A Blown-Up Rolex-Panerai 3646 At Sotheby’s? – Vintage Panerai and other iconic timepieces under the loupe at Perezcope

Sotheby’s London kicked off the watch 12 months with one thing actually excellent. A Rolex-Panerai Ref. 3646 riddled with battle scars. The watch was consigned by the household of a British Royal Navy officer who was among the many first to enter Venice on the finish of the struggle. At the time, Venice was the primary base of Italian underwater models that have been working hand-in-hand with German ‘Kampfschwimmer’ recruits. The story of this watch leads us down yet one more mind-blowing rabbit gap that has its origins within the British Naval Base of Gibraltar. The watch fetched £ 35,280 which is an efficient end result given the not-so-great situation and the lacking info on how and from whom the watch was obtained.

Lot 6 – Rolex-Panerai Ref. 3646, 1010050

The current watch is a Rolex Ref. 3646 Type B from 1941/42 made for the Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) and that includes a primary technology aluminium sandwich dial made by the Italian firm G. Panerai & Figlio. The very first thing that catches the attention is in fact the situation of the dial. According to Sotheby’s the watch suffered a water injury.

Rolex-Panerai Ref. 3646 Type B, 1010050

The eager eye can even instantly spot the thick welding across the wire lugs. The wire lugs have been a weak spot of Ref. 3646, particularly of the early fashions and lots of the watches that surfaced over time lacked them partly or fully. Please click on the next hyperlink to learn the total description on the Sotheby’s web site.

Auction hyperlink: Lot 6 – Rolex-Panerai Ref. 3646 Type B, Radiomir dial, 1010050 (Sotheby’s)

The Dial

When I first noticed this watch, I instantly visualized an underwater explosion. Given the provenance and the hyperlink to Lieutenant Commander Lionel Crabb, who was a mine and bomb-disposal specialist, the thought is just not thus far fetched for my part. Speculations apart, truth is we have no idea what occurred to it however one factor is for certain – after having catalogued greater than 550 Rolex-Panerai watches, I can say with absolute certainty, I’ve by no means seen a dial that comes even near this. It is certainly completely distinctive.

The higher aluminium disc that includes the cut-outs obtained its matte black end via an electro-chemical course of generally known as ‘anodizing’ which creates a coating that’s proof against corrosion. As you possibly can see, the anozing is totally gone in sure areas and naked aluminium is seen. I’ve seen quite a few water-damaged G. Panerai & Figlio dials however the coating remained all the time intact. It is attention-grabbing to notice, when Sotheby’s obtained this watch from the household of the Charles Canning, it had neither a crystal nor fingers.

The current watch options the earliest model of G. Panerai & Figlio’s aluminium sandwich dial, a multi-layer building the place the radioactive luminous materials was sealed deep inside the meeting. Like most of those early aluminium sandwich dials, the cut-out fillings which stored the radium/zinc sulfide combination in place, developed a darkish purple patina. If you look intently, a few of the fillings seem to have molten.

Section of a Forties aluminium sandwich dial

The aluminium sandwich dial was G. Panerai & Figlio’s second try at making a watch dial. The first try, the so-called riveted plastic dial, a multi-layer building as properly, was a complete failure. Deformed by the ravaging radiation of radium-226, the plastic layers warped to such extent, the fingers may now not flip, thus compromising the very functioning of the watch.

Early riveteted plastic dial

Inspired by a patented thought developed by Swiss dial maker Stern Frères in 1935 (CH182122), G. Panerai & Figlio ‘solved’ the issue by clamping the plastic layer containing the lume between two metallic discs. The image under reveals a Thirties Vacheron & Constantin timepiece with patented Stern sandwich dial.

Vacheron & Constantin watch from the Thirties with patented Stern Frères sandwich dial (Photo: @mariodisette)

It is attention-grabbing to notice that the Orologeria Svizzera, G. Panerai & Figlio’s very personal watch store, was one of many largest Vacheron & Constantin retailers in Italy.

Read extra: Orologeria Svizzera – The Watch Shop

The Rolex Oyster Case

Ref. 3646 was mainly a Rolex Oyster pocket look ahead to the wrist, much like WW1 trench watches. Introduced in April 1940 as a substitute for Ref. 2533 from 1936 which was powered by a refined Montilier Cal. 663, Ref. 3646 featured a extra economical Cal. 618 motion made by Cortébert as a substitute.

Inception of Ref. 2533

Clearly, the Oyster case of the current watch has seen higher days. The wire lug a 6 o’clock was misplaced and had to get replaced. The wire lug a 12 o’clock is the unique one however the soldering seems to have been bolstered to stop it from falling off. The method the restore was executed reveals that utilitarian concerns have been clearly predominant.

For some motive, Type B circumstances have been susceptible to dropping the wire lugs. There are a number of identified examples the place this occured, as an example case quantity 1010049 seen under which is just one quantity away from the current watch (1010050). This specific watch misplaced each wire lugs.

Rolex Oyster Ref. 3646 with Radiomir Panerai dial, case quantity 1010049

The within the caseback is marked ‘Oyster Watch Co(mpany)’, a Rolex sub model which first appeared in early Thirties Rolex ‘Bubbleback’ watches after which disappeared round 1945. Interestingly, an organization with this identify was by no means formally registered and the “model” was solely used as a caseback stamp.

Oyster Watch Co(mpany) caseback with case quantity 1010050 (Photo: Sotheby’s)

The seven-digit quantity 1010050 is a typical Rolex pocket watch serial from 1941/42. So far, 1010050 is the Ref. 3646 Type B specimen with the best documented quantity. The lowest recorded Type B has case quantity 1009911. The ensuing vary suggests a batch of round 150 items for this specific sort. Ref. 3646 sorts are distinguished by the caseback stamps but additionally by different traits like the peak of the bezel. The desk under lists all Ref. 3646 sorts with their corresponding case quantity ranges. Together, they quantity to an estimated complete manufacturing of 1,345 items made between 1940 and 1944.

Ref. 3646 Type Year Case quantity Range Caseback Stamps Quantity (est.)
A1 1940 1009421 – 1009430 Oyster Watch Co (Staybrite) 25
A2 1940 1009498 – 1009566 Oyster Watch Co 75
A2 1940 1009773 – 1009789 Oyster Watch Co 25
B 1941/42 1009911 – 1010050 Oyster Watch Co 150
C 1942 1010091 – 1010374 Rolex S.A. 300
D 1943 260400 – 260695 Rolex S.A. 295
E (low bezel) 1944 260696 – 260849 Rolex S.A. 155
F (low bezel) 1944 260850 – 261120 Rolex S.A. (eliminated by Rolex) 270
G (low bezel) 1944 317488 – 317530 Rolex S.A. (eliminated by Rolex) 50
Total 1345

The Movement

The current watch is powered by a Cortébert-made Cal. 618 motion with 17 jewels, overcoiled Breguet hairspring and Rolex engravings following the higher curve of the practice gear bridge which is an ideal match and completely authentic. This sort of motion is named Rolex 618 Type 1a.

Cortébert-made Cal. 618 Type 1a

The motion is in good condition for an 80-year-old timepiece that was used as a diving instrument watch. The regulator lever on the stability cock broke off which for my part is a solely a minor subject. On the plus aspect, ratchet and crown wheel have principally retained their enticing swirl end and there may be virtually no oxididation current, neither on the bridges nor on the transferring components. The brass-coloured motion retaining ring is one other excellent match for Type B.

The Provenance

The provenance of the current watch revolves across the “Allied Navies Experimental Station’ (A.N.E.S.) established in Venice on the finish of World War 2. Consigned by the household of Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Canning, who grew to become a subordinate of the well-known British frogman Lieutenant Commander Lionel Crabb once they have been despatched to Venice in late April 1945 following the retreat of the German forces, the watch is of nice historic curiosity. Canning is talked about a number of instances within the ebook ‘Undersea Warrior – Commander Crabb’s Story’ by Marshall Pugh.

Chief Petty Officer Charles Canning

A precedence of the Allied forces was to get their fingers on as a lot Decima Flottiglia MAS tools and know-how as doable. Since mid 1944, Allied intelligence providers had gathered details about a manned torpedo base on the island of Sant’Andrea (Le Vignole) and a coaching facility for German and Italian frogmen on the small island of San Giorgio in Alga. While the latter was destroyed in an Allied air strike in early 1945, the previous remained intact.

Secret frogman coaching facility on San Giorgio in Alga second earlier than being hit by High Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVAR)

Together with Naval Intelligence Officer Lieutenant Tony Marsloe of the U.S. Navy, Crabb took management of the manned torpedo base. The facility had been constructed within the early 1900s as an working middle for seaplanes (Idroscalo). The two Italian manned torpedo operators taking care of the place surrendered instantly. Their largest concern was not changing into prisoners of struggle however slightly that the Germans had stolen 5 of their manned torpedoes and had submerged them at unknown places within the Venetian lagoon in preparation of doable future assaults towards Allied delivery.

Caserma Miraglia on the island of Sant’Andrea (Le Vignole) the place the key manned torpedo base was situated

Lionel Crabb’s frogman profession started in November 1942 when he, a skilled mine and bomb-disposal officer, was despatched to the British Naval Base of Gibraltar. Until the second of his arrival, he had by no means heard of Italian frogmen. His job was to disarm explosive prices faraway from Allied ships by hard-hat divers however he rapidly realized it could be rather more environment friendly if he discovered to dive himself.

Lionel Crabb (left) with a hard-hat diver, Gibraltar Forties

To have the ability to transfer freely underwater, identical to the Italians, Crabb used a Davis oxygen rebreather which had truly been developed as an emergency respiratory equipment to flee sunken submarines in shallow water.

Lionel Crabb carrying a Davis rebreather, Gibraltar 1944

The Italian rebreathers developed by the technical director of the Decima Flottiglia MAS Commander Angelo Beloni, which have been produced by Pirelli, have been primarily based on the Davis system however extra superior. They had an working vary of as much as 5 hours. The benefit of rebreathers was that they didn’t create bubbles underwater because the exhaled breath was recycled via a soda lime scrubber. This was excellent for sneaking undetected into enemy waters however restricted the divers to a most depth of nearly 39 ft/12 m, as pure oxygen turns into quickly poisonous underneath stress.

Italian frogmen have been attacking Gibraltar since late 1940, first with manned torpedoes and later additionally with complete swarms of free swimming ‘Gamma’ frogmen armed with small explosive prices. Lionel Crabb was extremely revered amongst Italian frogmen and right here is why. In Autumn 1942, the Italians established a secret manned torpedo base in an Italian tanker named Olterra that was moored within the harbour of Algeciras, Spain for the reason that starting of the struggle. The crew had scuttled the ship to stop it from falling into the fingers of the British. Algeciras is true reverse from the British Naval Base within the Bay of Gibraltar. The thought was developed by Licio Visintini, a Decima Flottiglia MAS veteran who had participated in two earlier assaults towards Gibraltar the place the manned torpedoes had been deployed from the Italian submarine Sciré. Sending submarines had grow to be too dangerous.

Section of the secert manned torpedo base contained in the ‘Olterra’

Late at night time on December 7, 1942, three manned torpedoes left the Olterra via the key diving door within the hull to assault a naval squadron named ‘Force H’ that had simply arrived at Gibraltar. Since the early assaults, the British have been utilizing anti-frogman depth prices to maintain the Italians away. They have been shot in common intervals however since Crabb’s deployment, the British created a brand new system during which the depth prices have been deployed randomly. The Italians had missed this element. At the doorway to the inside harbour, Lieutenant Licio Visintini and his second man Petty Officer Giovanni Magro have been killed by an irregular depth cost. The British recovered their our bodies and Crabb personally burried them at sea with full army honours, together with priest, Italian flags and a wreath. This gesture was witnessed by the Italian frogmen in close by Spain and far appreciated. Both, Visintini and Magro obtained the Gold Medal for Military Valour (MOVM) put up mortem.

In July 1943, the Allies kicked off the Italian marketing campaign by swiftly invading Sicily and bombing the outskirts of Rome. As a end result, the fascist regime collapsed. Mussolini was arrested and held at secret places to stop Hitler from rescuing him. On September 3, 1943, the Allies invaded mainland Italy at Salerno close to Naples. Just a few days later, the Italian authorities formally surrendered (Armistice of Cassibile). The Germans have been ready for this eventuality and swiftly occupied a lot of the Italian peninsula. The official Italian authorities lead by King Victor Emmanuel fled to the Allied-controlled south. Left with no particular orders, the Italian armed forces desintegrated inside hours. Tens of 1000’s of Italian troopers have been executed by the Germans for not instantly surrendering their arms. Over 700,000 of them have been deported to Nazi slave labour camps for refusing to maintain preventing alongside the Germans. The Decima Flottiglia MAS fell aside as properly. Most distinguished divers remained loyal to the king and fled to the south. A handful stayed and pledged loyalty to the Nazis. This initiative was lead by Commander Junio Valerio Borghese who reestablished the Decima Flottiglia MAS principally as an infantry devision to battle Italian partisans and communists underneath Nazi SS command. The ‘Gamma’ frogman coaching was resumed in January 1944 underneath the confirmed management of Commander Eugenio Wolk and with an ever rising variety of German ‘Kampfschwimmer’ recruits. Even “Europe’s most harmful man”, SS Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, who had rescued Mussolini from his secret jail within the mountains (Gran Sasso) in a spectacular operation in mid September 1943, took half within the coaching. On their method up north, the Allies encountered heavy resistance and their advance got here for a number of months to a whole halt on the closely fortified Gustav line of defense south of Rome.

German flyer mocking the gradual Allied advance

Following the Italian give up in September 1943, the crew of the Olterra destroyed a lot of the tools and disappeared. This is when the British discovered concerning the base. The Olterra was towed into Gibraltar the place Crabb managed to salvage one of many manned torpedoes. During the reconstruction course of, the British discovered the main points of this new weapon and shortly deveoped their very own model, the so-called ‘chariot’.

A ‘chariot’, the British model of the human torpedo, is lowered into the water throughout sea trials in May 1944

Italian Decima Flottiglia MAS operators like Luigi Durand de la Penne, who had been taken prisoner previous to the give up, got the prospect to battle alongside the Allies towards Nazi Germany. Many accepted and so was born the ‘Mariassalto’ unit, mainly the Decima Flottiglia MAS of the south. In joint British-Italian operations, they sunk an variety of massive ships in Italian ports to stop the Germans from utilizing them to dam the entrances. In these assaults, they used British ‘chariots’.

Joint British-Italian diver unit lead by Luigi Durand de la Penne (sitting, middle), mid 1944

In late July 1944, Allied forces reached the outskirts of Florence. Short after, the Germans raided the G. Panerai & Figlio workshop and confiscated watches, devices and different items, inculding a lot of the machines to regulate the provision for his or her frogmen. Everything was shipped to the Arturo Junghans watch manufacturing facility in Venice.

Map of Venice

After the German retreat from Italy in late April 1945, the Allies had deliberate to ascertain a provide port in Trieste, Italy, however due to the communist menace posed by Josip Tito’s Yugoslav Army, it was determined to make use of Venice as a substitute. The downside was, the retreating German forces had riddled the lagoon with magnetic mines and different explosive prices. Additionally, they’d sunk quite a few ships to stop Allied Navies from touchdown. In late April 1945, Crabb was subsequently tasked with clearing the waters round Venice. To have the ability to fullfil his job swiftly, Crabb gave quite a few Italian ‘Gamma’ frogmen, who had remained loyal to Germany and had been taken prisoner by the partisans, the prospect to redeem themselves. Among them was additionally Commander Angelo Belloni, the very man who had conceived a lot of the thought of the Decima Flottiglia MAS, and invented its most vital gear, particularly the the Pirelli rebreather and the diving-suit.

Belloni’s early thought of an underwater infantry

From this second onwards, the manned torpedo facility on the island of Sant’Andrea grew to become generally known as “Allied Navies Experimental Station’. This is the place Chief Petty Officer Charles Canning comes into the image. Tasked by British Commander Backhouse to take care of their most vital prisoner of struggle – Angelo Belloni – Canning quickly grew to become an integral a part of the ‘Allied Navies Experimental Station’.

Charles Canning and Lionel Crabb (far proper) with a bunch of Italian frogmen ‘prisoners’

I do know what you might be pondering. No, that isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger within the image above. His identify was Montecchini. During this era, the British and the Americans discovered a giant deal concerning the strategies of the Decima Flottilia MAS. In addition, new gear was developed and examined. An improved model of the ‘Belloni’ rebreather grew to become commonplace tools of the American Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). The Americans referred to it as ‘Pirelli Lung’.

Lionel Crabb (uniform), Angelo Belloni(standing, third from proper) and a Pirelli technician (sitting, middle) with Italian frogmen carrying experimental rebreathers

Another vital determine quickly joined the group and took over the management on the Italian aspect, ‘Gamma’ Commander Eugenio Wolk who was extremely revered amongst his males. In January 1941, Wolk had been assigned to the diver faculty in Livorno to help Commander Angelo Belloni in growing an underwater infantry. Belloni’s thought was impressed by Jules Verne’s ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea’ novel. A diver, geared up with a 50 kg explosive cost on his again, could be launched from a submarine and march on the seabed as much as 10 km in the direction of enemy harbours, connect the cost to a goal after which march again to the submarine.

Commander Eugenio Wolk (standing, 2nd from proper) with ‘Gamma’ frogmen in Livorno, summer time 1943

Belloni’s thought labored properly in concept however as soon as the divers descended to the underside and began marching on free, muddy seafloors, they grew to become rapidly exhausted and needed to floor. Belloni’s thought was not possible to understand. In late 1941, Wolk reimagined Belloni’s thought, introducing swimfins and a smaller rebreather. Instead of fifty kg prices, Wolk’s ‘frogmen’ could be armed with as much as three small explosive prices as a substitute. The Greek letter ‘Gamma’ stands for guastatore (= demolisher).

‘Gamma’ gear utilized by a German Kampfschwimmer

With Wolk on the helm, mine clearance and the restoration of scuttled ships proceeded at a a lot sooner tempo. The 5 hidden manned torpedoes have been quickly discovered as properly. At least certainly one of them was of the most recent technology, a so-called ‘Siluro Bartolomeo’, extra streamlined and far simpler to deal with. The image under reveals Wolk demonstrating the craft to a British Intelligence Service officer.

Commander Wolk piloting a recovered ‘San Bartolomeo’ manned torpedo with Royal Navy Intelligence Service officer Goldsworthy as a passenger

Wolk launched Crabb to Licio Visintini’s widow whose husband had been killed by a depth cost in Gibraltar. Since Mrs. Visintini spoke English and had secretarial coaching, Crabb employed her as a secretary for the A.N.E.S. Crabb additionally met Visintini’s mom, and legend has it he gave her her son’s Rolex-Panerai which she later handed on to Vittorio Stradi, good friend of the deceased.

Licio Visintini’s Rolex-Panerai 3646 with case quantity 1010366

Over the course of the next two years, the Italian frogmen underneath the exemplary management of Eugenio Wolk eliminated all mines and recovered all wrecks the retreating Germans had left behind. At some level, the A.N.E.S. was handed over to the Italian Navy which might quickly be renamed ‘Marina Militare’.

Recovered 1st technology manned torpedo (Siluro a lenta corsa, Maiale) on the A.N.E.S. in Venice, summer time 1945

With only a few exceptions, the frogmen who had remained loyal to the Axis weren’t allowed to return to the Italian Navy. After his service at A.N.E.S., Wolk emigrated to Argentina the place he helped set up an underwater unit within the picture of the Decima Flottiglia MAS.

Eugenio Wolk with Argentinian frogmen

Lionel Crabb remained with the Royal Navy till his retirement in 1955. One 12 months later, the overseas intelligence service of the United Kingdom, MI6, recruited him to look at the newly developed propeller design of the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze, which had taken the pinnacle of state Nikita Khrushchev on a diplomatic mission to Britain. Crabb dove and was by no means seen once more. More than a 12 months later, a physique in a Royal Navy diving swimsuit lacking the pinnacle and each fingers was discovered by fishermen. People who knew Crabb weren’t capable of determine the physique. What occurred to Crabb stays a thriller to today.

Lieutenant Commander Lionel Crabb being suited up in manned torpedo diving gear, 1953

It is unclear how Charles Canning got here into possession of the Rolex-Panerai Ref. 3646. He most actually obtained the watch from one of many concerned frogmen and even Belloni himself.


Quite a lot of folks requested me whether or not it could be price bidding on this watch given its situation. In my opinion, this watch is just not about situation however about historical past and provenance. Just have a look at it! This timepiece will need to have witnessed some unimaginable occasions. What forces have been at work when the wire lugs at 6 o’clock have been torn out and what occurred to the dial? Whatever the reply, if absolutey essential for cosmetical causes, a correct restoration of the wire lugs must be doable. But don’t contact the dial as it’s completely placing for my part and offers this watch its distinctive look. Original heat-blued fingers may be discovered with the mandatory tenacity. Congratulations to the customer!

Thank you on your curiosity.

The Panerai Time Machine

Early examples of Ref. 3646 have been principally utilized by Italian frogman and took half in a few of the most gallant assaults towards the British Naval Bases of Gibraltar and Alexandria. The timeline under represents the present state of analysis into classic Rolex-Panerai watches. Click to zoom in.

This timeline is obtainable as a top quality print in two sizes:

  • 120 x 68 cm (47 x 26 inch): EUR 95.00 (plus delivery)
  • 150 x 85 cm (59 x 33 inch): EUR 135.00 (plus delivery)

Printed with HD Inkjet on picture paper and laminated.

Limited version: 50 items, numbered and signed by Maria Teresa Panerai in Giuseppe Panerai’s very personal laboratory on the historic web site of the Villino Panerai (Panerai Villa) in Florence: Sold out

To order shoot me a DM on Instagram: @perezcope

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