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Why does Panerai’s CEO think downsizing their big watches is a good thing?

The luxury watch brand says it listens to its fanbase – which is why it started a line of smaller dress watches, and it launched a new digital content platform and a Spotify channel. CNA Luxury had a chat with Jean-Marc Pontroue.

Why does Panerai’s CEO think downsizing their big watches is a good thing?

Jean-Marc Pontroue, CEO of Panerai. (Photo: Panerai)

Panerai watches are big. That burly form, brimming with military pride and machismo, is part of the brand’s appeal. But they used to be bigger. 

Its now-famous ties to the Italian Navy meant that historic models were military instruments, not fashion statements. A 1956 Radiomir with a rotating bezel commissioned by the Egyptian Navy measured a whopping 60mm.

It wasn’t until 1993 that Panerai started hawking its wares to civilians, and its case sizes were reduced to more wearable sizes. Thus began the brand’s oversized reign throughout the decade, spearheading the trend of cases at 44mm and larger, wrist sizes be damned.

Still, there were those who would lament that a 47mm watch just wasn’t a practical accessory. It must have been a complaint Panerai has heard enough times, because in 2018 it finally released the Panerai Luminor Due 38mm – its smallest watch ever.

It was a bold move from a watchmaker that prided itself in making bold watches, so we decided to ask the man himself, Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroue, just what it was that made him think small(er).

(Photo: Panerai)

DID THE ASIAN MARKET HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE DOWNSIZING, GIVEN OUR COMPARATIVELY SLIMMER WRISTS?

Well, not really. Most of the bestsellers in Asia are the same as the ones in Europe. You’d be surprised at the number of Singaporeans who buy our 47mm models. We don’t see today a very big difference between what Americans, Europeans and Asians are buying.

WHO’S BUYING THE LUMINOR DUE 38MM MODELS THEN?

Ninety-nine per cent of them are new customers of the brand. But there are also buyers who have all the other models but want a smaller one for more formal occasions. The entire Due collection was made for that purpose – to be worn in a more classic environment. 

The Panerai Luminor Due 38mm. (Photo: Panerai)

Before, our watches were typically too big to fit under your sleeve so we made Due watches 30 per cent slimmer. But we also have them in 42mm and 45mm sizes.

SOUNDS LIKE THE COLLECTION’S A HIT WITH WOMEN, TOO.

Yes we have a growing number of ladies buying our watches, especially the Luminor Due 38mm, so we’ve introduced more material and strap options for that version as well. Panerai is known as a masculine, sporty brand, so we have never made watches specially for women. We have no jewellery watches.

Panerai has introduced more material and strap options for the Luminor Due 38mm. (Photo: Panerai)

WILL THEY EVER GET SMALLER THAN 38MM?

What I can tell you is that we have no such plans for the next five years. We have no intention of capturing trends, whether it’s square, digital, smaller, bigger, quartz or jewellery.

Among all the big watch companies, Panerai is probably the one that has remained the most loyal to its historical families. We haven’t invented any new lines in 160 years. We have the Luminor, Submersible and Radiomir, and the Due is nothing more than a lighter, smaller Luminor.

I’m proud to be heading a company that has enough creativity for these existing lines for the next 100 years. Because if all I wanted was to make something successful, I would make a quartz ladies’ watch with diamonds. But Panerai will never do that.

“If all I wanted was to make something successful, I would make a quartz ladies’ watch with diamonds. But Panerai will never do that.”

LET’S TALK ABOUT PANERAI’S NEW DIGITAL STORYTELLING PLATFORM, PAMCAST. WHAT PROMPTED THIS PROJECT?

Firstly, we realised that people were spending a lot more time on our social networks, especially since the pandemic. Second of all, we noticed a strong interest in the content produced by our brand ambassadors.

People would sit through a 20- to 30-minute interview with [Max Sirena], the boss of the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli sailing team, listen to explorer Mike Horn talk about dealing with isolation when he was lost in the North Pole, and watch Guillaume Nery do yoga before a free dive.

Once we recognised that we as a brand had very strong content, we decided it was time to start acting like a content provider.

“Once we recognised that we as a brand had very strong content, we decided it was time to start acting like a content provider.”

ARE YOU OKAY WITH PEOPLE INCREASINGLY THINKING OF PANERAI AS A LIFESTYLE BRAND THAN AS A WATCHMAKER?

We have a serious, engineering facet of the brand and that’s all based in Switzerland, but our inspiration and creativity comes from Italy. It is our place of origin and our playground, and we are proud of that lighter, lifestyle part of the brand.

So internally, I like to tell my team that we should become the Netflix of watchmaking – working title, of course – because Netflix did things differently. Likewise, we didn’t want to be like everyone else, just talking about products and movements.

Our customers are more curious about the experiences we provide, such as the training session with the Comsubin last year or the guided exploration experience we’re planning with Mike Horn. They want to know about the dramatic conditions they can test our watches in.

READ> Can you survive a training session with the Italian Navy? These watch lovers did

READ> Taking 'gift with purchase' to the extreme: Free-diving and training with commandos

“Internally, I like to tell my team that we should become the Netflix of watchmaking – because Netflix did things differently. Likewise, we didn’t want to be like everyone else, just talking about products and movements.”

CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE PAMCAST SLOGAN, “IT’S ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU DON’T SEE”?

In France we have television channel called Canal+ and one of its slogans was, “At least when you’re watching Canal+, you forget you’re in front of a TV”.

Our PamCast motto has the same kind of provocation. It’s all about unveiling to you everything that goes on behind the watch, behind the product.

PamCast is a door or a passport to a new world, and it’s not the same world many of these other watch brands have. Our industry believes too much that our websites should be this static thing. 

PamCast is Panerai's new "digital storytelling platform", available for listening on Spotify. (Photo: Panerai)

We only have eight topics for PamCast at the moment, but we’re not limiting ourselves to that. We can think of hundreds of different broadcasts, and we can even rope in the Paneristi, too, like asking about their first Panerai.

SPEAKING OF THE PANERISTI, HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ENGAGING WITH THEM DURING THE PANDEMIC?

We’ve held about 1,500 virtual meetings with customers and journalists since April. It doesn’t replace personal contact but technology has made it easy to keep in touch and has helped us reach people we may not have otherwise reached.

There is beauty in these difficult moments, and that is by being part of a second family. We have 740 employees and 30,000 Paneristi – and we are all connected by our one common passion.

“There is beauty in these difficult moments, and that is by being part of a second family. We have 740 employees and 30,000 Paneristi – and we are all connected by our one common passion.”

READ> How Panerai’s Luminor watch successfully spent 70 years doing the same thing

Source: CNA/mm(ds)
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