).


Richemont's PAM21 next to a 3646
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At the request of the Italian Navy, progress through the following years resulted in the wired lugs being changed by creating a completely new case made of one massive block of steel to avoid damage and to make the watch more stable. In addition, a movement with a larger power reserve (8-day Angelus cal. 240) was used in these watches. These are listed as reference “6152”, “6152/1”, and “6154”. Cases were still made by Rolex.


6152/1 prototype watch with 8 days movement from Angelus.
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6152/1 prototype, movement by Angelus
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Today’s special edition, the “Luminor 1950” (PAM 127), is a homage to the vintage “6152/1”, with crown protecting device. With regard to vintage references, numbers are not in relation to the crown protecting device. There are existing models, with or without protecting device, using the same reference e.g. “6152/1”. The reference “6154” was made specially for the Egyptian Navy around 1954, using, as requested, the old style radioactive dials. A very small number of watches was produced without protecting device. The case style is slightly different from the references “6152” and “6152/1”. This reference is also called the “Small Egiziano”, and was followed in 1956 by a completely new case (60 mm diameter) made by Panerai - the “GPF 2/56” (the “Big Egiziano”).


The GPF 2/56, made for the egyptian navy.
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Only a very small number of watches was built with protecting device and 8-day movement. Today’s “Luminor Submersible” is a homage to the vintage GPF 2/56, using similar design elements such as the rotating bezel, but in a smaller case size (44 mm).

The period of time from 1956 to the late 1980‘s is much less well documented. Some prototype watches have been made from titanium (1960‘s/Rolex movement) and from aluminium (1980‘s/ETA automatic movement). The aluminium prototype was depth-tested for 1000 metres (“Mille Metri”).


PVD prototype watch with Rolex movement
(picture courtesy of Francesco Ferretti)

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Aluminium prototype watch with ETA movement
(picture courtesy of Panerai)

Another prototype watch, developed in the 1940‘s but which never made it to production was a chronograph for deck officers - the Mare Nostrum. This name was already being used by Panerai for torpedo timers. The watch incorporated a bi-compax chronograph, using a “Radiomir” dial. Panerai produced this chronograph for the civilian market during the “Pre-Vendome” era. Some unsold watches were taken over by Vendome/Richemont and have been sold slightly reworked (a different bezel and three colour versions for the dials - white, black, and blue).


Different versions of production "Mare Nostrum": PAM 006, 007, 008
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"Kampfschwimmer" watch for german military units
(picture courtesy of Francesco Ferretti)

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"California dial" watch

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