|“Radiomir Panerai Commando Set”
Officine Panerai, Firenze. Made in 1941.
Extremely rare set of three military diving instruments comprising: wristwatch, compass and depth gauge,
made for the Italian Navy Commandos. Accompanied by copies of the original owner's correspondence, a
letter from the original owner attesting to the watchs being used on a diving mission in 1942, and newspaper
Officine Panerai, “Radiomir”, so-called “Rolex Panerai”, No. 1009972, Ref. 3646, first generation. Made
Very fine and extremely rare, large, cushion-shaped, water-resistant, stainless steel military diver's
wristwatch with a stainless steel Panerai buckle.
|C. Signed Oyster Watch Co, three-body, polished and brushed, screwed-down case back and crown, wire lugs.
D. Panerai patented, black with luminous mixed Arabic and bâton indexes. Luminous blued steel "baton" hands.
M. Cal. 15 3/4''', signed Rolex, rhodium-plated, "fausses côtes" decoration, 17 jewels, straight-line lever escapement,
monometallic balance with timing screws, self-compensating Breguet balance-spring, index regulator.
Dial signed Panerai, movement signed Rolex, case signed Oyster Watch Co.
Dim. 47 x 47 mm. Thickness: 15 mm.
The depth gauge device
Fine and rare, oversized, water-resistant, stainless steel military diver's wrist depth gauge device graduated to 15
meters with an original water-repellent leather strap and stainless steel Panerai buckle.
Dial signed. Diam. 68 mm. Thickness: 39 mm.
Fine and rare, oversized, water-resistant, stainless steel military wrist compass with liquid, used by divers.
Portable instrument, usable on land as well as for diving, day and night, without any external lighting. Made of
an antimagnetic, stainless steel base with attached robust transparent monoblock plexiglass case, luminous
indexes in relief and magnetic dial immersed in liquid.
Diam. 69 mm. Thickness: 32 mm.
|Estimate: 70,000 CHF - 90,000 CHF
Estimate: 45,000 EUR - 55,000 EUR
Estimate: 57,000 USD - 75,000 USD
|The production of the Panerai firm for the Italian Navy was not only limited to watches. Since the beginning of the 20th
Century, they were specialized in submarine precision instruments like compasses, bathometers, and diverse control
In 1860, in Florence, Giovanni Panerai (1825-1897) set up a small workshop for precision
mechanical instruments on the "Ponte alle Grazie". By 1870, the company had become an official
supplier to the Royal Italian Navy. Giovanni's successor Guido Panerai (1873-1934) continued
to develop high-precision instruments.
Named "Orologeria Svizzera" in the early 1900s, the company sold Rolex and Patek Philippe
watches while also delivering optical and mechanical precision instruments to the Defense
Ministry. Developing the business and extending the line of military products, the company
continued as "Officine Panerai". Special products included luminous firing and aiming devices.
Maria and Giuseppe continued their father's retail business while strengthening their position
as suppliers to the Italian Navy. In 1935 the first wrist-worn depth gauges and compasses were
developed, and in 1936/38, a "Radiomir" watch prototype was produced.
1943 saw the birth of the "Mare Nostrum" and for the first time a safety lever and bridge device
was fitted to the "Radiomir". This was a revolutionary and distinctive design, which not only
fitted the crown tightly against the case, but also allowed for winding the watch while under
water. A patent was granted in 1949 for the luminous material "Luminor"; another for the
"Tight Seal Device" was filed in Italy on Nov. 26, 1956. (Ser. No. 624,234) and later in other
countries. "Officine Panerai" continued to be a specialized manufacturer of military instruments.
Panerai & Rolex The linking of the two companies of Panerai and Rolex has always been
the subject of speculation and fascination amongst watch collectors. Officine Panerai of Florence
were known for making precision instruments - watches were just one of their product
lines. It is probable that Panerai first turned to Rolex in the mid-1930's due to their history of
making completely waterproof watches. Panerai had suffered from unsatisfactory waterproofing
of their watches and the fitting of waterproof crowns made by Rolex was a logical step to make.
Of course, the reputation of the Rolex watch movement was widely known and Rolex agreed to
supply Panerai with both the crowns and movements. The movement calibre 618 (16 ''') was
used and proved to be very satisfactory. In 1935, at the request of the Submariner Group of the
Italian Navy, the permanent Commission studied a project for a special luminescent diver's
wristwatch. The Commission suggested a few models already available on the Market, but none
of them were satisfactory in terms of luminescence, water resistance and pressure. In March
1936, the Commission delivered a Radiomir wristwatch by Officine Panerai of Florence, which,
after being tested at sea at night and by day, turned out to be perfect. Ten examples of this model
were immediately ordered and used during important manoeuvres, where they obtained excellent
results. According to the Navy, the above events occurred in 1936, but experts and collectors
believe that the first watches of this type appeared in 1938. Some illustrations of designs made
by Panerai are dated 30 October 1938 and show a waterproof case containing an ordinary
watch. That same year, according to a famous collector of military watches, another prototype
was produced, but for presentation only; it bore a dodecagonal bezel with the inscription
“Officine Panerai Brevettato” and a transparent back showing the movement. Was it made in
1936 as the Navy says, or in 1938, as stated by numerous experts and the Officine Panerai?
Both are probably right since, given the political-military situation at that time, Panerai, after
having created the first prototype, may very well have suspended their research, and destroyed
or set aside the designs, only to take up the project two years later by launching the actual production
for the Navy, which required more watches. Thus, it could be that Panerai made a prototype
in 1936, and actual production was launched two years later, with some modifications.
We may therefore consider that the first model was produced in 1938. It was the large waterproof
model we know today, but featured an anonymous black dial with luminescent Roman
and Arabic numerals as well as indexes. The movement was a Cortébert “ébauche”, signed
Rolex, mechanical with manual winding, and the glass was in Perspex, similar to that of compasses
and bathometers. The bracelet was a large leather belt which was greased before being
fixed to the watch. Throughout the 1940's and 1950's Rolex continued to be the main supplier
of watch movements and cases to the Officine Panerai Company who would then fit their
patented dials and crown guards, these watches bore the case references 6150 through 6155 and
were fitted with either calibre A.196 or 16''' movements. Some of these cases were also retro
fitted by Panerai with Angelus 8-day movements. After this period Panerai made watches
entirely under their own name but their association with Rolex could never be forgotten and in
1997 they reissued a replica version of the first Panerai of 1938, a limited edition of 60 pieces
with a period Rolex movement. The combination of Panerai design and the use of the Rolex
Watch Company movements, crowns, and Panerai designed cases from the earliest production
models of their watches has ensured Officine Panerai's iconic status in the pantheon of classic
Eusebio Montalenti and the Panerai Trio that was used on a Sabotage Mission
During the Second World War, Gibraltar was the gateway to the
Atlantic and was thus of major importance. It was one of the pillars
of British presence in the Mediterranean, and therefore also a
center for espionage and secret combat. Gibraltar was very strategic
due to the fact that it afforded safe shelter to British warships
and allied merchant shipping.
The Decima MAS, a special Italian commando frogman unit, sent
a team to secretly man the Olterra, an old Italian cargo ship that
had been left behind when Italy joined the war in 1940. The rusty
ship had been covertly converted to a base for frogmen and
The young Eusebio Montalenti was one of the crew of frogmen who
secretly replaced the former crew, creating a workshop to house,
build and maintain manned torpedos (called “maiali” by the Italians
- meaning “ pigs” - due to their shape). A door was cut into the
ship 6 feet below the surface to allow these 2-man human torpedos
to come and go undetected. Replacement torpedos were shipped
from Italy disguised as boiler tubes.
Attacks by Italian frogmen on British warships proved costly: five
out of six frogmen never returned. But merchant ships, which were
less protected, proved to be easy prey. Italian frogmen sank or damaged
a total of 43,000 tons of Allied shipping. The Italians had successfully
sunk three ships on May 8, without the British suspecting
Eusebio Montalenti was one of these Italian frogmen, and a member
of the team called the “Big Dipper Seven” (I Sette dell'Orsa
Maggiore”). He was awarded two Silver Medals for the part he
played in two missions in 1942 and 1943.
The present lot, including diving watch, profondimeter and compass,
was used by Eusebio Montalenti on those two missions.
born in Caresana in 1922, he moved to Vercelli with his family in
1935. He attended the San Bartolomeo Military Academy in La
Spezia. When the Second World War broke out, he asked to be sent
to diving school in Livorno.
When ready for action in 1942, he was flown to Barcelona in a
Savoia-Marchetti. There the Italian Embassy furnished him with
false papers. He was then sent on to Madrid, and from there to the
port of Algesiras, on the Bay of Gibraltar.
Transferred aboard the “Olterra”, he began his active service as a
A mission carried out in 1942 was unsuccessful due to a barrage
of intense fire. A second try was made during the night of May 7,
under the command of Vittorio Cella. As a result three merchant
ships were sunk: the Thorshovdi, the Harrison Grey Otis, and the
On the night of August 3, three other ships were sunk.
After this, Montalenti returned to Vercelli on permission; he was
still there on September 8, 1943, when the Armistice was signed.
His captain, Vittorio Cella, later recalled that during the twenty
hours their dangerous mission lasted, he and Montalenti had
become quite close. Cella called him a man of “great courage, cultivated
and very well-educated.”
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