Ironically, I began hating Panerai watches. I dismissed them as being fashion-victim, trendy, oversized, stupid watches. At the time, I had zero understanding of their history, or knowledge they were all originally made by Rolex for Panerai. As a matter of fact, Panerai is the only company Rolex ever made watches for, beside Rolex, and of course the original vintage Panerai watches made by Rolex from 1935 to 1955 used Rolex Oyster cases.
My point is, Panerai was definitely an acquired taste, and it took me years to "get" Panerai. As a matter of fact, much of my initial appreciation for Panerai came from writing a super detailed history on the history of Rolex Diving watches.
In 2011, I was visiting a pal, who is a world-renowned watch dealer, named Eric Ku, and he had some vintage Panerai watches which he showed me, and let me play around with. The vintage Panerai watch pictured in the two photos above, and in the picture below is a 47MM Rolex made Reference 6152-1 with a Marina Militare dial designation, which features an 8MM Rolex Brevet winding crown with the Rolex logo on the winding crown, as seen below. "Brevet" means "Patented" in French. This watch was made in sometime in the early 1950s, probably in 1952.
On a sidenote, it is fascinating to note that I wear a Panerai PAM 372, and it is remarkable how similar the PAM000372 case is to the Reference 6152-1 case, with the only real difference being the 372 has the trademark half-crescent "tight-seal" crown guard, but the case body, bezel shape, and crystal look almost identical. Also, the PAM 372 features a much lower profile case back, and the lugs on the PAM 372 are more low-profile than on the 6152-1.
In the photo below, I am wearing the "Marina Militare" 6152-1 pictured in the photos above. The 6152-1 came with three different different dial designations. The first had a "Radiomir Panerai" designation, and the most famous had the "Luminor Panerai" designation, and the third one, which I am wearing featured the "Marina Militare" dial designation.
I brought an employee of mine, who is an industrial designer, named James, and he is pictured below wearing the 6152-1. Today James works for Tesla, which is pretty cool. This photo of James rockin' the vintage 6152-1really shows off its simple beauty!!!
Eric also had another vintage Panerai Reference 3646 with a Radiomir Panerai dial designation, which I put on my wrist next to the 6152-1 (pictured below). Both watches have similar 3, 6, 9, 12 sandwich dials, but the Raidiomir minute markes have developed an extremely dark patina, since its dial used radium. If you look closely you notice the Radiomir has skinny wire lugs that were soldered to the case, and it also has an onion shaped winding crown, v. the Marina Militare featuring the standard 8MM Brevet Rolex winding "big" crown. This photo really illustrates exactly how early vintage Panerai design language evolved.
The photo below shows the side profile of the bezel and plexiglass crystal on the 3646 Radiomir Panerai.
So to conclude, I will say I ended-up falling madly in love with Panerai for many different reasons. First and foremost, I consider all vintage Panerai watches to essentially be Rolex watches, and modern Panerai watches still have so much Rolex DNA, in my mind they are basically Rolex watches on a different day and scale. I also love how completely timeless vintage Panerai watches are.
Today I wear a PAM 372, and it never ceases to amaze me how its design is based largely upon a vintage Panerai that was made in 1952!?!?! Just amazing!!!! It is also worth noting that originally I fell in love with the 6152-1, and the 6154 vintage Panerai models, which both lacked the now trademark Panerai crown guard. In other words, I was not crazy about the 6152, which had the crown guard. This was due to the fact that I loved the absolute minimalist simplicity of the 6152-1 and the 6154, but after wearing a PAM 372, the crown guard grew on me so much so, I like it just as much as the non-crown guard versions.
Just to be specific, the photo below was taken by Hammer, and it shows his vintage Luminor Panerai 6152 on the left side, which has the half-crescent "Tight-Seal" crown guard. The Radiomir Panerai on the right with the brown dial, is a 6154, and it has a 8mm Rolex Brevet winding crown. It is remarkable how similar these two watch designs are, yet how different. The modern PAM 372 is based upon the Luminor Panerai pictured below. The 6154 pictured below is similar in looks to the 6152-1 pictured above, but its case is much more streamlined, kind of like a more UFO/Aerodynamic shape. Officine Panerai has yet to make a new model based upon the 6154 or 6152-1, but there are many Panerai brand enthusiasts who are waiting very patiently for Panerai to do so.
In case you are new to Panerai, the two watches pictured above, are both referred to as "Base" Panerai watches, since they are crazy simple. In other words, they have super simple dials, that only have five minute markers, and lack sixty minute markers. They also lack any type of complications, like a second hand or power reserve indicator.
As I mentioned, the two watches pictured above belong to Hammer, and Hammer is not only one of the top Panerai collectors, but also owns what is arguably the most beautiful vintage Panerai in existence. Hammer owns a Reference 6154, that has a stunning brown dial with deep tan makers.
Hammer's vintage Panerai Reference 6154, which is pictured above completely freaked me out when I first saw it. I couldn't believe how amazingly beautiful the dial patina was. In it important to understand this watch originally began its life a black dial with white markers, but since the sandwich dial lume was made out of Radium, over the decades it developed this crazy brown dial patina.
Hammer also owns a classic Panerai 6152 Luminor, which is pictured two photo up in this story, and it is pictured below as well.
The Panerai Reference 6154 is a very unusual bird, in the sense its case is EXTREMELY Streamlined compared to the 6152-1 case body. I put together the image below that compares the side profiles of the Vintage 1952 Panerai Reference 6152 with side profile of the Vintage 1954 Panerai Reference 6154.
In is worth noting that the Panerai Reference 6154 is commonly referred to as a "Small Egiziano", which is likely a misattribution. In other words, it was speculated that the watch was made for the Egyptian Navy in 1954, but all the research does not support this notion. It is likely that Rolex watch designers developed it as a prototype to take the bulkier 6152 case to its ultimate streamlined form-factor.
This hypothesis is supported by the fact that Rolex also made Rolex Reference 6154 models with an almost Submariner-like dial in 1954. The photos below show a 1954 Rolex Reference 6154, which is extremely rare.
The Reference 6154 is shrouded in as much mystery, as the vintage Panerai watches.