Rolex made for Officine Panerai. An extremely rare stainless steel cushion-shaped diver's wristwatch
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Rolex made for Officine Panerai. An extremely rare stainless steel cushion-shaped diver's wristwatch


Rolex made for Officine Panerai. An extremely rare stainless steel cushion-shaped diver's wristwatch
Signed Rolex S.A., ref. 3646, case no. 260'447, manufactured in 1943
Rolex cal. 618 mechanical movement, 17 jewels, the dial consisting of two discs, the lower one coated with "Luminor" luminous substance visible through the cut-out baton and Arabic numerals in the black matte upper disc, blued steel luminous hands, large cushion-shaped water-resistant-type case, wire lugs, screw back engraved ED - Einsatzgruppe Keller - Kampfschwimmer - 1945, modern stainless steel Panerai buckle, case and movement signed Rolex
47 mm. wide
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Lot Essay

The present watch belonged to Lance Corporal Ernst D. who had enlisted in the German Navy over 70 years ago. He was reportedly sent to Venice to train with the Italian special unit "X MAS" (Italian acronym for Anti-Submarine Motorboats). Ernst D. became a Kampfschwimmer, combat diver, an all-volunteer force that underwent stringent entrance testing. Upon finishing his training, he joined the Keller Group, which consisted of 16 men divided into 4 units, entrusted with various missions.

In spite of the obvious level of danger inherent to his missions, Ernst D. survived the war and lived to an old age, dying of natural causes. The watch then passed to the hands of his son who is now consigning it to this auction.

It is one of the exceedingly rare survivors of the celebrated ref. 3646 Type D model belonging to a "Kampfschwimmer", "combat swimmer", Germany's commando frogmen. According to literature (see Vintage Panerai - Watches with History by Ralf Ehlers & Volker Wiegmann, p. 162), it would appear that only five other examples of Radiomir ref. 3646 watches from members of the "Task Force Keller", identified by the unusual lattice engraving "Einsatzgruppe Keller - Kampfschwimmer" ("Task Force Keller - combat swimmer") and the initials of the relevant frogman, have appeared in public to date.

For detailed descriptions and illustrations of the Radiomir Type D model and task force Keller see op.cit.. Ernst D., first owner of the present watch, is mentioned on pp. 125, 149 and 150, and shown in the black and white images on pages 82, 94 and 102, presumably wearing the present watch.

A survivor of tumultuous times, a watch with history and documented lineage, this "Radiomir" is a true trophy for the collector of unusual timepieces.

Rolex made for Officine Panerai Reference 3646
Around 1935 and following disappointing tests carried out on watches available at that time, the Royal Italian Navy approached Giuseppe Panerai with the request of designing a watch resistant to extreme conditions while at the same time keeping exact time. The prototype which Panerai submitted to the First Submarine Group Command was called "Radiomir" and passed all tests successfully. A further order was made and following an extensive secret test phase watches were supplied to the Italian naval forces as of 1938.

From the beginning, watches with reference no. 3646 were made by Rolex for Panerai following strict technical requirements, notably a 47 mm. wide cushion-shaped case with soldered curved wire lugs, screw down "onion" crown, 12-sided case back and a Perspex crystal. The black dials were coated with half Arabic and half Roman luminous numerals on black lacquer background, the "no-name" series such as the present watch without any further markings or designations. The particularity of the luminous blued steel hands is the small divider or separation in the center of the hour hand. The 16 lines caliber 618 Cortébert movements were finished by Rolex and decorated with the Geneva stripes.
Watches and other instruments made by Panerai were standard-issue tools for Italian Navy frogmen, SLC torpedo riders and commandos but were supplied also to naval forces of other countries, notably Germany.

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