Timekeepers Club / November 29, 2020

Phillips Hong Kong Auction 29 November 2020 | Panerai Radiomir 8 Giorni Brevettato, Egiziano Ref. GPF 2/56 sold for EUR 149'483

LOT 996

Panerai Ref. GPF 2/56
An extremely rare, attractive and oversized stainless steel diver’s wristwatch with small seconds, “tropical” brown dial and crown guard 沛納海「Radiomir 8 Giorni Brevettato, Egiziano」型號GPF 2/56,極度罕有及超大尺寸,精鋼腕錶備「Tropical」棕色錶盤,約1956年製

Circa 1956
60mm diameter
Case, dial and movement signed

HK$380,000 - 780,000 

SOLD FOR HK$1,386,000

Manufacturer: Panerai
Year: Circa 1956
Reference No: GPF 2/56
Case No: Matr. N.E. 019
Model Name: Radiomir 8 Giorni Brevettato, “Egiziano”
Material: Stainless steel
Calibre: Manual, Angelus 240 cal. 12.55, 17 jewels
Bracelet/Strap: Leather
Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel pin buckle
Dimensions: 60mm diameter
Signed: Case, dial and movement signed

Catalogue Essay

The GPF 2/56 was the first serially produced Panerai watch completely developed and manufactured in-house by G. Panerai & Figlio in Florence. All dive watches distributed by Panerai prior to the GPF 2/56 were Rolex Oyster watches which Panerai equipped with their own dials. GPF refers to Guido Panerai & Figlio (Guido Panerai & Son) while 2/56 was a code for second product development in 1956.

The history of the GPF 2/56 goes back to the proclamation of the State of Israel in May 1948. The Arab League led by Egypt vehemently opposed a Jewish state in Palestine. One day after the proclamation, a massive Arab invasion force entered Palestine launching the first Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt knew that in order to significantly weaken Israel, the Arabs needed to cut off Israel’s supply lines through the Mediterranean Sea. Thus was born the idea for an Egyptian frogman unit based on the famous Italian Decima Flottiglia MAS from World War II.

In June 1948, an Egyptian delegation led by the secretary of King Farouk of Egypt, Amin Fahim, travelled to Italy in search for a Decima MAS veteran willing to go to Egypt and help create the first Egyptian frogman school.

Ex Gruppo Gamma frogman Ferdinando Pacciolla accepted the challenge and was quickly sent to Alexandria with the help of the Italian secret service.

Around the same time, another Decima Flottiglia MAS veteran named Fiorenzo Capriotti went to Israel and helped establish the famous Shayetet 13 (Flottiglia 13) unit. As an explosive motorboat pilot, Capriotti participated in a failed attack on the British Naval Base of Malta in July 1941. Badly injured, Capriotti was captured by the British and held captive until 1946.

Pacciolla remained in his position until July 1954 and trained up to 300 recruits. For his services, King Farouk awarded him the title “Knight of the Order of the Nile 5th Class”.

In 1952, Pacciolla accompanied Egyptian Navy officers to Italy in order to acquire desperately needed professional underwater equipment from companies likes Salvas, Pirelli and Galeazzi. In Pacciolla’s memoirs there is no mentioning of a visit of G. Panerai & Figlio in Florence.

The Egyptian frogman unit named “Al ferka al sierra” (the secret team) was led by Commander Fawzi Abdel Rahman Fahmy. In 1955, Fawzi was invited to train with the Italians at the Varignano Fortress in La Spezia, Italy. During the six months long course, Fawzi came in contact with G. Panerai & Figlio instruments and watches which were exclusive to the Italian Navy. To be able to acquire Panerai products, the Egyptian High Command needed permission from the Italian Navy. After approval, the Egyptians learned that the watches were subject to an exclusivity agreement between Panerai and Rolex which forbid Panerai to supply Rolex-made watches to foreign countries. If they wanted a watch from Panerai it needed to be developed from scratch. This is how the idea for the GPF 2/56 was born.

During the Suez Crisis in late 1956, the Egyptians and Israelis clashed once again. The Israelis were in a secret alliance with Britain and France with the goal to take back control of the Suez Canal. It is possible that during this conflict, Egyptian frogmen used early examples of the GPF 2/56 for the first time. To render the Suez Canal useless, Egypt blocked the canal by sinking a number of ships at the entrance. After the ceasefire, the important waterway was cleared with the assistance of the United Nations. Pacciolla, who was an established expert in clearing operations, returned to Egypt and was hired to take part of the international clearing team.

The GPF 2/56 was the first watch to feature the half-moon shaped crown protecting device that has now become a signature feature of modern Panerai watches. Maria & Giuseppe Panerai filed the patent application for the “Tight Seal Device“ on November 30, 1955. An important attribute of this device is that the crown is linearly driven against the rubber gasket, thus preventing torsion stress on the seal as occurs on regular screw-down crowns.

Design-wise, Panerai’s first own watch was considerably different than the Rolex-made watches with their distinct cushion-shaped case. The GPF 2/56 looked more like a Panerai instrument. Inspired by the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from 1953, the GPF 2/56 received a rotating bezel with 5 minute calibration to allow divers to time their submersions and decompression. This was particularly needed for diving with compressed air.

The case construction was inspired by the first generation Rolex Oyster cases from the late 1920 used for Ref. 2533 and 3646. The massive stainless steel middle case is clamped between rotating bezel, crystal and caseback by the means of six screws, creating an impermeable unit thanks to large rubber gaskets.

In terms of calibers, Panerai broke new ground. The GPF 2/56 was equipped with the Angelus 240 8-days caliber which was previously only used in table and travel clocks. Stolz Frères in Le Locle, the owner of the Angelus brand, made these movement specifically for Panerai. The Angelus 240 was one of the smallest 8-days movements but had never been used for wristwatches. Compared to regular Angelus 240 movements, the calibers made for Panerai had 17 jewels instead of only 15.

With an impressive diameter of 60mm, the GPF 2/56 is one of the largest professional diving tool watches ever made. It is unknown why Panerai decided to make it so big but fact is, the GPP 2/56 is beautifully sculpted like a true work of art.

The dial was rendered luminous with Panerai’s radium-based and highly radioactive Radiomir lume. With the introduction of the Angelus 240 8-days caliber, Panerai added a small seconds hand at 9 o’clock. This new complication was primarily used to immediately see whether the watch was running. To visually balance the large multi-layer sandwich dial, Panerai added a circular “8 Giorni Brevettato” (Italian for “8 Days Patented”) logo at 3 o’clock. Patented referred to the crown-protecting device.

According to Maria Teresa Abetti Panerai, the widow of Giuseppe Panerai, an Egyptian delegation visited Panerai in Florence for the first time in mid 1956. It is believed G. Panerai & Figlio produced around 50 pieces of the GPF 2/56.

As of now, around 15 pieces with Egyptian matriculation numbers are known:

N.E. 001 – Panerai Archivio Storico (Panerai Museum)
N.E. 002 – Antiquorum November 2008
N.E. 007 – Artcurial November 2014
N.E. 012 – Christie’s June 2015
N.E. 017 – Panerai Archivio Storico (Panerai Museum)
N.E. 018 – Christie’s November 2011
N.E. 019 – Present example
N.E. 020 – Private collection
N.E. 023 – Private collection
N.E. 032 – Christie’s November 2007
N.E. 033 – Antiquorum April 1995
N.E. 035 – Private collection
N.E. 038 – Antiquorum September 2005
N.E. 040 – Christie’s May 2006
N.E. 041 – Private collection

Additionally, there are a number of GPF 2/56 without matriculation numbers. Some of these feature Luminor dials. Luminor dials were introduced in the mid 1960s. It can be assumed that Panerai updated some of the unsold examples with Luminor dials for presentation purposes.

The present GPF 2/56 with its tropical dial, the original long hands and the distinct lanceolate leaf shaped small seconds hand is a stunning example and original in all parts. In addition, the rotating bezel with hemispheres at 15, 30 and 45 minutes rather than numbered cylinders makes this piece even more special. The 12.55 stamped Angelus 240 caliber with 17 jewels, Incastar microregulation and brushed bridges is absolutely consistent with other GPF 2/56 from this era. The watch has retained its original leather strap.


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