Rolex made for Officine Panerai. An extremely rare, large and attractive stainless steel water-resistant diver's wristwatch with black lacquer "California" dial
Prospective buyers should be aware that the import… Read more Officine Panerai Officine Panerai was founded in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai (1825-1897) who opened the first watchmaker's shop in Florence on the Ponte alle Grazie and became a retailer of Switzerland's most prestigious watch manufacturers. At the turn of the century, the shop moved to Piazza San Giovanni where it is still today and the designation "Orologeria Svizzera" was added. In the following years Giovanni Panerai's grandson Guido Panerai (1873-1934) expanded the business by specializing in the production of high precision optical and mechanical instruments, thus becoming the official supplier to the Royal Italian Navy. As of 1910, the innovative Guido began experimenting with luminous materials and developed a system rendering instrument dials, sighting and telescopic devices luminous. His invention, later known as "Radiomir" and patented, consisted of a mix of sulphide and radium bromide to achieve luminescence. During both World Wars, the Royal Italian Navy used various Panerai precision instruments including timing mechanisms, depth gauges and mechanical calculators to launch torpedoes from high speed motor torpedo boats "M.A.S" or "Motorbarca Armata SVAN", manufactured by the Societa Veneziana Automobili Navali or SVAN. These "human torpedoes" were electrically propelled torpedoes with two crewmen equipped with diving suits riding astride. The torpedo was steered at slow speed to the enemy ship, the detachable warhead then used as a limpet mine before riding away. When Guido passed away in 1934, his children Giuseppe and Maria continued and further developed their father's business. Maria took over the day-to-day running of the Orologeria Svizzera shop while Giuseppe devoted his entire time to the improvement of underwater instruments, torches, wrist compasses and wrist depth gauges for the Royal Italian Navy. From the launch of the first "Radiomir" wristwatch until to date, Panerai designed the crown protecting device, allowing the watches to descend to a depth of 200 metres, a remarkable achievement for the time. It was also granted patent for "Luminor", the luminous substance based on tritium, which replaced the previous "Radiomir" mix, and from which the names of the two models are derived. The firm supplied small series of diver's watches to several Mediterranean Navies including a large Radiomir watch made upon request of the Egyptian Navy, fitted with an Angelus movement with 8-day power reserve and 5-minute intervals to calculate immersion times. Today more than ever Panerai watches with their distinctive look enjoy an enormous popularity amongst collectors.
Rolex made for Officine Panerai. An extremely rare, large and attractive stainless steel water-resistant diver's wristwatch with black lacquer "California" dial


Rolex made for Officine Panerai. An extremely rare, large and attractive stainless steel water-resistant diver's wristwatch with black lacquer "California" dial
"California Dial Ref. 3636" model, case no. 261078, circa 1940
Rolex cal. 618 16''' nickel-finished lever movement, 17 jewels, the black lacquer dial with luminous Roman numerals to the upper half and luminous Arabic numerals to the lower half, luminous hands, in large cushion-shaped water-resistant-type case with screw back, screw down "onion" crown, wire lugs, blackened buckle stamped PRIMA, case numbered
47 mm. wide
Special notice

Prospective buyers should be aware that the importation of Rolex watches into the United States is highly restricted. Rolex watches may not be shipped into the USA and can only be imported personally. Generally a buyer may import only one watch into the USA. For further information please contact our specialists in charge of the sale. Please note other countries may have comparable import restrictions for luxury watches.

Brought to you by

Sabine Kegel
Sabine Kegel

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

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 and only marked "SWISS MADE" below 6 o'clock. The outer railway minute divisions were printed in gilt, however not luminous. 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.

The particularity of certain series of these early "Radiomir" watches, such as the present example, is the lack of any of Rolex signatures or hallmarks.

According to tradition, a small group of such "California" dial ref. 3646 watches were intended to be presented to high ranking Navy officials during a ceremony. However, likely due to the turmoil of the war, the delivery never took place and the watches were forgotten in a warehouse. Rediscovered only decades later, these watches remained unused and are spectacular witnesses to the history of Panerai.

The present watch is believed to be from this group of watches and impresses by its virtually new condition, still retaining the original Perpex crystal and the "onion" crown. Most likely opened for the first time on our premises for inspection, the movement has evidently not been touched since it has left the Rolex factory, underlined by the impeccable condition of the screw heads and the bridges, not showing any wear or scratches, as well as the overall cleanness. The highly attractive "California" dial has never been cosmetically enhanced, the luminous material to the numerals displays an uniform, ivory-coloured tone with only minor spotting, consistent with age. The case proportions are full, the sides to the screw back are unharmed.
The hand-stitched leather bracelet, although not by Panerai, is presumably from the same period as the watch. Its blackened claw buckle is stamped PRIMA, German manufacturer for buckles, buttons and other accessories, active in the first half of the 20th century.
Purchased by the father of the original owner over 30 years ago and carefully locked away, the present watch is an outstanding example of Panerai's celebrated "California dial reference 3646".

For a detailed description and various illustrations of the model see Vintage Panerai - Watches with History by Ralf Ehlers & Volker Wiegmann, pp. 10 - 25. Another example of a non-signed "California Dial" is described and illustrated on pp. 20 & 21.

More from Important Watches

View All
View All