Panerai CEO since 2018, and with enormous experience in the Haute Horlogerie area, where he has been moving for more than 20 years, Jean-Marc Pontroué, in conversation with Turbilhão, talks about the importance of the universe that inspires each Panerai product, explains how the brand adapted to 2020 and underlines that this is the year of Luminor, a collection that celebrates its 70th anniversary.

Managing Panerai should be one of the most interesting but most difficult challenges for a CEO in the industry. What is your feeling after 2 years at the head of the company?

Managing Panerai is a everyday interesting challenge since we are committed to rethink in a contemporary key our watches leaving our legacy unchanged. Our historical roots continue to open up new horizons to be explored in the next future. This is our greatest advantage based on a valuable true story behind iconic watches, recognized at a glance globally.

How you fell in love with the brand? And what is your personal favorite so far?

Panerai has a fascinating history embedded in its military roots and marine universe. It is important to underline that since its beginning, Panerai started to manufacture instruments thought to accompany the needs of the Italian Navy with enormous confidentiality. My favorite watch is one of our greatest novelties launched this year: the Luminor Marina Fibratech™ (PAM01663) through which Panerai has confirmed once again its strong commitment as the pioneer in materials innovation. Obtained with natural and eco-sustainable row fibers, Fibratech is a composite with remarkable physical and mechanical properties. It is 60% lighter than steel, resilient and highly resistant to corrosion.

Panerai manufactures one of the most recognizable silhouettes in mechanical watches – but is it risky to be so reliant on one specific aesthetic?

No, all luxury brands strive to create a recognized iconic product with really distinctive characteristics that allow the association with the brand at a glance, with needless presentation.  This is common in several segments of luxury products such as bags, shoes, cars. It´s easy to identify a Panerai in a wrist whether it’s a Luminor, a Luminor Due, a Radiomir or an Submersible, and that’s part of our identity.

Last year, Panerai started selling watches alongside experiences. Could you explain the strategy and if it is one to stay?

Nowadays the demand for an experience associated with a product is increasing indeed the luxury consumers started to live differently and to research a meaningful value which goes beyond products. Watches aren’t just instruments; they are also part of our personal story. We want to offer to our clients not the whole package, which include what our universe stands for. This is the reason why we have been thought limited edition experiences, watches that allow the lucky owners the access to one-of-a kind experience. Our customers are keen to know more about the brand, they want to dive in our historical heritage. So that’s why we had some incredible experiences. They were created to make them at the center of our projects. Last year our customers had the opportunity to dive alongside French free-diving world champion Guillaume Néry; but even the greatest change to train for two days with COMSUBIN, the elite Italian commando Special Forces. The package with experiences was something completely new, and it’s was a huge success.

What do you hope to gain from your partnership with Luna Rossa, the Challenger of Record of the 36th America’s Cup?

Last year we started a multi-year partnership by sponsoring the Italian challenger Luna Rossa. The collaboration involves the return of the Luna Rossa team to the America’s Cup sailing – the oldest and prestigious trophy in the sporting world – and we are producing a series of watches inspired directly by the technologies and materials used in the America’s Cup. The new watches will be then part of the daily equipment used by members of the Luna Rossa sailing team. This year we had the great pleasure to present the Luminor Luna Rossa GMT (PAM01036) a model with a high degree of sophistication. It is a pure expression of the affinity between Panerai and the Team that first launched the challenge to the Defender of the 36th America’s Cup, the final act of which is expected in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2021. 

2020 is being a very atypical year due to Covid-19 pandemic. How did it affect Panerai and what kind of measures have been taken to adapt to these different times?

2020 addressed the luxury industry into a new direction if we look at all the opportunities ahead of us.  At Panerai we had to cope a very tough situation due to the fact that we had to close our Manufacture to prevent the safety of our teams and this meant to reshuffle all the product launches that have been planned before. Of course Panerai demonstrated a strong resiliency in readapting fast to the new scenario. In addition, we experienced new ways to present our key highlights to clients, media, retailers through the launch of W&W platform. It was a great challenge in terms of exploiting to the most our capacity to re-adapt very fast and at the same time think out of box by producing high creative contents to stay close to our clients. 

Do you think that this pandemic will forever change the way we connect, and the way brands are going to present their products and talk to their clients?

The crisis will not leave the luxury industry unchanged but in terms of opportunity it is a great chance to get back to the value of authenticity. Of course, there will be a polarisation in the industry between companies able to catch up the global markets and new signals by proactively acting accordingly and the ones who still manage brands in an obsolete way. The pandemic will force the industry to think more creatively and innovate faster trying to anticipate the trends and new needs. Among the major trends that will accelerate there are: a digital behavior and to strengthen e-commerce as well as CRM tools in order to intercept meaningful key data from the clientele; Social media issues since the new generation are often looking for brands supporting causes they care about and a growing number are specifically concerned to environmental issue as well as climate changes.

 Is it possible to predict trends in the watch industry?

The overall luxury system will be rethought according to reimagining new ways to maintain vibrant relationships with consumers, press and trade partners. It is the time for the luxury industry to explore alternative ways to deliver the same kind of magic delivered through events/ fairs. The concept “Experiential luxury” will continue to play a key role by contributing to boost the emotions of clients. Lastly the digital engagement since all the brands are called to accelerate digital investments and shift media spending to online channels, with a focus on customer activation rather than brand building. 

What is the outlook on the luxury landscape after Covid-19 from Panerai’s perspective?

I believe that the luxury industry has never been as strong as before the Covid 19 pandemic. Bringing creativity and disruption in terms of product development the business we will maintain the strength. I strongly believe that things will recover. It may take a while but it’s not the first crisis the watch industry had to face, although this is a hard one because it is impacting the whole world and of course both health and business.

How is e-commerce performing for Panerai? Did it increase due to Covid-19?

We are moving towards new ways of purchase among of which e-commerce will continue to accelerate and grow significantly. I believe in the increase in confidence in online shopping and the possibility of having exclusive access to a product that is not available anywhere else or before its retail launch will raise the sense of “scarcity” that is a typical feature of luxury segment. We are currently thinking how to leverage on new strategies in order to make our watches even more exclusive to the market.

An increasing number of brands are abandoning the watch industry’s largest trade shows. Do you still believe in the relevance of such fairs?

I believe in the idea of a global presentation to the journalists, to opinion makers and to customers. It’s the most effective way to present our brand novelties, to speak and to meet hundreds of people in a single location and in a few days. What is interesting to see in the future is how this global event/fairs will be rethought according to a B2C perspective rather than B2B in order to keep a more close relation with the clientele making them truly engaged in the brand’s novelties universe. 

Panerai is dedicating this year to its Luminor collection. One of the highlights is the use of innovative materials. What is the strategy behind this seek of new materials? What can these materials bring to the watch industry?

This year we reaffirmed our strong commitment as the pioneer in materials innovation. Thanks to Panerai Laboratorio di Idee we have developed, over the years, cutting-edge materials, never used in watchmaking industry, more resistant to corrosion, with hypoallergenic properties and also lighter. This year we celebrate our iconic Luminor who turns 70 years and as great tribute to the icon we decided to stretch to the most our creativity to reimagine the icon.

Any model you would like to stress out from the new collection? Why?

It’s not easy and it would not be fair too to choose just one model because the entire collection is special with different materials and also different emotions associated. We have watches that pays tribute to the introduction of Super-Luminova and with a 70-year warranty; watches in Fibratech, the latest innovation of the Laboratorio di Idee, a watch with Goldtech, an exclusive material also perfected by Panerai; a watch developed for the experience with explorer Mike Horn, the Luna Rossa model.. 2020 is the year of Luminor. The Luminor is the historical product of the brand and I would say that this year we highlight the Luminor collection. 

How is Panerai addressing its social responsibility? Could you explain the Panerai Ecológico program?

The Panerai Ecológico is an initiative that aims to make our world better. One of the first measures was to develop products with integrated recycled elements. We already produced watch straps with recycled PET (bottles), and package also made from recycled materials. Our target is to be the first brand to have 100% of a watch made from recycled components – including the movement. However, the sustainability is not just about products. Panerai has begun building a path towards sustainability and corporate social responsibility, a few years ago, starting with the necessary certifications to improve the quality and design characteristic of the brand, as well as the guarantees related to the origin of raw materials and their impact on the environment. The most ambitious project in terms of eco-sustainability and eco-compatibility has been the manufacture project where all the related-activities concerning the development, production and assembly of the movements and the watches were transferred. Moreover, its building has zero environmental impact as far as the production of carbon dioxide is concerned thanks to the integration of a number of technologies designed to reclaim and recycle resources, emission-reducing devices, electricity from completely renewable sources and policies promoting eco-sustainable mobility among employees.  

How would you define Panerai to someone who has just discovered the brand for the first time?

The Maison stands for an exclusive technical sports watch Maison made of unmistakable Italian Design as well as mechanical content and creative innovation closely associated to the world of sea. Its Italian origins combined with the Swiss manufacturing are unique in the watchmaking industry.  

And what is your personal recommendation for that person who wants that Panerai DNA in one approachable reference?

The Luminor Marina PAM 1312 for sure. It’s the watch that identifies the Panerai brand with its most recognized cushion case.