“When Rolex became aware [that] the watches were meant for the Nazi forces, they removed all Rolex hallmarks and signatures,” Webb’s auction house writes. “Rolex didn’t want to be associated with the Nazi regime but they kept sending watches to Florence in order to protect Giuseppe Panerai, his family, and his employees from harm.” There’s no evidence that the Nazi Rolex for sale reflects Hans Wilsdorf’s humanitarian instincts. And yet . . .
The Nazis would have considered Giuseppe Panerai a saboteur to the interests of the Third Reich if Rolex would have stopped the supply. Being accused of sabotage was effectively a death sentence. As such, Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, saved Giuseppe Panerai’s life. This is the reason the watch is entirely without branding and “Anonymous”.
Secretly aiding Nazi collaborators as a mission of mercy has a nice ring to it – assuming your family members weren’t tortured and then exterminated by Hitler’s henchmen. Perhaps that’s why the Nazi Rolex doesn’t appear on the history page of Rolex’s official website.
If you want to know more about this sad chapter of Rolex’s past, check out our post Rolex, Panerai and The Nazis. That’s where you’ll learn that Paneristi Jose Perezstroika reckons Hans didn’t know about the Nazi Rolex. Until he did. (A familiar refrain from millions of post-war Germans, foreign Holocaust enablers and “casual” witnesses.)
Wildsorf’s 63 year old wife May Wilsdorf-Crotty was terminally ill when Panerai’s new order came in. Wilsdorf spent most of his time by her bedside. During this difficult period, the company was run by his most trusted employees. Since Panerai was a reputable client, the order was processed without questions . . .
[Wilsdorf] contacted Giuseppe and voiced his concern. When Giuseppe confirmed that the watches were destined for the Nazis, Hans was furious. He feared for his company’s reputation and decided to stop the supply immediately. However, Giuseppe managed to make him understand what was at stake.
This, my friends, is pure conjecture. Mr. Perezstroika has no evidence to support the idea that Wilsdorf was initially unaware of the order, that this phone call ever happened, or if it did, what was said. In another post, Mr. Perezstroika admits as much. “My theory is model thinking based on common sense.”
Mr. Perzestroika’s theory – one that he labels “a true story of friendship” – has become accepted fact. The “story” of the Nazi Rolex that Webb’s uses to distance themselves from the moral stink surrounding the timepieces – and make money. “This Watch will be only the 30th known surviving example worldwide with similar examples being sold previously at over CHF 100,000.”
Even if it is true that Hans Wilsdorf risked ruin to help his Italian distributor, did Panerai’s plight justify Wilsdorf’s decision to supply Nazis with a tool they used – successfully – to continue their murderous campaign against the Allies? I don’t think so. But then my father was a Holocaust survivor. Unlike my grandparents.
It’s interesting to note that Webb’s PR photos of their Rolex Panerai 3646 Ca. 1944 don’t include images of the outside of its caseback.
I’m thinking that’s because it may sport a Kampfschwimmer’s homemade “engraving.” It’s one thing to covet a watch used by the Nazis, another to see the owner’s name carved into the metal.
A less charitable man might take some satisfaction in the fact that Webb doesn’t mention the extreme danger of owning the Nazi Rolex. “Perhaps most intriguingly, the watch features a Rolex, error-proof ‘California’ dial with radium markers,” Webb crows. Hello? Radium Girls?
Watches don’t contain much radium, you say? It’s OK if you don’t dip a brush in it and swipe it on your tongue? Even the vintage watch purveyors at hodinkee.com took note of a University of Northampton study (WWII military watches ‘potentially pose serious cancer risk’) detailing the hazards of owning a radium-dialed watch:
The study found that 30 radium dial watches, when kept in a poorly ventilated space the size of “a typical boxroom” (UK-speak for a small bedroom or storage room) produced radon levels a whopping 134 times the recommended maximum safe level.
In addition the study says, ” … three of the watches in poor condition gave rise individually to radon concentrations – when kept in the same poorly ventilated room – well in excess of the threshold where Public Health England would recommend remediation.”
In short, the Nazi Rolex for sale at Webb’s is both morally tainted and a physical danger to anyone who handles or stores it. It should be donated to a museum (to be stored in an appropriate container) or destroyed.
Meanwhile, fratello.com’s pimping – “A fascinating slice of history goes under the hammer” – is a stain on their already questionable ethics, just as Rolex’s contribution to the Nazi war effort is, was and always will be a stain on their reputation. At least until the Swiss watchmaker publicly acknowledges the mistake and makes suitable amends.