Fellows Sells a Piece of Panerai HistoryBy Ken Kessler
Panerai has been a bit “flat” of late in auction, but a Radiomir in the upcoming Fellows sale should fire up the Paneristi with deep pockets. As military-issue, pre-1990s models become increasingly more scarce – they seem to end up in museums or private collections, rarely to emerge again – a Radiomir with unique provenance and full documentation is something of note.
Lot 188 in the 30 January sale at the Birmigham-based auction house is a particularly rare example from the Second World War, with 47mm stainless steel case ref. 3646, Serial 1010292; inside is a signed manual-wind Rolex movement. The black dial features baton hour marker and quarterly Arabic numerals, and wears its genuine, untouched patina.
Fitted with its unsigned brown leather strap with original base metal pin buckle, the watch was used by the “Kampfschwimmer” frogmen of the German and Italian navies during the Second World War. This model of Panerai watch was initially intended for the Italian Decima MAS until they were taken by the Germans. The German diver who owned the watch is known to have received special training in Italy and wore an Italian-made, specialised rubber dive suit.
This watch came into the possession of the British soldier George H. Rowson, who acquired it from a Kampfschwimmer during a thwarted attempted on behalf of the German forces to destroy the important Nijmegen Bridge in the Netherlands, in September 1944. The incident occurred following the Battle of Nijmegen Bridge, the Allies hoping to secure the bridge in order to gain quick access to the Dutch city of Arnhem. Part of a wider initiative known as Operation Market Garden, Allied airborne and land forces attempted to liberate the cities of Eindhoven and Nijmegen in the Netherlands from German occupation.
According to Rowson’s first-hand account of the incident, at 06:30am on 29 September 1944, German Kampfschwimmers fixed charges underwater to the main supports of the bridge at Nijmegen. Once the German soldiers had completed their mission, they exited the river thinking they were back within their own lines. At this point, they were captured by a section of British soldiers which included Rowson. The charges they had placed were defused and so Nijmegen Bridge remained undamaged.
For those who value more than just the watch, this lot contains a wealth of material. The lot includes a hand-written account of the event by the soldier who brought it home, as well as a piece of the rubber suit worn by the German frogman who was issued with the watch, together with a selection of facsimile documents detailing the military history of the English soldier. Rowson’s name and rank, and the date of the battle are hand-engraved on the caseback.
Selling the Panerai is Rowson’s son, to whom the timepiece was eventually passed down; it has remained in the family’s ownership since, having been worn only a few times. The Panerai is entered for sale with an estimate of £30,000-£40,000.
The Watch Sale is available to view online at fellows.co.uk or in person at the following times:
- 23 January 2018 12pm – 7pm (London)
- 27 January 2018 11am – 4pm (Birmingham)
- 29 January 2018 10am – 4pm (Birmingham)
- 30 January 2018 8.30am – 11am (Birmingham)
**PHOTO ID IS REQUIRED
The auction will take place on Tuesday 30 January, staring at 11am.