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Historical Perspectives: CWC: The Watch That Replaced the MilSub

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Among collectors of vintage military watches, there are a handful of grails worth chasing: one of the rare Dirty Dozen WWW watches, a Royal Air Force–issued IWC Mark XI, or a Heuer Bundeswehr flyback chronograph, amongst a few others. Of course, at the top of the heap sits the legendary MilSub, the Rolex Submariner that was issued to British Royal Navy divers in the 1960s and ‘70s. These sought-after watches regularly sell for six-figure sums, with a minefield of intimidating nuances and variations through which to wade.

But there’s another dive watch out there, supplied by a humble British brand — Cabot Watch Company — that actually superseded the Rolex MilSub on the wrists of Royal Navy divers, and its first version, with a self-winding mechanical movement, is far rarer than the Rolex it replaced.

Cabot Watch Company, or CWC, doesn’t have a long, rich history like so many of the big Swiss brands, nor a founder with a melodic name who invented a complication in the 19th century. In fact, it was founded in 1972 by a businessman who saw an opportunity. In the early 1970s, the British Ministry of Defence sourced watches from a number of brands. For divers, there were Omega and Rolex, for pilots, Precista, Newmark, and Hamilton, and for foot soldiers, Smiths and Hamilton. But by 1972, Smiths had stopped making watches and Hamilton, facing the Quartz Crisis, decided that MOD contracts weren’t lucrative enough to continue. Seeing the writing on the wall, Hamilton’s Managing Director for the UK, Ray Mellor, decided to go his own way.

Mellor had served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, on ships transporting troops across the Atlantic. After leaving Hamilton, Mellor was visiting Bristol in the southwest of England, when a name came to him. The famous explorer John Cabot had launched his New World expedition from Bristol in the late 15th century, and Mellor’s penchant for the sea led him to call his new company, “Cabot Watch Company,” after the sea captain. Given his history with Hamilton working on contracts with the MOD, Mellor decided to focus his efforts there and soon CWC watches were being supplied to the British Army, Navy, and Air Force.

CWC founder Ray Mellor can be seen here, fourth from right, during his days in the Merchant Marine. (Photo: Courtesy Ray Mellor)

These CWC watches, built to strict specifications set forth by the MOD, looked virtually identical to those that, only a year or two earlier, had “Hamilton” on their dials. They were all made in Switzerland, with workmanlike ETA or Valjoux movements and unadorned steel cases with fixed strap bars. There was the humble General Service watch and the two-register “asymmetrical” pilot’s chronograph, the latter of which has become something of a collectible icon of its own, one of the so-called “Fab Four,” alongside versions from Precista, Hamilton and Newmark.

Archival document showing the MOD specifications for a dive watch. (Photo: Courtesy CWC)

The one contract CWC hadn’t managed to win was for diving watches. The Royal Navy had a long history with Rolex, dating back to the 1950s, and even worked with Omega for a while in the ‘60s. But by the late ‘70s, perhaps the higher price of the Submariner made the MOD look elsewhere and, given its good relationship with CWC, the Ministry came calling in 1980.

CWC responded with a tough automatic dive watch of its own, built to the specifications of the MOD (DEF STAN 66-4 [Part 1] Issue 3, for those keeping score), which included a rotating bezel with a fully hashed Bakelite insert, sword hands and a boldly marked dial swathed in tritium lume, a 32mm mineral glass crystal, and fixed strap bars for use with pull-through nylon straps. Inside ticked the sturdy automatic ETA 2783. CWC sourced the rather curvy, beveled 44mm steel case that was first made by MRP S.A., and used by many brands in the early ‘80s, from Heuer to Chronosport, among many others.

Quartz movements quickly replaced automatic movements in CWC’s dive watches.

Of course, being the early ‘80s, quartz technology was quickly taking firm hold across the watch industry, and it wasn’t long before CWC started fitting all of its watches with battery-powered movements, from its General Service and pilot’s watches to the diver. In fact, the mechanical version of the Royal Navy diver was only supplied to the MOD in 1980 and 1981 (with some possibly trickling into ’82), making its run extremely short. To find one now in decent condition can be quite the hunt as well, given their intended use by divers disposing of unexploded ordinance in harbors, inspecting ship hulls and carrying out other military maneuvers. These watches are becoming extremely rare and rather expensive. But for one that is far rarer than a Rolex MilSub, they’re still a relative bargain for an issued military dive watch.

Military issue engravings on the back of a CWC dive watch.

After the migration to quartz movements, CWC continued to supply dive watches to the MOD, even when the Royal Air Force switched to Seiko and Pulsar for its pilot’s chronographs. There have since been several iterations of Royal Navy divers, with PVD black cases and a day/date function for the Special Boat Service starting in the mid-‘90s, and others with date or no date. Tritium gave way to LumiNova as well, with the well-known “circle T” emblem on the dial replaced by a circle L. The watches remain sturdy timekeepers, decidedly rugged and purposeful, despite their now almost antique appearance among all the G-Shocks seen on military wrists these days. The quartz versions make a nice alternative to the ubiquitous Seikos and Citizen divers out there, with a dash of military credibility and Swiss-made quality behind them. Word is that the Royal Marines and Special Boat Service still procure these dive watches from CWC.

Ray Mellor never really intended to sell his watches to the general public. He had found his niche with military contracts and business was good. But around 1990, a London-based military gear supplier called Silverman’s, started buying watches directly from CWC to sell. Around this time, Mellor was getting ready to back away from running his company and, given his good relations with Silverman’s, a deal was struck; the latter became owner of the CWC brand. Mellor remained involved as a director but took a back seat from daily operations until 2012, when he finally retired. Now in his 90s, Mellor reportedly still comes to meetings now and then and helps with historical information (like that sourced for this article).

The automatic CWC diver is much rarer than the Rolex MilSub – and a lot less expensive. (Photo: Courtesy CWC)

While the later quartz divers are somewhat collectible, especially the issued ones, those rare 1980/81 automatic CWC divers are truly special, representing a transitional period in military dive watches, a “changing of the guard,” so to speak, from Rolex to CWC, and a bridge from mechanical to quartz. The appeal of a Rolex MilSub is that it is essentially a watch from a large luxury brand customized to the specifications of a military unit for a unique purpose. But the appeal of CWC watches is that they were created from the get-go to be nothing more than military instruments, with no pretense or evocative name — Submariner or Seamaster — just a caseback stamped with codes and stock numbers. To those who appreciate the stripped-down utility of dive watches, or military watches in general, the CWC diver might just be the best example.

CWC is planning to reissue that first automatic diver to the exact specifications later this summer and we’ll be sure to cover it when it does. In the meantime, more information on CWC’s current dive watches can be found here.

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Bring a Loupe: A Stainless Steel Patek Philippe Ref. 1463, A Full Set Zodiac Sea Wolf, An Incorrect Rolex Veriflat Ref. 6512, And More

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This week, we start big with a Patek Philippe reference 1463 in stainless steel. Granted, its dial has been replaced, but the rarity of this watch in this metal easily trumps that fact. We keep the chrono love going with an oversized Omega, relying on the caliber 33.3. Then what could represent time-only pieces better than a Chronomètre Royal from Vacheron Constantin, the reference 6519. And we conclude with a Rolex Veriflat reference 6512 that could have been great, but really isn’t – I’ll explain exactly why below.


Omega Chronograph With Caliber 33.3

Originally introduced in 1933, the caliber 33.3 is one of the most iconic chronograph movements used by Omega. Its two-register layout looks especially fantastic in an oversized case, like the present one, standing at a respectable 37.5mm and seemingly unpolished. Remember, in the early 1940s, the regular diameter for wristwatches was more in the lower part of the 30mm range. This chronograph also sports the characteristic oval pushers, often nicknamed “olive pushers.”

The dial is also untouched, showing the right amount of patina and light aging that you should expect from a 75-year-old watch. The seller indicates a small scratch on the dial at seven o’clock, visible just above the painted numeral. He adds that the watch was serviced in 2010 (and has worked well ever since), and that an extract from the Omega Archives will also be provided. 

A U.S.-based collector is selling this outstanding Omega chronograph for $13,000.


Patek Philippe Chronograph Ref. 1463 In Steel (But With A Replacement Dial)

Patek Philippe chronographs are some of the most coveted vintage watches around, and the reference 1463 is no exception. Initially launched in 1940, the reference 1463 was designed as a sporting chronograph, hence the water-resistant case manufactured by the famous casemaker Francois Borgel (later renamed Taubert Freres). Only around 750 examples were produced between 1940 and the late 1960s (the regular production ended in 1965, but some examples from as late as 1968 have been found), and of those the vast majority were cased in yellow gold.

This makes this stainless steel piece a rarity, which explains why we dedicated an article to the previous steel example with Breguet numerals that we saw. The seller of this 1463 adds that the present watch is the only stainless steel known with a two-tone dial that sports Breguet numerals and a pulsation scale. He also provides the extract certificate that documents the dial replacement in 1998. The watch was previously auctioned by Antiquorum in 2004, where it fetched $230,500.

The dealer Iconeek just listed this rare Patek Philippe ref. 1463 in steel, with an asking price around $412,000.


Vacheron Constantin Chronomètre Royal Ref. 6519

Vacheron Constantin reserved the Chronomètre Royal name for its most accurate pocket and wristwatches from 1907 onwards. As can be expected from the flamboyant watchmaker, a large number of case designs were used through the years, from the bold lugs of the reference 4838 to the integrated and faceted lugs of the reference 6161. An excellent walk-through of the Chronomètre Royal can actually be found on the Vacheron-dedicated forum The HourLounge.

The Chronomètre Royal is described here as the reference 6519, which can be found engraved on the inside of the caseback. The outside features of course the “Chronomètre Royal” name, deeply engraved. In design, the watch looks very much like the reference 6430, also a Chronomètre Royal. It would be interesting to find out the difference between the two, since they both feature the splendid caliber K1008-BS with center seconds, and come with a 36mm case that has distinctively short lugs. The only notable difference seems to be the thin and straight handset of the 6519 versus the alpha hands commonly seen on the reference 6430.

You can find this Vacheron Constantin Chronomètre Royal ref. 6519 on Ebay, with current bidding at $2,025.


Zodiac Sea Wolf Orange, Full Set

A full set is always a compelling reason to feature a watch here, but this Zodiac Sea Wolf can also boast a seriously cool look with its orange track and grey bakelite bezel. The handset matches the orange accents, with the caseback proudly underlining the water-resistance to 20ATM, a core feature of Zodiac toolwatches. The 35mm diameter is on the smaller side, but works great on the wrist.

The watch could not be more complete, with the box, the manuals, the booklets, the hang tags, and the stickers. It also comes with the original bracelet, and extra links on the side. The one replacement part is the crystal, and the original is included in the package too. Just note that the lume on the hour hands shows light breaks, but remains in place.

Watches With Patina has this full set Zodiac Sea Wolf for $2,800.


Buyer Beware – A Redialed Rolex Veriflat Ref. 6512

Let’s call this a semi-Buyer Beware, as the dial is correctly mentioned as “refinished” in the listing. However, it’s definitely a full redial, as the incorrect font and minute track reveal. Another clear telltale sign comes from the cross-hair second track, improperly placed, as the lines are supposed to start from the edges, and not meet in the middle. The Swiss mention at the bottom of the dial is also gone and the greenish lume leaves very little doubt about a relume. In short, this Veriflat (you have to love the name of the reference 6512) is a textbook example for identifying a horrible redial, which is a shame, because the original dial with the elongated crown and indexes looks killer.

You can find this Rolex Veriflat currently listed on Ebay with a Buy-It-Now price of $3,500 (but purchasing is not advised).

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Found: Vladimir Putin’s Patek Philippe 5208P Grand Complication For Sale At Antiquorum

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Vladimir Putin, watch guy. Yup, our president’s best frienemy is something of a horological connoisseur, and, as we’ve reported over the years, his collection includes everything from a Blancpain Aqualung that he wore while signing the treaty to annex Crimea to a range of other watches that make up six times what his declared yearly income is. Today, however, we’ve found the most impressive and expensive timepiece from the Putin collection, and it’s coming up for sale.

Vladimir Putin's Patek Philippe 5208P

Vladimir Putin’s personal Patek Philippe Grand Complication.

The watch is none other than a true grand complication Patek Philippe wristwatch – a reference 5208P. The 5208P is one of the most complicated watches Patek has ever made, and it includes a minute repeater, a mono-pusher chronograph, and an instantaneous perpetual calendar. It is one of the most impressive wristwatches in the world, and also one of the most expensive – it costs roughly 980,000 CHF and is offered only to top clients of the brand by application.

The watch was seemingly sold to Mr. Putin at London’s Watches of Switzerland location, though a date is not visible on the documentation. Now, to be clear, it is possible that someone may have filled out the certificate of this watch with Mr. Putin’s name, so there is no way to confirm it was actually sold to him – but that seems unlikely, as Patek Philippe retailers are instructed to print the real name of the purchaser on the papers as the watch is delivered. Still, anything is possible, and Antiquorum’s listing is anything but complete at this moment. There is not even an estimate listed on this lot yet, and the auction house is still looking for more consignments for this mid-July sale in Monaco. 

<p>The 5208 is a 42mm watch in platinum with pierced lugs.</p>

The 5208 is a 42mm watch in platinum with pierced lugs.

<p>The 5208 is a self-winding, minute repeating wristwatch.</p>

The 5208 is a self-winding, minute repeating wristwatch.

As more details become available and the story fills out, we’ll be sure to update this posting to provide more context on this most impressive timepiece owned by this most powerful politician. In the meantime, you can check out the lot here and read more on the 5208P here.

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Recommended Reading: Radiolab Explores The Nature Of Time

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Forget any connection to watches or timekeeping – if you’re not already a regular listener to Radiolab, you need to become one ASAP. The radio show and podcast comes from producers Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, and is a deep dive into science, human curiosity, culture, and the like. This month is the show’s 15th birthday, and to celebrate the creators replayed one of the earliest episodes, one fully devoted to exploring how we measure and experience time.

Over the course of the show, physicists discuss the elasticity of time and how our experiences of time can be greatly varied, the role time plays in music is experimented with, offering new takes on familiar songs, the history of standardized time and its reluctant adoption is discussed, and we learn about strange forms of clocks that rely on things like flowers and spices to tell the time.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode here.

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Found: Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona, Seriously

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We all knew this day would come. We didn’t know when, or in what form, but we knew it was bound to happen. The watch that in many ways can be credited with launching the vintage collectible watch market that we all know today has been found, and it’s coming up for sale this fall. Here’s the story of Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona.

Paul Newman's Paul Newman

Mr. Newman wearing his 6239 – the watch will be available through Phillips this fall.

In July 2014, I wrote a story called "Twelve of the Greatest Missing Watches," and at the very center of that story was this watch – the Rolex Daytona reference 6239 with exotic dial owned and worn by Mr. Paul Newman himself. We’ve known this watch was still around – as in not destroyed or permanently lost – for some time. We’ve also known that it was on the West Coast, and that its retrieval was the subject of several hopeful messages amongst friends for years, all ultimately coming up empty. But now it’s been retrieved, and the watch that started it all will sell at Phillips’s first New York watch auction this October.

The story of how this watch came to be in the hands of Phillips is a sweet, honest, and direct one. The watch belongs to Paul’s son-in-law, James Cox, still married to his daughter Nell Potts. What’s amazing is that James met Paul Newman at Lime Rock, a race track in Connecticut, when he was 13 years old, and for the first several months of his relationship with Nell, he had no idea that her father was in fact Mr. Newman himself.

Here, here’s a watch. If you wind it, it tells pretty good time.

Paul Newman, as he handed his Daytona to his future son-in-law

In the summer of 1984, James was at the Newmans’ home in Westport, Connecticut, when Paul asked him what time it was. He responded, "I don’t know, I don’t own a watch." Paul then handed him his Rolex and said, "Here, here’s a watch. If you wind it, it tells pretty good time." The rest is history, and Mr. Cox wore the watch every day until the mid 1990s when he was informed of the relative value of a so-called "Paul Newman" Daytona.

Two years after Mr. Newman died, his daughter founded the Nell Newman Foundation, and the treasurer of this foundation contacted a well known collector in California named Tom Peck about possibly selling the watch. Some weeks later, none other than Aurel Bacs, the man who had set the record for the most expensive Daytona last year (and recently broke it once more) was in California to see the watch. Aurel was "as excited as a Swiss guy in a suit could get," according to James.

The rear of the watch is engraved with a sweet note from Paul’s wife, Joanne Woodward. (Photo: Courtesy WSJ)

As for the quality of the watch itself – always a concern for any auctioneer looking for a historically important watch – you really couldn’t ask for more. The dial is original and unrestored, with warm patina on the cream face. All lume plots are present and deeply aged, as are the hands. The case is in good shape, and on the back is a charming inscription from Paul wife that reads "Drive Carefully, Me." This watch is everything we could’ve hoped for.

How the market will respond to such a momentous sale, one with more than simple rarity at play but also the direct lineage to Mr. Newman himself, with documented ownership history within his own family, and charming, honest condition is anybody’s guess. Could this be the most important vintage watch in the world? Maybe. But that really doesn’t matter to me. This is Paul Newman’s Paul Newman, and to anyone who is a fan of the man’s style and integrity, that matters much more than any price that may become associated with it. You can be sure we’ll be following this one very closely.

(All information and photos via the wonderful story in today’s Wall Street Journal.)

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Found: Two Super-Rare, Identical Breguet Watches From The Chaumet Era

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When I want to see something new, I visit Antoine de Macedo in Paris. I think Antoine knows this too, because he’s become very good at finding models that I’ve never come across before. I’m beginning to wonder if he isn’t doing it to remind me of his much greater experience. Finding watches that nobody ever knew existed is kind of his thing. That very strange square Gübelin that sold at auction last month for more than triple what Phillips estimated? He found it.

A Breguet triple calendar chronograph from 1952

A Breguet triple calendar chronograph from 1952, sold by Christie’s last year.

“I’ve got to show you this Breguet,” he says right after I walk into this store. He’s already dropped a massive hint, but only because he knows I have a bit of a weakness for Breguet and with just one word, he’s got my full attention. And just like that, he’s off to the back of the store before we’ve properly said hello to one another.

Must be a Type XX, I tell myself. He’s got an army of beautiful examples. Or maybe a gold calendar wristwatch from the middle of the century. Those are my favorite. No. What he brings back is a very strange tonneau-shaped stainless steel Breguet with a very simple black dial, baton hands and baton indexes. It screams 1970s. It doesn’t scream "Breguet."

“It’s from the 1970s,” says Antoine, as if to reassure me, “and it’s really rare." It could easily bear another manufacturer’s signature, and in fact, it reminds me of a Zenith Respirator, but the fact is this is a Breguet.

A tonneau shaped Breguet in stainless steel, sold in 1975.

No doubt, this weird tonneau Breguet was definitely born in the 1970s.

But then Antoine does something even more surprising and calls over a young man who looks rather familiar to come join us. His name is also Antoine, he’s just started his summer internship here and on his left wrist is the exact same Breguet. What are the chances of that!

The tonneau shaped Breguet on the wrist of Antoine Breguet.

The second example, discovered on the intern’s wrist, is one of the very few identical examples of this reference.

If there’s one decade that’s easy to identify when it comes to watch design, it’s the 1970s. The Swiss watchmaking industry was under threat, Japanese Quartz was forcing mechanical movements on their way out, and manufactures had to lower their production costs to offer anything remotely competitive. For many watchmakers, these are maybe not when they created their finest work (although there is a very real passion for these funky designs, to borrow a term often used by one of my colleagues, who happens to be one of those very passionate collectors).

According to Breguet, approximately 20 pieces like this one were made during a short period of time, in the 1970s. Here's 10 percent.

According to Breguet, approximately 20 pieces like this one were made during a short period of time, in the 1970s. Here’s 10 percent of them.

For Breguet, this period of instability was complicated by a change in ownership in 1970, when the manufacture was acquired by Jacques and Pierre Chaumet. For a while, Breguet’s reputation was tied to that of the Parisian jeweler. Watches were produced in small series and sold through Chaumet’s distribution network. The solution wasn’t very sophisticated, but it kept Breguet going, and in 1975, the company was handed over to Francois Bodet, the young manager of the Chaumet boutique on Place Vendome.

That same year is when this watch sold for the first time. Forty-two years later, and with Breguet in a very different position (thanks to Bodet), the watch is back on the market today, and it feels almost ordinary compared to everything else Breguet made before or after it. But that is exactly what makes it interesting.

The only way to truly appreciate this watch is within the context of the 1970s, and other similar models, such as the Respirator, the superior quality and finishing touches such as the chamfered edges of the case become apparent, but where it really outshines others is on the wrist. The dimensions are just spot on.

The Breguet signature, arguably one of the most beautiful, is really what makes this watch.

Inside the watch is an ETA 2632, not a particularly refined movement, and certainly not what you expect to see underneath the lid of a Breguet wristwatch, but a choice made with due regard to economy and because of this model’s limited production.

A view of the ETA 2632 ébauche found inside the watch.

A view of the ETA 2632 ébauche found inside the watch.

Antoine – the retailer – has had the watch for a while now. He’s not bothered by it either. He knows this one will stay with him until someone looks for it hard enough. The chances of it selling to someone with little knowledge of the brand are very slim.

I’m still not sure how I feel about this watch personally. On the one hand, I must confess that it’s not a design that particularly speaks to me, and I wouldn’t have spent more than a couple of minutes paying it any attention were it not signed by one of the most prestigious manufactures around. On the other, I find its improbability completely fascinating. I find that even more appealing then its rarity.

This is perhaps the simplest Breguet watch I've ever worn, but it somehow feels a great deal more special than some of the less exclusive models I've reviewed on here.

This is perhaps the simplest Breguet watch I’ve ever worn, but it somehow feels a great deal more special than many others.

I can only imagine the kick you might get from wearing one casually around Paris, no one suspecting you of wearing a rare Breguet. According to Emmanuel Breguet, the company’s historian and a direct descendant of its founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet, approximately 20 were made, meaning 10% of the total production of these watches is currently spending the best part of the day together, in the same building, in Paris, by complete coincidence.

And Emmanuel knows this model well, and not just because it’s his job to know it. He gave his son, Antoine – the intern we met above – the very same watch, just a couple of years ago.

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Introducing: The Panerai Mare Nostrum Acciaio 42mm

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If you are a Panerai lover, you probably recognize this watch. That’s because it is the third iteration of the Mare Nostrum, dating back to the early days of Panerai. The Mare Nostrum was the first chronograph ever produced by Panerai, first created in 1943 for the Italian Navy. The design was later revived in 1993 as the first re-edition, the reference 5218-301/A, which was in production until 1997. The watch you see here is almost exactly like that 1993 re-edition, though with a few small updates. 

mare nostrum

The new re-edition of the Panerai Mare Nostrum chronograph in a limited series of 1,000 pieces. 

This watch starts with a 42mm AISI 316L stainless steel case, just like the 1993 edition, with round chronograph pushers, and a tachymeter bezel calibrated to 60 Km/h. The very first Mare Nostrum measured in at a whopping 52mm, so there is a quite a difference here, and it makes the watch, you know, actually wearable. The dial, which is also quite attractive, has two different colored accents: bright white for the signature and the two registers, and beige SuperLuminova (with a slight faux-patina vibe) for the indexes, Arabic numerals, and hands.

panerai mare nostrum

The water-resistant, screw-down case back with the OP signature inscribed. 

Panerai chose to use the same movement as the pre-Vendome edition, the caliber OP XXXIII, which is based on an ETA 2801-2 with a Dubois-Dépraz chronograph module. It is COSC-certified and has a power reserve of 42 hours. 

It’s pretty cool that Panerai has stuck to the archives for this watch. It’s an attractive piece that will likely be a hit with new and old Panerai collectors alike.  The latest is being produced in a series of 1,000 pieces and comes in a wooden box that is shaped like the Luigi Durand De La Penne, an Italian Navy destroyer ship from the era of the original Mare Nostrum. 

The watch retails for $10,200 and you can read more about it by visiting Panerai online

mare nostrum

The Mare Nostrum is based on a similar watch first produced in 1943 with a 52mm case. 

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