Four vintage Panerai timepieces at this year’s Hong Kong Watch Auction by Phillips sold well above their estimated maximum prices. Leading the sale was a Panerai Luminor Marina Militare (Ref. 6152/1) which sold for HK$ 1.638 million (US$ 210,000). With an estimate price range between HK$ 240,000 and 480,000 (US$ 30,800 and 61,500) the piece sold at over three times the maximum estimated price.
The overall record for the sale of a vintage Panerai watch was set at a Sotheby’s auction held in Geneva in 2014. An extremely rare example of a stainless steel Luminor from 1955 was acquired by a Panerai enthusiast who bid the record sum of CHF 425,000 (around US$ 470,000 today).
Panerai has a long, well-established heritage that greatly appeals to expert watch collectors worldwide, in particular, vintage models from the first half of the 1900s such as the reference 3646 and 6152 models. Initially, these timepieces were coveted as outstanding diving instruments, as they were designed to meet the demanding requirements of the Italian Navy in the late 1930s.
In those days, Panerai was an exclusive supplier to the Italian Navy, including its specialist diving corps. The designs developed by Panerai in those days, including the Luminor and Radiomir, were covered by the Military Secrets Act, and therefore, not available to the public. This imposed restriction on its historical models, coupled with the fact that not many pieces were produced has ensured their rarity. This has resulted in Panerai becoming an important protagonist at auctions, especially in recent years.
The HK$ 1.638 million Panerai Luminor Marina Militare (Ref. 6152/1) was manufactured in the 1960s with a 47mm stainless steel case with a brown leather strap. Its matriculation number 31 means that it was the first one to be manufactured in a batch of 30. This batch was the first ever to feature the “Luminor” dials and the Angelus 240 calibres with 8-days power reserve. To promote Panerai’s new luminous compound, 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. So for, only eight pieces from this batch of 30 have surfaced.
The second-highest price for a Panerai at the auction – at HK$ 1,386,000 (just over US$ 178,000) with an estimated maximum of US$100,000 – was for a Reference Number GPF 2/56. This is a historically significant model for the brand, as well as having historical significance for the region. It was developed specifically to supply the Egyptian Navy’s specialist divers who played a critical role during the Suez Crisis in late 1956.
This watch introduced several firsts to the Panerai brand. It was the first serially produced Panerai watch that was completely developed and manufactured in-house by G. Panerai & Figlio in Florence. It was the first Panerai watch to feature the half-moon shaped crown protecting device that has now become a signature feature of the brand’s modern watches. It was also the first Panerai to be equipped with the Angelus 240 8-days calibre. This highly reliable calibre was modified specifically for the watch from a calibre that was previously only used in table and travel clocks.
The third and fourth highest prices fetched by Panerai watches were both Ref. 6152/1s. The watch with case Number 124614 fetched HK$ 1,260,000 (US$ 162,500) with an estimated maximum of US$ 100,000. It is one of only four Ref. 6152/1 watches known to feature a prototype rotating bezel made of Plexiglas. It was developed for diving with oxygen rebreathers at maximum depths of around 12m. This form of diving requires planning and submersion times to be calculated. The bezel’s five minutes calibration helped divers keep track of the elapsed time and measure crucial decompression stops.
Ref. 6152/1 Luminor with case number 124833 fetched HK$ 907,200 (US$ 117,000). It had an estimated maximum of just US$ 48,700. This piece was among the first 6152/1 models to feature the brand’s signature half-moon shaped crown-protecting device. It is believed, based on Italian Naval records, that Panerai started delivering these modified 6152/1 sometime in the early 1960s.
Following the auction, Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué commented, “We were thrilled to see these unique vintage pieces at auction. Panerai has been entering a new world with high-tech materials and innovation. However, what has not changed in our DNA is our strong Italian roots and legendary history. The four rare pieces listed in the Phillips auction in Hong Kong represent different yet equally important milestones in our history, which are also fundamental to the brand’s development in the present day.”