3646 Panerai ‘Kampfschwimmer’ Type D
1943 Panerai have very little relation to the Richemont powerhouse of today. Modern Panerai gets a hard time from many enthusiasts, this can happen when you are less-than-truthful as to where your movements are born. A fraction of that criticism is deserved, while the larger whole is likely not. There are many attractive and technically competent recent Panerai and, yes, I did just admit that. However, even the most cynical collector cannot deny the depth of history this Italian marque bears. One of the purest and most attractive pieces in all their history is this, 1943’s 3646 ‘Kampfschwimmer’. Its story is as enthralling as the very best vintage military divers, if not more.
The 3646 was produced for Italian frogmen of the Decima Flottigla MAS (10th Assault Vehicle Flotilla), part of the Italian Navy. Their responsibilities, which were executed to some success at the Battle of the Mediterranean (let’s just gloss over the rather large issue of which side they were fighting on, shall we?), included driving manned torpedos against allied ships. This is precisely what it sounds like; torpedos were not self-guided at the start of WW2, and these divers were tasked with steering torpedos until the last possible moments. This was in addition to many other frogmen operations, but one which I feel does demonstrate some truly exceptional bravery. These divers required underwater timekeeping. Panerai supplied Germany with 720 watches in the year this watch was made, 1943. Movements were sourced via Rolex and their Type 1b calibre. This has been confirmed in a Rolex letter from January 1984 which spoke in concrete numbers. Total production remains unknown, though record serial numbers give us a hint. There are far fewer than 500 known surviving 3646s today, with 211 well-documented.
The 3646 was the first to feature what has become known as the radiomir dial, a 3-6-9-12 layout. Radiomir was latter trademarked, named for the glowing radium lume which was a first of its kind and very useful for divers. Not amazing for their health, though I humbly suspect driving a torpedo to be the larger risk. Interestingly, Panerai chose not to sign these dials as their founder Giuseppe Panerai had hesitancy about being associated with the German’s war effort. It is believed Panerai were never compensated for the supply of these watches. This example is amongst the earliest Type D watches, as distinguished by its decorated inner caseback and low 2604xx case number.
Kampfschwimmers lived a rough existance, as did many in 1943, but this watch has survived in a remarkable state. Its dial hasn’t degraded considerably. All radium applications still present well with minimal burn. The blued steel handset is correct as is the signed Brevet crown. Its crystal displays a beautiful wear, likely original given the radial expansion/contraction patina. Its entire case has a moderate level of surface wear, in this rare situation something quite desirable. Good 3646 examples are usually the domain of big three auction houses, and it is a pleasure to see this one surface at a well-regarded London retailer who focuses in military watches.
Find this 3646 here from Finest Hour Timepieces Ltd listed as POA.