While seasoned military watch enthusiasts might reel at describing the CP-2 as “rarely-recalled”, the reasons for this categorisation are quite specific. For one thing, it was – in A. Cairelli-signed form – issued to the Italian forces, so its fame and its original fan base are, or were, restricted to solely Italy. For a second, only 2,500 were produced, with one estimate suggesting that 2000 were issued to the military and 500 sold to the public. Another source has suggested 50/50.
According to Zenith’s official history, it was confirmed that: “The Italian army ordered more than it distributed, so a rather large number of them are on the market, within the limit of the 2,500 pieces that were made. Those with the military markings are in the most demand.”
Although the CP-2 instantly seduces both chronograph and military watch enthusiasts, its rarity has mitigated against it being as well-known in collector circles as the IWC “Mk” models, the Rolex Submariners made for the Royal Navy, the Omegas made for the British services or, most pointedly, the original military-issue Panerais. Even so, the A. Cairelli Zenith has always been hugely desirable to those in the know.
When I was offered one in the late-1990s, the price then was £1,200. While that is only £2,700 in today’s money, it’s not far off what you could have paid for one maybe five years ago. As recently as December of last year, however, Antiquorum offered one with a US $3,000-5,000 estimate. It sold for $11,875 with premium. But more anon about current values.
Mention of Panerai is crucial to understanding the almost unique status of watches bearing the name “A. Cairelli” on the dials. Why “almost”? Because A. Cairelli of Roma has much in common with Panerai of Firenze. It was the Italian government’s use of military materiel distributors in the public retail sector that created the dial presence for both the names A. Cairelli and Panerai on the watches both supplied the Italian services. In other words, Panerai and A. Cairelli were, for lack of a better term, sub-contractors, or what the French would call “negociants” in a wine-procuring context.
Information is scarce regarding A. Cairelli, believed to have been founded in 1932, but dogged enthusiasts have uncovered other watches branded by the company. One earlier A. Cairelli watch was a Universal Genève split-second chronograph from 1953, the Type HA-1 for astronomic navigation, and used by anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft in the Mediterranean. This 45mm timepiece housed a Valjoux 55 and was marked A. Cairelli on the dial. After winding down in the 1960s/1970s, modern A. Cairelli watches reappeared in the 21st century, in a civilian range of diving watches and chronographs with dials that bear only the A. Cairelli name. Also of appeal to collectors of militaria from the earlier incarnation are A. Cairelli bomb-release timers, all based on stopwatches, as well as clocks fitted to cockpit control panels. If you’ll forgive the corny wordplay, the A. Carelli CP-2 is the zenith of its production.