Italian watchmaker Panerai combines the culture and style of Italy with the expertise of Swiss watchmaking.
Giovanni Panerai opened his first watch workshop in Florence in 1860 and he quickly developed a close link to the military sector; in particular, the Royal Italian navy, for which he created innovative watches that would stand up to the demands of the men wearing them when out at sea. The Royal Navy’s requirements were very specific: the watches have to remain underwater in extreme conditions for long periods. Therefore, their resistance to extreme tension must also be guaranteed. These specific demands meant that Panerai was a leader in its field when it came to using modern, innovative techniques.
In 1997, Panerai was acquired by the Richemont Group and it debuted within the fine watchmaking market with new distribution channels and growing to a global presence. The original collection comprised of two models: the Luminor and the Luminor Marina in three versions. In 2001 after a meticulous refurbishment, Panerai’s historic boutique in Florence was reopened. A restyling of the original Piazza San Giovanni premises became an artisan’s workshop and a meeting point for brand collectors and enthusiasts, who can find not only pieces from the current collection but also special edition watches and special productions that Panerai reserves exclusively for its boutiques. Then in 2002, Panerai opened its manufacturer in Switzerland, which would allow the brand to benefit from the knowledge of expert Swiss watchmakers who created Panerai’s first in-house movement in 2005.
Panerai has continued to celebrate its relationship with the sea and the Luminor watch remains even today as the key watch of the house and it has been reinvented many times. At the helm of the brand is CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué. He joined Panerai two years ago with a clear idea, not to change the brand, but to change the way it is perceived by customers around the globe. Here we discover how he using the influence of Italian style and culture to shape up the future of the brand.
What does Italy mean to you?
Italy to me and I think to the rest of the world, represents nature, beauty, fashion, taste, and artisan. It is a country that has an intensity of beautiful things. There is this way of living that Italy has been able to share across the globe. It has empathy, positivity and optimism that are extremely unique in the world.
Tell us more about the importance of “Made in Italy” and why do you think there is such a fascination with this concept globally?
It’s in the mind of everyone all around the world that when you have something that has been made in Italy, it captures a certain charm and way of living. It’s the colourful approach, the avant-garde techniques which something that’s pioneering. Whatever product you’re buying, you are getting the flavour that will remind you of trips and vacations to this beautiful country.
How are the values and culture of Italy translated through Panerai?
It starts when you enter a Panerai store as they welcome you by saying “buongiorno” not hello or welcome, so you are immediately greeted in an Italian way. Even though our watches are made in Switzerland everything else about Panerai– the style, the communication the DNA of the brand – is very Italian. I think it’s very important to keep sharing this message to the world, as this is something that makes Panerai very unique. We have the best of both – Italy for its style and Switzerland for its technique of watchmaking. And the relationship between these two assets has been one of the key reasons for the success of the brand. In the future we will be doing even more things that are associated to Italy, all of the features of our watches will be associated in some way to the country and we will have Italian names for our watches. So we are trying to infuse more and more Italian stories in the brand.
Panerai has a beautiful story and history, what part of the story inspires you the most?
The first is, as you mentioned is that it’s Italian and everything that goes with that is fascinating. The second is that Panerai began with a watch that was not only created for its design but for its technical capabilities as a functional tool and this became the watch that we know now. The fact that we come from the military industry means we do not have the usual watch assortment. When Panerai first began we didn’t have a specific target group or an assortment of sizes or dials – the watch was a very technical military tool, and the beauty of what we did with Richemont was to transform that into a watch that has an appeal that is unique in our industry. I think this Italian military origin is fascinating because we are the only ones who have this aspect and we still maintain it.
What do you expect to see happening for Panerai and the industry after this crisis we are currently experiencing?
The first thing is that we don’t know. We are in new territory and so we are preparing for the future in a very cautious way. But we will continue to invest in research and development, new materials and creating emotion. At the end of the day, we are emotion providers and we are here to create stories. I think people will be much more careful about their investments and I think the distribution is going to change with a growing number of people shopping through e-commerce and people wanting to get the right value in what they invest in. But I strongly believe that things will recover. It may take a while but the business will be back and I know this because we are in the business of emotions. It’s not the first crisis we face, although this is a hard one because it is impacting the whole world and it is impacting travellers as well, and that is where a lot of business will be affected. Dubai without tourists, for example, wouldn’t be Dubai and until tourism is back to normal we won’t be back to normal.
When this is over will there be any changes in how you move forward at Panerai?
We have a five-year plan, which we update regularly. So far, we will continue to make watches the way we did and we haven’t changed our plans to create new models. We will probably reduce the number of innovations for this year slightly but otherwise, we don’t see any other reason at this stage, to change anything else related to the brand.
So many of the major exhibitions have been cancelled this year and stores closed, what is Panerai doing to stay close to the consumer during this time to share news and novelties?
We have presented our novelties through a virtual “Watches and Wonders” presentation. Here we introduced the themes for the year and highlighted the key stories. The question we have been asking ourselves is ‘how can we explain to the world that we are continuing to make watches?’ So the creativity of the brand will be expressed through a few events between now and December. Since we cannot travel at this moment, this is the only way we can do this. I want to be able to speak to customers via video or phone and we try as much as we can to stay close to them. We have teams that are working from home to assist customers over the phone, so there are many ways we can stay connected.
When it comes to novelties what can you tell us about the highlights for 2020?
The key stories of this year will be about Luminor. The Luminor is, of course, the historical product of the brand and the one that people recognise even if they don’t know much about Panerai. It’s been seventy years since Panerai invented this typical case and this year is all about highlighting that. There will be many innovations.
The first one is to continue the focus on Luminor Marina, celebrating its 70th anniversary. With Luminor Marina – 44mm Panerai celebrates the essence of the legendary luminous compound with a new Luminor Marina notable for its particularly high visibility in the dark. The second is the Luminor Marina Carbotech. Panerai pays tribute to the past with a watch that will benefit from seventy years of guarantee. This watch will be limited to an edition of 270 pieces.
The Luminor has never been produced in precious materials, so for our third pillar, we will reveal some precious materials for this iconic model. Finally, we have the Luminor Marina Fibratech. This uses a new material called Fibratech which is 60 per cent lighter than steel, resilient and highly resistant to corrosion. It’s a first in the industry.
We also have the Submersible EcoPangaeaTM Tourbillon GMT – 50 mm Mike Horn Edition (PAM01108) which is a special edition watch limited to just 5 pieces that take us back to watches as tools. This special watch is designed to be a tool for daring pioneers. It will allow the wearer to live a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the Arctic with explorer and brand Ambassador Mike Horn. So we will be playing with all the ingredients of Panerai in different ways.
To what extent do you think offering experiences and sharing moments with the client is key?
I truly believe that the opportunity we have with Panerai is that it’s a brand that has so much storytelling. It has the link to Italy, it’s about the technique, new materials etc. I have discovered through the archives of the company how rich it was, and how passionate our customers are, and these people want to know more about the brand. But you can’t do this just through the store or the website – they want to be part of the story. So that’s why we had some incredible experiences last year – one in Italy and one in Tahiti. They were created to allow our customers to discover the brand and understand it, not just through the product but also through the experience. This is a unique method that we will continue to bring in the future. Having a great product, plus an experience that creates a new concept.
What can you tell us about Panerai and sustainability?
It’s a very important topic for me because Panerai is closely linked to the oceans and we know that one of the major fields of the deterioration of our environment is linked to the oceans. Panerai has launched an initiative called “Panerai Ecological” which is gathering resources to make our world better. This could be through us producing all the energy for our headquarters ourselves or ensuring our staff use public transport or bicycles instead of cars and it is also related to the products. My target is that within the next two years we want to be the first brand creating a product that is 100 per cent recyclable. So far, we already have a tourbillon where around 30 per cent of the watch is made of recycled components. We have a strap that was made from plastic bottles, and a dial made from fishnet, so we are already going in that direction but we want to apply this more and more to some of our watch concepts.
Do you have any plans for the Middle East?
I was supposed to come to the region and I am following all the information to find out when I can be able to start to travel again, and as soon as I can, coming back to Dubai will be one of my priorities.
What is your first memory of Italy?
Venice. I think that was the first place I have visited in Italy, I recall seeing it in books and magazines, but I was even more positively surprised when I saw it with my own eyes.
Where is your favourite city?
There is a spot called Liguria – where you can walk between the beautiful villages and it’s really impressive, I love to visit there. Italy is really about small villages and incredible restaurants and hotels that are not necessarily in the guidebooks. You need time to discover what this country really is and luckily I have had time to do that since joining Panerai. There are three places that I love to visit always and would highly recommend: The Riva Lost Hotel in Firenze, The Hotel Continentale in Firenze (it has an amazing terrace) and La Fontelina restaurant in Capri.
What is the motto you are living by during this time?
Enjoy each and every second that you are alive. I knew it before, but you appreciate it even more during this crisis because you are at home and you have the energy to appreciate each second even more.
What’s your favourite sentence in Italian?
“Laboratorio di idee”, which means “workshop of Ideas” because it expresses what Panerai is about and it describes all regions of Italy.
How would you describe Italy in one word?
It’s not easy in one word! If I have to it would be versatility.