The following story revolves round what could possibly be one of the vital unimaginable horological finds of the century however greater than that, it’s a heartwarming account of how following your instincts can put you on a trajectory for a greater life for you and yours. It can also be a narrative about ardour, equity and primary decency. The occasions that carried this timepiece to probably the most unlikely place on Earth have been set it in movement some 75 years in the past.
The remaining days of World War 2 in Italy have been a concatenation of precipitating occasions. The German forces which had occupied the nation since September 1943 have been on the retreat. The Italian partisans and the key providers of the Allied forces, each have been looking down Italian fascists. While the partisans wished them useless for the atrocities commited to the Italian inhabitants, the Allies wanted a few of them to assist battle communism which was on the rise from the east. Fearing the Germans would destroy the 2 most vital Italian ports, Commander Eugenio Wolk, chief of the ‘Gruppo Gamma’ frogman unit of the ‘Decima MAS’ despatched his finest males to La Spezia and Venice to guard essential port infrastructre. The Allied marketing campaign which had begun in July 1943 with the invasion of Sicily, ended virtually abruptly in late April 1945. German fight divers (Kampfschwimmers) scattered round Venice able to sabotage arriving Allied ships have been taken without warning and fled to Trieste to keep away from seize. Trieste, nonetheless, was surrounded by Tito’s Yugoslav 4th Army and would quickly be overrun. Almost 3,000 Germans have been killed on this remaining battle, between 4,000 and 5,200 have been taken prisoner. A small variety of German fight divers managed to flee undetected and a few reportedly gifted their Rolex diving device watches to locals who helped them out.
The Old Bazaar In Sarajevo
Fast-forward to our time. A younger Bosnian fellow who offers in watches as a facet hustle was strolling by means of the outdated bazaar subsequent to the traditional mosque in Sarajevo when instantly a peculiar trying watch caught his consideration. The dial had half-Roman, half-Arabic numerals however was utterly unbranded, apart from the small ‘Swiss Made’ designation at six o’clock.
The motion was unbranded as nicely. Besides a 6-digit quantity there was nothing on the within of the caseback that might determine the maker of this factor.
The watch was the dimensions of a pocket watch. The cushion case featured soldered wire lugs in order that it could possibly be worn on the wrist. A pocket look ahead to the wrist? Maybe one of many well-known trench watches from WW1? Our younger fellow had no concept what he had come throughout however instinctively negotiated a great value and took it residence for a fistful of Euro cash. How a lot is a fistful you ask? 15, one 5, however pssst, don’t inform anybody or the bazaar will quickly be overrun by drooling watch sellers in hippie garments!
The Facebook Listing
In mid December 2020, our younger fellow determined to half with the bizarre factor and listed it in a closed Facebook watch group from the Balkans. The value? EUR 350. Not dangerous of a markup! This is the place I received concerned. The subsequent day, I woke as much as a dozen or so Instagram direct messages all revolving round the exact same query. Is it actual? The photos have been of low high quality however understanding what to search for there may solely be one reply. Yes, that factor subsequent to the lighter, which was positioned subsequent to the look ahead to measurement reference, was the actual deal! It was morning in Malaysia so the fellows who texted me have been sleeping by then. I went about my day and virtually forgot concerning the watch till about 3 p.m. when extra messages began coming in. Of course, Europe had simply woken up. I informed the fellows the watch was actual. Except for the odd palms and the crown, all the things was spot on. Someone supplied 1,000 Euros, one other 3,000 however our younger fellow had already offered the watch the evening earlier than for EUR 350 and… regardless of the cosiderably larger new presents, he wished to honour his phrase! Say once more? Honour his phrase? What a uncommon breed this younger fellow!
This is the place my Slovenian buddy Jay aka @vintage_kronos got here into the image. Made conscious of the scenario by a buddy of his, Jay was prepared to pay a good value for the watch if it was actual. He shot me a message and with out even awaiting my okay on the authenticity, Jay moved heaven and earth to get in contact with the younger fellow. He managed to seek out and name the lad and simply as he articulated his provide, the younger fellow’s doorbell rang. Remember the client from the evening earlier than? He had travelled all the best way from Croatia to Bosnia to get his palms on the watch as shortly as humanly doable. The man insisted in getting it for the agreed 350 Euros. In my opinion, this particular person knew precisely what it was (or could possibly be) and was attempting to tug a quick one. Long story brief, the younger fellow lastly got here to his senses and accepted Jay’s beneficiant provide as a substitute.
A Grail Hunt
What adopted was a veritable grail hunt in Indiana Jones trend. In midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Jay determined to take his probabilities and drive to Bosnia, accompanied by a buddy. Crossing the Slovenian-Croatian border went easily. At the Croatian-Bosnian border, nonetheless, issues began getting difficult. While the Croatians allow them to by means of, the Bosnians a number of meters additional forward denied them entry. No damaging Covid check, no passing! A cellphone name later, the younger Bosnian fellow and his father have been racing in a yellow automotive in direction of the Croatian border to attempt to get the deal completed. Since the daddy had Bosnian-Croatian twin citizenship, the Croatians wouldn’t flip him down, they believed. Once on the border, they have been waved by means of by the Bosnians however stopped and despatched again by the Croatians. From his place, Jay may see the yellow automotive reversing and turning again to the Bosnian checkpoint. In a fraction of a second, all hope was misplaced. But wait, what about that ‘no man’s land’ strip between the checkpoints? Jay had a flash of genius! He shortly known as the 2 and requested them to cease the automotive instantly. Jay and his buddy then handed the Croatian verify level once more, this time accompanied by good luck needs from Croatian officers who had witnessed their first futile try at crossing the border. Jay’s grail watch was now inside attain. Just a number of extra meters. They parked subsequent to the yellow automotive and the younger fellow beamed into their car to seal the deal. The watch modified palms, so did a thick roll of money.
Minutes later, Jay despatched me the next image:
“In my palms now. Did it!”
The subsequent day, Jay and I talked on the cellphone. Jay’s pleasure over his grail was completely contagious and I listened with nice curiosity to how rewarding his journey had been. The subsequent step was to look at the watch intimately, which means the watch needed to be taken aside. Jay was nervous however I gave him a crash course in disassembling the 3-piece Oyster case and afterwards he felt assured he may pull it off. A number of days later, he despatched me some very detailed photos which solely confirmed what I knew all alongside.
Rolex 3646 ‘Error-Proof’ dial, 261002
Jay’s pictures give us an amazing perception into the small print and situation of the watch. The ‘Error-Proof’ dial which individuals at this time usually seek advice from as ‘California’ dial seems to have been uncovered to moisture over a protracted time frame. This led to a definite darkening of most radium numerals.
A believable clarification for the dial situation could possibly be the dearth of a screw-down crown. The present crown might be from a pocket watch. To accomodate it, the threads of the unique crown tube have been filed down. This building left the within of the watch open to moisture ingress. The palms are clearly not unique. These are so-called ‘Louis XV’ pocket watch palms which collide visually with the ‘Art Deco’ model of the dial. Given the situation of the dial, it may be assumed the unique warmth blued metal palms grew to become rusty and have been changed for cosmetical causes.
The ‘Error-Proof’ dial with half-Roman, half-Arabic numerals is a patented Rolex design filed on May 30, 1941 (CH221643). The objective, as described within the patent, was to create an easy-to-read dial with giant numerals which could possibly be painted with as a lot radium lume as doable. Claims it was created as a pattern dial or that it was made to confuse the enemy are false. Today one of these dial is named ‘California dial’ which is supremely ironic given the time period was initially used to seek advice from faux dials refinished in Error-Proof trend by a dial refurbisher from California. To learn extra about this click on the hyperlink beneath.
Read extra A Californian controversy: The origins of the time period ‘California dial” (Fratello)
To disassemble Ref. 3646, the caseback must be eliminated first. This was virtually sure a German Kampfschwimmer watch nevertheless it doesn’t bear any corresponding markings.
Once the caseback is unscrewed, the markings on the within will be inspected. Since it is a utterly nameless Rolex 3646, the one markings are the case quantity stamps 261002.
While 261002 is a Rolex case quantity from 1943, the watch was delivered to Florence in mid 1944. Rolex produced a complete of 720 items on this explicit case quantity vary which extends from 260405 to 261125 however the watches have been produced and delivered in batches. The first batch (260405 – 260695) was delivered in mid 1943. These watches had a thicker case (6.3 mm) and a tall bezel to accomodate the thick sandwich dials (~2.5 mm) offered by G. Panerai & Figlio. Further batches have been despatched in 1944 (260696 – 260849, 260850 – 261125). These had slimmer circumstances (5.4 mm vs. 6.3 mm) and low bezels. All of them have been geared up with skinny Error-Proof dials. Due to the low bezels, these watches don’t have sufficient clearance to take thick Panerai sandwich dials.
Watches from the case quantity vary 260405 – 260849 have Rolex markings on actions and casebacks however the case quantity vary 260850 – 261125 is totally nameless. The actions of the latter are unbranded and the casebacks have been machined to take away current Rolex stamps. The case numbers have been additionally eliminated within the course of however subsequently restamped at a unique place nearer to the sting. The image beneath reveals an instance (260889) the place the Rolex stamps are nonetheless barely visbible.
This was completed by Rolex to hide the origins of the watches after studying they have been destined to Nazi forces stationed in Italy. Rolex’s settlement with Panerai was unique to the Italian Navy however with Florence occupied by Nazi forces, Rolex couldn’t cease supply for concern of extreme retaliation in opposition to their retailer Panerai. By anonymizing the watches, Rolex killed two birds with one stone. Saving the Panerai household from stepping into bother whereas on the similar time defending Rolex’s popularity.
Read extra: Fake Rolex stamps on nameless Rolex-Panerai Ref. 3646 watches
The motion of this watch is a refined 17 jewels model of the Cortébert 618 particularly produced for Rolex. This explicit variation is, apart from Fab. Suisse, utterly nameless.
The patina which developed on the bridges is kind of according to the situation of the dial and doubtless a results of moisture ingress over a protracted time frame. The comparability beneath reveals the distinction between a branded Rolex 618 caliber and the nameless model.
To additional disassemble the watch, the crown must be eliminated. This is completed by barely loosing the setting lever screw (vis de tirette) subsequent to the crown wheel. Once the crown with the crown stem is out, the ensamble consisting of motion, motion retaining ring and bezel/crystal will be taken out of the center case. Now, the bezel with the crystal will be unscrewed from the motion retaining ring as a way to get entry to the dial and palms.
Ref. 3646 (1940 – 1944) was a minor evolution of Ref. 2533 (1936 – 1939) which was primarily based on the earliest Oyster case from 1926 seen beneath.
Jay disassemled the watch additional by taking the motion out of the motion retaining ring and eradicating the dial. Once completed, the motion serial quantity which is positioned on the dial facet of the principle plate turns into seen. The quantity discovered on the plate is totally according to different items from the identical batch.
Another vital element are the dial maker markings on the again of the ‘Error-Proof’ dial. These dials have been made by dial maker Stern Frères in Geneva. The again of the dial is marked with a star which was Stern’s brand. Stern is a German title and means star. The quantity 103 was Stern’s shopper quantity for Rolex and 2802 was the reference variety of the dial itself.
Putting the watch again collectively is a little more difficult however Jay did an incredible job. Due to lack of unique elements, Jay purchased an after market crown and palms to return the watch visually to its unique situation till correct elements develop into accessible. If you’ve these elements, please contact @vintage_kronos.
I suggested Jay to get in contact with Kostas Venizelos of Kostas Straps to get some correct leather-based for his grail. Kostas studied historic Rolex-Panerai straps to exhaustion and is aware of all the things about them. In addition, his craftmanship is second to none.
One other thing, the younger Bosnian fellow informed Jay he would use a big chunk of the cash to ship his youthful sister to school. What a uncommon breed certainly!
The Panerai Time Machine
The remaining batches of Ref. 3646 have been witnesses to vital historic occasions and are essential items of the Panerai puzzle. The timeline beneath represents the present state of analysis into classic Rolex-Panerai watches. Click to zoom in.
This timeline is out there as a top quality print in two sizes:
- 120 x 68 cm (47 x 26 inch): EUR 85.00 (plus transport)
- 150 x 85 cm (59 x 33 inch): EUR 120.00 (plus transport)
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 website of the Villino Panerai (Panerai Villa) in Florence: Sold out
To order shoot me a DM on Instagram: @perezcope