Panerai has always been a brand that pushes the boundaries of innovation and design. A clear leader in the realms of sustainability, this year, the Italian watchmaker will be expanding its offering using recyclable materials and there are very big ambitions to develop this sector further.
With several new launches, including the Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro eSteel, the Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro and the renewal of the brand’s partnership with Luna Rossa, the watchmaker continues to defy the rules and discover new fields that are yet to be explored. Leading the way is CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué whose passion for the brand and desire to take it to the next level, while not forgetting the legacy, is clearer than ever when we meet him at this year’s edition of Watches and Wonders. Here we discover more about the latest novelties as well as the future of the brand and how it continues to disrupt in the watchmaking industry.
This year Panerai is presenting two major stories – QuarantaQuattro and the Submersible line – tell us about these novelties?
The submersible QuarantaQuattro is THE story of the year. We have a new size, and it is part of a range that is the second best-selling line of our assortment, so it’s very important. But the best part is that each aspect of the line covers a different topic. So, we have the new Luna Rossa edition, then we have the eSteel in black, military green, and navy blue. This is made with 95% recycled steel, with a colourful ceramic bezel, and a graded dial, and this is the story of the year for Panerai.
There seems to be a lot of focus on sustainability this year…
Yes, I am happy that you notice that because it is something that we started four years ago. Last year we launched the eLAB-ID, which was our first watch created from close to 100% recycled materials, but we only made 30 pieces, so it was more like a concept watch. But from that project, we learnt a lot because we created eSteel which we used on Luminor, it was a good success, so this year we launched it within the submersible line. Here at the fair, we communicated on the first day that by 2025, we will not have any more steel in our collection, because everything will be made from eSteel. No more steel at Panerai at all. This is something that will happen gradually, and we are very happy because I think we are going to be the very first brand to use only recycled steel.
We have seen in recent years, a major shift in the image, tone, feel and performance at Panerai – what is the current strategy?
I always refer to the phrase; “everything must change so that everything can stay the same”. At Panerai our product is the hero. It’s not me as CEO, it’s not our marketing, it’s not our supply, it’s not our manufacture; it is simply the product. The product we have created allows us to differentiate from other watch brands because of its shape. It is instantly recognisable, and this is something every brand wants from a luxury product. So, we have this unique chance, and our job at HQ is to work with this platform and reinvent it in different ways. So, we are creating new stories but without changing the product. The idea is to reinvent the relationship with our customers and consider how we can be innovative. Panerai is Italian, so you always have this Italian feeling when you enter our stores that is very creative. We often say we provide a platform of experience but also happen to sell watches, we don’t want to have the traditional store concept. The idea is that customers come to our boutique, have an espresso in the back room, they might discover a book about Italy, or about emblematic Italian architecture, they will try on a watch if they want to, and if they don’t, they don’t have to. It’s more of a lounge to discover our universe.
I remember this because the last time we spoke, and we talked about the immersive, experiential experience…
Yes, exactly that. We are looking at how we can translate the experience we have been offering and how someone who is discovering the world of Panerai can experience something that has a disruptive approach, compared to the traditional seller-buyer approach.
And because we are in an industry of emotions, if you don’t really make people feel it, then there’s nothing special about it. Here at Watches and Wonders, you have provided an immersive experience for your visitors which is great…
I agree. When we create movies, we try not to make them as everyone else does, the booth is not like every other brand’s booth. You know, we are not the biggest brand, but the idea is that when you leave a fair such as this, in days to come, when someone asks you what the highlights were, you remember Panerai because it has been ingrained in your mind.
How challenging is it for you to respect the legacy of Panerai but also continue to be relevant today?
That is a great question because there are no textbooks for it. When you’re driving, if you’re at a red light you stop, if you’re at a green light you go, that is easy. Here it is a mixture of where you strongly believe you can bring the brand, without compromising. The experience, the concept, the advertisement campaign, the partnership, it’s about how to stage the brand and create a concept wherein 50 years, you will still be happy to have that product in our assortment. Like my predecessors did with products that we are still proud of today. So we need to understand how we make sure that the watches we create today, will still be in our assortment in 50 years and that we are still selling them. Things will change with the times, but the concept of the watch will still be the same. And there is no rulebook for this, it’s purely how you believe you must develop the brand and still be proud of it after many years.
What can you reveal about what we still anticipate in 2022 at Panerai?
We will be starting a new story with Luna Rossa and it’s not only about sponsorship, but it’s also about working with the product team; Prada has 30 boutiques in the world where they sell our Luna Rossa watches. There is a lot we can do with them. In a month we will announce the second edition of Brabus. We have a partnership with Razor which is a gaming operator in Singapore and during World Ocean Day in June, we will have a co-shared initiative to support the protection of the environment.
So, you believe in omni-channelling?
Yes totally. One hundred per cent of the people who come to buy watches in our stores have been on the internet before, and today our e-commerce is growing, despite most of our stores reopening. It’s a habit. We benefit from the “Amazon operation” because we are all used to buying products in a way, we would not have done ten years ago. We are all impacted by the web, but for us now, it’s about how we make it an immersive experience. It’s not a downgraded experience compared to what you are discovering when you come to the store and there are many stories that we can explore around this.
Let’s talk about the Middle East – what is in the pipeline for our part of the world?
I think we have boutiques in all the key countries in the Middle East – Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, we have stores in Riyadh and Al Khobar, but it’s a country that we haven’t really tapped into yet, we are just at the beginning. I was there a couple of weeks ago and when I saw the number of malls which are opening or will be active in the next five years, it’s probably one of the countries in the world which has the most impressive number of gigantic projects. Saudi Arabia will for sure not be the same in 2027 as it is today. Thanks to our local team we are in the starting blocks of making Saudi Arabia a major contribution to the brand. And of course, we already have Dubai with a huge presence through our two stores in Dubai, but I am sure that in the next 10 years, because of the population and the development of the country, Saudi Arabia will become very advanced.
What would you tell your clients and fans in the Middle East?
It is a great pleasure to have you in the Panerai communities and I can tell you we have a lot of innovations coming this year, and I hope, as I did recently, to come and visit you to show you some of the exceptional timepieces that we have for our retail network. Thank you so much for being part of the most active Panerai community in the world.