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  • Manufacturer: Panerai
    Year: Circa 1960s
    Reference No: 6152-1
    Case No: 124,964, Matr. No. 31
    Model Name: Luminor, Marina Militare
    Material: Stainless steel
    Calibre: Manual, cal. Angelus SF 240, 15 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Leather
    Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel pin buckle
    Dimensions: 47mm diameter
    Signed: Case, dial and movement signed

  • Catalogue Essay

    Matr. No. 31 is the first of 30 Ref. 6152/1 watches to ever feature Luminor dials and Angelus 240 8-days calibers. Until today only 8 pieces from this batch have surfaced. Watches of this type were produced in the mid 1960s to promote Panerai’s new luminous compound named LUMINOR in addition to the “new” Angelus 240 8-days calibers meant to compete with modern automatic movements.

    Most of these watches were given to high ranking officers of the Italian Navy and to the families of Gold Medal of Military Valour awardees from WWII. Number 56 for instance was presented to the family of Alcide Pedretti who in July 1941 participated in a combined Decima Flottiglia MAS attack on the British Naval Base of Malta. Pedretti was the second man on Teseo Tesei’s manned torpedo. Their mission was to blow up an obstruction attached to a bridge at the entrance of the port in order to allow six explosive boats to enter the base and attack naval shipping. During their approach, the two men were spotted by a British sentry who immediately opened fire with a 6 pounder gun and killing both. The bridge was later hit by an explosive boat and partly destroyed but the collapsed bridge spans ended up blocking the entrance and the mission ended in total failure. Alcide Pedretti was awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valour post mortem.

    In 1955, Rolex produced 500 Ref. 6152/1 watches for Panerai to be provided exclusively to their client the Italian Navy. All 500 pieces were equipped with signature Rolex screw-down crowns (Big Crown) and sent to Panerai in one lot. Before delivery to the Italian Navy, Panerai outfitted the ordered number of watches with their own Radiomir dials. By the end of the 1950s, Panerai began installing their patented crown-protecting device of Ref. 6152/1 which completely changed the look of the watch. This gave birth to what today is referred to as “Luminor Case”. This term is a bit misleading though as all watches delivered to the Italian Navy until the mid 1960s – with or without crown guard – were equipped with highly radioactive Radiomir dials. Tritium-based Luminor became only available around 1965.

    In 1964, following a number of lawsuits against Rolex in the US, the Swiss government banned the use of highly radioactive radium-226 in the Swiss watch industry. Tritium-based compounds became quickly the new standard. Tritium was exclusively produced in American nuclear reactors, mainly as a booster for thermonuclear weapons. In the mid 1950s, the US started selling their overproduction of tritium to licensed companies for medical research (radioactive tracers), etc. This is when tritium was found to be a valid replacement for radium-226 to illuminate watch dials but it was not until the early 1960s, when prices dropped enough to make the new compound an actual alternative for radium.

    Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen but compared to radium it is practically harmless. In Italy, the use of radium-226 remained legal within certain limits. The signs, however were clear. The world was moving away from hazardous compounds. With this in mind, Giuseppe Panerai created his own tritium-based luminous compound named Luminor.

    For Panerai, replacing hundreds of Radiomir instruments and watches in use with the Italian Navy was a great business opportunity. To promote their new tritium-based Luminor, Giuseppe Panerai came up with a brilliant idea. His company modified 30 Ref. 3646 left-over watches from WWII and awarded them to high ranking Navy officers and families of World War II heroes. The modifications were extensive. The wire lugs were removed and in their stead, new solid lugs were welded onto the case.

    The old Cortébert-made Rolex 618 calibers were replaced with Angelus 240 8-days movements which Panerai had already used for the GPF 2/56. To show off the new movements, Panerai installed for the the first time in their history display casebacks with distinct “Officine Panerai – Brevettato” engravings.

    To indicate the new harmless luminous compound, the display casebacks featured a large “I” in the center. The “I” could refer to “innocuo” which is Italian for harmless or to the intensity of light emitted by Luminor (Type I = 2.16 μ candela/cm3).

    The new dials featured all sorts of engravings. Early examples had Officine Panerai or Marina Militare Officine Panerai signatures. It is possible that at this point, Panerai had not yet decided how to call the new tritium-based compound. The trademark “LUMINOR” was registered in 1949 but remained unused until the mid 1960s. After the first examples, Panerai settled on Marina Militare Luminor Panerai engravings over four lines (four-liner).

    With the introduction of Angelus 240 calibers, these new watches received a small seconds hand at 9 O’clock just like the GPF 2/56 made for the Egyptian Navy from 1956 onwards.

    In the past, this very first batch based on Ref. 3646 was often mistaken for some kind of transitional link between Ref. 3646 with wire lugs and Ref. 6152 with lugs carved from the same block of steel as the case but the reality is they were made more than a decade after Ref. 6152 was introduced in 1953.

    Until today only three real pieces from this early 3646-based batch have surfaced:

    No matriculation number – Archivio Storico Panerai (Panerai Museum)
    Matr. No. 2 – Marina Militare Officine Panerai
    Matr. No. 11 – Luminor Panerai

    After the initial 30 pieces based on Ref. 3646, Panerai made another run of 30 pieces but this time using Ref. 6152/1. The only modification done to these watches was the replacement of the original Cortébert-made Rolex 618 calibers with Angelus 240 8-days movements. While the Angelus 240 calibers used for the 3646-based belonged to the very first batch ordered for the GPF 2/56 featuring the date stamp 12.55, the 6152/1 based watches were equipped with a new Angelus batch featuring Côtes de Genève and stamped MAI.61 (May 1961). It is important to note that the date stamp on the baseplate of an Angelus 240 does not necessarily reflect the production date of the movement itself. The date refers merely to the production date of the baseplates which were made in batches.

    The Rolex case numbers of the known pieces are random. As mentioned earlier, Rolex sent all 500 watches of Ref. 6152/1 (124495 - 124995) in one lot to Panerai. When orders came in from the Italian Navy, Panerai grabbed whichever watches were on top.

    As of today, only eight watches from this batch have surfaced:

    Matr. No. 31 – 124964 (The present lot)
    Matr. No. 35 – 124666
    Matr. No. 45 – 124719
    Matr. No. 47 – n.a.
    Matr. No. 52 – 124657
    Matr. No. 55 – n.a.
    Matr. No. 56 – n.a. (Alcide Pedretti)
    Matr. No. 57 – n.a.

    This and the previous 3646-based batch can be considered the very first Special Editions made by Panerai.

    The present example is the earliest known 6152/1 with Luminor dial ever made. This very watch is listed in a Marina Militare inventory list from 1988. Recorded are the Marina Militare dial with small seconds at 9 o’clock and the matriculation number “Matr. No. 31”.

    The dial has turned slightly brown and the tritium-based lume has developed a beautiful cream colour patina which can also be found on the dagger hands. The MAI.61 stamped Angelus 240 movement with 17 jewels, wide Côtes de Genève and Incabloc shock protection is absolutely consistent with other known pieces from this series. The watch is further complemented by its original leather strap.

  • Artist Biography

    Panerai

    Italian • 1860

    Known for its robust designs and large case sizes, Officine Panerai was established in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai in Florence, Italy. Around 1900, Giovanni's grandson Guido Panerai took over, and Panerai became the supplier to the Regia Marina — the Royal Italian Navy. After supplying the navy with high-precision instruments for a number of years, Officine Panerai created Radiomir, a radium-based powder that gives luminosity to the dials of sighting instruments and devices. By 1936, the Royal Italian Navy approached Panerai again with the request to design a watch resistant to extreme underwater conditions. The watch they created became known as the "Radiomir".

    Panerai's watches made during the early twentieth century era were comprised of cases designed and manufactured by Rolex SA, with Cortébert, a Swiss manufacturer, supplying the majority of their movements. The most recognizable designs from the firm are the Radiomir and Luminor. To date, vintage models from the first half of the 1900s, such as the reference 3646 and 6152 models, remain the most desirable among collectors.

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998

Ref. 6152-1
A very rare, oversized and attractive stainless steel diver’s wristwatch with small seconds, “tropical” dial, made especially for the Italian Navy

Circa 1960s
47mm diameter
Case, dial and movement signed

Estimate
HK$240,000 - 480,000 
€25,900-51,700
$30,800-61,500

Sold for HK$1,638,000

Contact Specialist

Thomas Perazzi

Head of Watches, Asia
+852 2318 2031

[email protected]

The Hong Kong Watch Auction: XI

Hong Kong Auction 29 November 2020