The Hammer Collection
Reference 3646 Type B Radiomir | A stainless steel wristwatch, Circa 1941 | The Hammer Collection
December 7, 07:12 PM GMT
30,000 - 60,000 USD
Dial: black, pin dial
Caliber: mechanical, 17 jewels
Case: stainless steel, screw down case back
Case number: 1'009'911
Closure: chrome plated Panerai fishtail buckle
Size: 47 mm diameter
Signed: dial signed Panerai and inside caseback signed Oyster Watch Co
Accessories: Panerai marina militare tablecloth circa 1940, vintage history book titled Torpedini Umane Contro La Flotta Inglese circa 1947, two "top secret" letters from the marina militare addressed to Panerai circa 1944, a letter from the Flottiglia Mas dated 1944, a vintage post card, a marina militare anniversary pamphlet, two vintage Panerai dials, and an additional vintage strap with chrome plated fishtail buckle
The Panerai 3646 is in many ways, the beginning of the Panerai brand itself. It starts with Guido Panerai patenting ‘RADIOMIR’ in 1915. Not a watch, or a design, but rather a patent for a unique radium based paste or lume that would glow incredibly brightly. Guido ran G. Panerai e Figlio, operating a highly regarded watch shop in Florence, Italy. Appropriately named ‘Orologeria Svizzera’, the Panerai family retailed watches from likes of Longines, Vacheron-Constantin, and of course – Rolex. It was out of this relationship with Rolex that an idea was born. While Panerai had been a supplier to the Italian Navy, they were not watchmakers themselves. They maintained a staff of watchmakers in their boutique, but the idea of producing a watch – was not necessarily on their radar.
Allegedly under the request of the Italian military, who out of nationalist pride was seeking to equip their forces with Italian-Made machinery, Guido Panerai placed an order for a large Rolex Oyster case model. That initial 47mm watch was essentially a Rolex pocket watch with wire lugs, and passed naval testing with flying colors. That first watch laid the groundwork for what would become the first ‘true’ Panerai, the Reference 3646.
The present example is a Reference 3646 with a Type ‘B’, and to say that this is a very special model is an understatement. The 3646 cases were produced for Panerai by Rolex, and many came with Rolex sourced and supplied movements. Their inner case backs are stamped ‘Oyster Watch Co’, with a serial number, and the reference number. Hammer’s example is the earliest known 3646 ‘B’, and still retains its original ‘Pin Dial’. These exceedingly rare dials were manufactured from 2 layers of plastic, and a thin layer of brass which formed the dial backing. The ‘Radiomir’ radium was impregnated into the plastic layer with black lacquer that featured cut outs for the numerals and logos. Sitting atop that was the second clear and transparent piece of plastic – all held together by two pins or rivets near the center post of the dial.
In looking at our 3646, you can see that these early dials tended to warp with time. Was it the high amount of radiation, or exposure to heat? We are not sure – but to find an original pin-dial surviving at all is a collector’s dream. The handset, which was once blue and filled with Radiomir material, has lost its lume, but its shape is still retained. While the 3646 was a hugely important reference for Panerai, it was not without its weak-spots. The dial for one, but also the wire lugs. The present example however – has a case that is in truly excellent condition with only one repair weld to a single wire lug. These 3646 models were the watches that were supplied to the Italian Flotiglia MAS and used by Italian frogmen for some time during the WWII years. Its importance in the foundation of the brand, and the lore of Panerai cannot be overstated.
Not surprisingly, Hammer’s 3646 Type B is among his favorite watches and a halo of his Panerai collection. After securing this piece, he retraced its history with a diver throughout the Mediterranean. His journey culminated in Florence, Italy – with a visit to the Villa Panerai. When visiting the Villa Panerai, Hammer was able to arrange for a meeting with Maria Panerai, the widow of Guido’s son Giuseppe, who ran the company during the early 20th Century. It was then that Maria carried the watch over her doorsill and sat it upon the table where it was first collected for duty in 1941. Hammer recollects thinking “The watch did a proper boomerang, can you imagine the story of this one?”.
Befitting a watch of such provenance, it is accompanied by an incredible collection of period ephemera, hand sealed ‘TOP SECRET’ letters from the Marina Militare to Panerai, vintage Italian books detailing the story of the Italian frogmen, and the intricately woven tablecloth from the mess hall of the Marina Militare from 1939/40. It is not often that a brands first watch comes to market – and yet here is the very birth of one of the most collectible watch brands.