Panerai is a watch brand that fully understands its DNA and history which has been routed deeply in military and diving watches for over 160 years.
And although the brand has developed over the decades, its clear goal remains the same: to be true and close to its original values. With each new novelty, event or moment, CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué carefully considers the message and implications of its introduction and how it will honour the rich history of the 163-year-old Italian brand. This year, at the recent Watches & Wonders exhibition, Panerai went back to its routes, with a focus on the iconic Radiomir collection which is one of the most famous diving watches of all time. 2023 will see this icon get a fresh update with several new novelties added to the line in the form of the Radiomir Annual Calendar, Radiomir California, Radiomir Otto Giorni and the Radiomir Quaranta in GoldtechTM. Here we find out more about the new novelties and the priorities for the coming year at the watchmaker.
Tell us about the novelties presented at Watches & Wonders this year and why did you decide to focus on the Radiomir collection?
It was one of the most exciting shows we have had in a long time. I believe it was the first time we had all the brands together in Geneva, since before the pandemic. So this was good and the decision to open to the public on the last day was very good as well. We had a very qualified audience who came to visit us.
The show for us this year was all about Radiomir. We decided on that around two years ago as we follow a two-year plan with these kinds of shows. During the pandemic, we had a lot of launches connected to eSteel, sustainability and experiences, and now, we believe is the time to go back to the roots of the brand and to restage the original line at Panerai, which is, of course, the Radiomir.
The Radiomir is the last baby in the family to focus on, because we spent a lot of time on Luminor and Submersible which was a huge success after creating a standalone line in 2019. So Radiomir is having its moment now. This watch was the original line and was the second best-selling line when Richemont took over the brand. Hence, we decided to come with fireworks of innovation – a new size, new material, a new movement – and it has worked very well because it has reconnected the brand to many of the people who were looking for a smaller size dial. So indeed Watches & Wonders was a very good show for us this year.
Do you think that when you limit references presented is a good way to ensure the consumer doesn’t get confused or overwhelmed?
We have one golden rule at Panerai: if you introduce a product, another one has to be out. We have very high productivity at Panerai per SKU because despite being one of the top 15 watch brands in the world, we have the most limited number of offerings within our assortment. We don’t have jewellery pieces; we have a rather limited number of sizes and so on. So, in principle, if we create one, we must make sure one is removed from the offering. This puts pressure on our product department because when we present a new product, we have to ensure that it will over-produce business compared with the one we take out.
One of the biggest challenges we have coming up in the future is that we plan to open larger stores. We’re going to open a new boutique in the Montenapoleone area in Milan which will be three times the size of the existing store in the city. We are opening a new store on the Champs Elysee in Paris, and one in New York. And these will all be very large stores. So, we need to have a bigger offering to fill them. The question is how can we manage small shops in shops which are four square metres in size, but also handle boutiques which are up to 420 square metres? Previously the biggest store we had was in Florence and was around 160 square metres, so moving forward we have spaces that are much larger than we’ve ever had.
Do you think these larger stores will allow you to offer more experiential moments for your customers?
When I gave the briefing of our new retail concept to our Creative Director two years ago, the idea was not to create a watch store, but to find ways of recreating the stories of our brand connected to experiences through the military or with explorers etc. We didn’t want to have a formal concept with a sales desk and a salesman showing you thousands of watches. We wanted to find ways for our clients to browse the store, and lose their time through a memorable experience, enjoying a moment of our history. We now have our bar as the centre point at all our new stores that are over 60 square metres for example. The bar is a magnet for customers as it’s a very friendly concept that invites them to feel at home and enjoy a coffee or a snack and talk with others around them about the city that they’re in or the experience they’re having. It’s not about buying a product or what it’s about buying a lifestyle.
What is the vision for Panerai this year?
Last year was a record year for Panerai and we have been looking at some very positive results from this year too. Moving forward the question is how we can continue to inject creativity within the playground of the brand. We don’t want to go into football or rugby or the sky, we want to stick to our DNA and remain very true to what Panerai stands for, which was always water, diving, sailing, and swimming. All these things are very true to the historical background of the brand. So, the product line may be different, but the playground remains the same.
As I always say, Panerai is an easy brand compared to many others, because we play by our rules which are very clear. I say very often that when you are in a military brand there is always a very clear target. We have one target, not 500. One of the big problems in the world today is that we’re surrounded by priorities. You have ten priorities per day, a hundred priorities per month, in the military, there is only one priority: and it’s to gain
territory or to defend the population. It’s the same for Panerai. We never forget our origins which were in the military field, and so to handle a team in 25 countries with 800 people, the idea is to have one target and to remain in our playground. We remain Italian, we continue to make big watches and we keep our principles. We can change the product line, but we don’t create new product lines.
The vision for the next 50 years is that we will not have any new product lines, we have enough with our four categories. We can increase the number of potential new customers; younger customers, more ladies, and those looking for a smaller size watches, but we remain a big-size brand. At Panerai, a 40mm dial is small, even if in the watch world, it is a regular size. So, the overall vision at Panerai is how we can change everything without changing anything. And it’s easier than we believe. The principle is to remain consistent.
Tell us about sustainability at Panerai and any new projects you would like to highlight around this.
Firstly, on the 8th June it will be the 2023 Ocean Day and Panerai has negotiated with the United Nations to become the official timekeeper for this day. Being official partners is great, but what I want is for people to get involved in the cause. So Panerai’s 800 staff will take time on that day to collect plastic wherever they are located. We are committed to collecting ten tonnes of plastic in one day. 8th June will become a key date for the brand and in the future, we will invite people to join us to collect plastic, wherever they are in the world, to help with this global crisis. I strongly believe that it’s private companies that will help to achieve these types of targets. So, keep that date in mind and we will all be on the streets, on the beaches, and by the lakes collecting plastic bottles. We have been working with universities on this matter. We have spoken to 5,000 students in the last year, and they will also join us because I need manpower to be able to collect ten tonnes of plastic! We know how many kilograms of plastic one person can collect in one hour and of course, it’s different depending on where you are in the world, so we have identified the spots and the team leaders, as well as what to do with the plastic bottles at the end of the day. There is a lot of organization involved to achieve this goal and its key for us to commit to numbers and make it happen.
Tell us about what’s in the pipeline for Panerai in the Middle East.
Firstly, we have Dubai, which is a market and of course, we have Dubai Mall, which is one of our top five stores in the world. This boutique has one of our highest variety of clients in the world. Even our Florence boutique does not have this vast variety of nations coming to visit. Dubai was one of the first cities to reopen after the pandemic, plus you have the arrival of a large Russian community who are big fans of Panerai.
Then we have countries like Kuwait and Qatar which are markets that are growing very quickly for us. We will soon be opening a second store in Kuwait which is good because it’s one of the most loyal markets in terms of our customer base. And then we have India where Panerai is one of the leading watch brands. We are going to be opening two new stores in India in the coming months: one in Mumbai and one in Bangalore. Based on the results we have had from India; in the next ten years, it will be one of the countries that we will spend most of our time developing the business. Indians have been buying a lot in Dubai, Singapore and London and they are now getting more access to our products in India itself. Then to finish we have Saudi Arabia, and this is one of the most promising markets for all industries. It’s a major market which is waking up. Airlines are the providers of tourists, so we follow what they are doing and there is a lot more access coming to the country, and they intend to make Saudi Arabia one of the major touristic destinations in the future. It will take time, but Panerai is very well placed to open new stores in Saudi Arabia in the next five years in some of the major malls which are going to open.
The region is very inspiring and it’s not only Dubai. Dubai has always had this agility and diversity in terms of population, nationalities, concept stores, and so on, but there are many other spots which also have major ambitions to grow in the future.
What is a message that you would like to send to your fans and friends of the brand in the region?
The words for all the communities of Panerai in the Middle East are that they are close to my heart because each time I come to the Middle East I have meetings, dinners, and breakfasts with some of them. And they will know who they are! I’m happy to see it’s a growing community. Our next big event we have will be in Lisbon in October and I know that some of our Middle Eastern clients will join us for three days of celebrating Panerai. I’ll come back soon because it’s a region I love to come to, and Dubai is one of the lighthouses for our brand and for the rest of the luxury retail world.