The Complete History Of
The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER
Rolex's Conquest Of The Ocean
Chapter 3: Panerai & The Italian Royal Navy
The First Professional Rolex Diving Watch
[Part 2 of 4]
The First Professional Dive Watch
As I mentioned in the last chapter, in 1926 Rolex developed and brought to market the first Rolex Oyster pocket-watch (pictured below). The first Rolex Oyster watches were not made for swimming or certainly not for diving. They were made to stop the watches movements from being negatively effected by oxidation, perspiration, and water.
So how is the first Rolex Oyster pocket watch the genesis for the first professional diving watch ever made in history? Nobody knows for certain, but there are some major clues we will examine.
The First Rolex Professional Diving Watch
This is where the mystery thickens. The image below is from a 1935 Rolex catalog. It shows a 47mm Rolex [Reference 2533] wrist watch with soldered on lugs and lumed hands and lumed indices. The challenge is there is not one known example of this watch in the world!?! This is likely because Rolex never sold any due to the fact that a 47mm wristwatch in 1935 would have looked so unusually large and thus, strange.
One thing is crystal clear to me as a designer and historian is Rolex threw everything at the wall they could think of and simply watched to see what stuck. Some of the most beautiful, valuable and rare Rolex watches are models that sold very few models because they were unpopular at the time.
I imagine since the Rolex [Reference 2533] was 47mm it probably did not sell very well, so maybe Rolex simply swapped out the dials, and movements and sold the resulting watches with no name on the dials to Panerai? This may explain why there are no known examples of the watch that appear in the 1935 Rolex catalog.
This next image is also from the 1935 Rolex catalog an it shows the Reference 2533 next to more standard size Rolex models. This gives you an idea of how massive this watch was at the time.
The First Panerai
Rolex of Geneva is renowned for being extremely private and elusive with sharing details of their history. I think Rolex of Geneva, in their archives, likely has all the specific details of how the first Panerai watches came into existence, but I may be wrong.
As a Rolex historian, it is extremely frustrating to me that Rolex of Geneva does not come forth and share this fascinating history, but as I said, it may be that they don't have the records any more? I think Rolex simply doesn't care about their history. They only care about selling watches, but they don't understand how invaluable their history is as a marketing vehicle.
My concern as a Rolex historian is that if Rolex does not put together the pieces of their history puzzle soon it will be to late. This is one of the reasons I invest my life energy in writing detailed articles like this.
The one thing we can infer, is that Panerai came to Rolex in or around 1935 and told them they wanted to make a professional diving watch for the Italian Navy. I speculate and hypothesize that Rolex may have already had the 2533 developed, but it could just as easily been the other way around.
The Evolution Of The Revolution
The one thing we know is the first Panerai professional diving watch made by Rolex was essentially a Rolex Oyster pocket watch with wired lugs that were soldered onto the case.
I wrote a super detailed article and review of John Goldberger's superb Rolex history book named 100 Superlative Rolex Watches and I created the following illustration for that review to show exactly how the Rolex Oyster pocket watch evolved into the first Rolex professional diving watch [Reference 2533] as well as evolving into the first Panerai professional diving watch.
Click on image below to see evolution of Rolex Oyster Pocket-Watch into Panerai Diving Watch:
As you see in the illustration above I credit the original discovery of this evolutionary step to the superlative Rolex historian, James Dowling. James was the first to put together the pieces of this puzzle. I just created the illustration to make it easier to see the actual evolution. James Dowling coauthored one of the great Rolex history books with Jeff Hess and you can learn more about it by clicking here.
The Rolex–Panerai Watches
I want to start this section by thanking John Goldberger for sharing the following images of Rolex and Panerai watches from his amazing book titled 100 Superlative Rolex Watches. If you want to learn much more about the history of Rolex watches, I highly recommend John Goldberger's book and you can see my review by clicking here.
Rolex made all the original Panerai watches pictured below for the Royal Italian Navy from 1936 to 1956, but I want to begin by pointing out a fascinating observation I made.
The watch above is amazing because it seems to be the watch the later Rolex made Panerai watches were based upon. The watch above is smaller at around 30mm than the 47mm Panerai's (as seen below) but the design language is clearly derivative and almost identical.
This is the last Panerai Rolex made (pictured above). It was made for the Egyptian Army. This watch has a current value of $120,00 and is the second rarest collectable Panerai. According to the John Goldberger, only 30 of this Reference 6154 were ever made.
This watch has a nickname among Paneristi (Paneristi is the nickname for Panerai collector/fanatics) of the small Egiziano. Egiziano is Italian for Egyptian and it is named Small Egiziano because after Rolex stopped making watches for Panerai, Panerai made a 60mm prototype watch for the Egytian Army which is nicknamed the Big Egiziano.
The History Of Rolex Made Panerai Professional Diving Watches
This first Rolex made Panerai, picture below is and Ultra-rare prototype of which there is only 1 known example on earth. Yes, you read that right–there is only one know example and you are looking at it pictured below.
Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 2533] Circa 1936
The Rolex made Panerai Reference 3646, pictured below has unusual art deco dial known as the California dial which has Roman numerals on the top and Arabic numerals on the bottom. This new model was different than its predecessor in that it had an diamondshaped winding crown. In Chapter 5 of this series, we will examine how, it many ways, this watch and dial design formed the basis for the Rolex Submariner.
Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 3646] Circa 1936 to 1938
This is the first Rolex made Panerai with the trademark 3,6,9,12 Panerai Radiomor dial. The Radiomir designation on the dial of the watch was used because it used Radium lume to illuminate the hands and dial in the dark. The dial on this watch is a plexiglass Prototype. Radiomir lume was patented in 1915.
Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 3646] Circa 1938
This next Rolex made Panerai, pictured above has the classic 2,6,9,12 Radiomor Panerai dial with the diamond-shaped winding crown.
Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 3646] Circa 1940
With the introduction of the 6152/1 model, Rolex added a new winding crown guard mechanism that allowed the watch to maintain its waterproof seal in deeper water than the conventional crown. Since all the Rolex made Panerai watches were manually wound, the waterproof crown gasket would wear out quickly over time, so Rolex and Panerai came up with this new design enhancement. Rolex made 300 examples of this model.
Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 6152/1] Circa 1946
This next watch (pictured below) is the last Panerai model made by Rolex in 1956. It was made for the Egyptian army and they only produced 30 examples. The reason the dial is a light brown or even tan is because the radium based material they used for the markers and hands had a radioactive effect on the black dial and caused it to get much lighter.
This is the same watch small Small Egiziano we examined at the beginning of this section. In my personal opinion as a designer, this is one of the most timeless and beautiful professional tool watches ever made.
Page 27 Radiomor Panerai [Reference 6154] Circa 1956
The next three photos are of the Panerai Reference 6152 made by Rolex. In this first image you see the Rolex designation on the watch movement as well as on the back of the screw on back.
Remember if you want to see more detail in the photos on this page just click on them.
This next image is of the same watch pictured above and below. You can see the Rolex Brevet designation and Rolex crown logo on the winding crown. Brevet means patent in French.
This Radiomir Panerai diving watch (pictured above) is 47mm and has a light brown dial. This watch has a current market value of $100,000 and according to John Goldberger only 300 of the Reference 6152 were manufactured.
The watch pictured above has its original leather band that came with the watch. The original leather bands were not only water-proof, but salt-water-proof. The leather was treated with special oils and resins so if you rinsed it after a salt-water dive it would be fine. It is a status symbol of sorts to posses an original Rolex made Panerai with the original and weathered leather band.
I must admit that until reading 100 Superlative Rolex Watches I knew very little about Rolex making all the Panerai watches from 1936 to 1956. When I tried to learn more on the internet, I found much conflicting information. For instance, the Wikipedia article seems to suggest that from 1936 to 1956 Panerai only produced a total of 300 watches.
This did not make sense to me, so I followed up with John Goldberger and he shared with me that this was not true and that they made many more. Here are the numbers John shared with me that he said were from a good Panerai source on the number of Rolex made Panerai watches:
1935 [Reference 2533] 1 Prototype
1938 [Reference 3646] 600 Watches
1943 [Reference 6152] 300 Watches
1954 [Reference 6154] 30 Watches
After 1956, Panerai kept producing their watches but Rolex no longer made them. Apparently Panerai stopped making watches for the Italian Militare in 1993 because it was no longer cost effective, and Panerai decided to focus on producing watches for the general public.
The watches were not very successful. As a matter of fact, between 1993 and 1997, Panerai only produced 1828 watches. Of course, this all soon changed and today Panerai watches are one of the most popular and exclusive brands.
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