Panerai has a rich history full of valuable and ground-breaking innovations made to improve performance in response to shifting technical requirements. Launching the Radiomir collection at Watches And Wonders 2023 is a watershed moment for the brand. The legendary Panerai story began with the development of the radiomir substance for the Italian Navy, and the first Panerai watch was a Radiomir. Even as they look ahead with renewed optimism thanks to sustainability and new materials, they would do well to reflect on their roots and build upon their unimpeachable legacy.
We caught up with Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO Of Panerai to discuss the favorite amongst most Paneristis, the novelties, and more!
THM: It’s interesting to see the focus on the Radiomir’s this year. Is this the focus for 2023?
Jean-Marc Pontroué: So although today we do produce “civilised watches” Panerai originally started with 60mm tool watches for the Military. Being radioactive it certainly was not a product that you and I can wear because it was not simply authorized. The Italian Navy however needed diving tools and when you are 30 and 50 metres below the surface, it’s all dark black and what you need is to get the numbers right to know how long you still have until the next operation. So today we come back to the Radiomir, which is the historical line of Panerai because it’s a year where we want to strengthen the origin of the brand. Many people know Panerai today for what we do, maybe some for the celebrities that sport it in the US. But don’t necessarily know all that has been done since 1860, and that is the purpose of that year.
THM: The obvious question being – the new more wearable Radiomir’s?
Jean: Well, the downsizing is because we have a lot of newcomers to our brand who find our watches far too big. When you look at the 45mm watch, yes, it’s not a small watch, but you don’t need to be like Dwayne Johnson to wear a Panerai anymore. We have so many newcomers to the brand, including the ladies, in fact today up to 30% of our sales come from the ladies. Now, understandably not all small wrists can’t enter the brand with a 45mm timepiece. Hence the 38mm’s, a 40mm Luminor and a 42mm Radiomir. But our core business remains at 44mm.
THM: What are your thoughts on the trend of big watches and Panerai’s way forward?
JMP: Well, the Italian and Milanese ladies love wearing big watches, big jewellery. It’s a part of the spirit. Infact both men or women today are sporting big watches and big jewellery. That part of it has always been something of a trend that remains very active today. With Panerai today we are opening one boutique every ten days in the world. One just opened in Paris, and the other one is opening in Istanbul too.
THM: Tell us a little about the Paneristi experiences?
JMP: We started in November. So it’s a contract we have with Navy Seals for the coming three years where we are doing a limited edition timepiece. You can get it only if you spend three days in a military camp with the Navy Seals for training. The physical combat training is performed under the guidance of retired Navy officers. We are doing the next one in Paris with the anti-terrorism forces in France wherein you spend two days with them. We do 15 watches and you get it if you are part of this experience where that one is very physical. So these experiences, which are the physical ones, we select our customers because not everybody can go there. You better make sure you are trained before going there. There are also easier experiences that we introduce as well.
THM: One could say we are yet again on the verge of recession where people are cautious of buying and selling, maybe not in the luxury industry, but in the retail industry in general. What is your opinion ?
JMP: Richemont has increased their share by 50%, like LVMH in the last six months. We are very lucky to be a part of the luxury world. But I can tell you we finished our fiscal year in Panerai, in Richemont as the second consecutive record year at Panerai. We got the dive of COVID in 2021, but 2022 and 2023 are record years at Panerai. So today we have 200 stores. We see the traffic in our stores every day, every minute. They can know how much we do, how much we have, and so on. So we don’t see any slowdown in the business at all.
Let me give you an example. A few years ago many were threatened by the introduction of smart watches. No I may or wear one but I am a big supporter of these watches. Think about it, half of the people who buy smart watches never wore watches before this. Now if even one percent of these switch from smart to mechanical watches, it is a very big market share.
Another example is this show – Watches and Wonders! We have 55% more appointments this year in compassion to the year before. There are alot of new customers exploring the luxury world today and globally they also have more access to it. So I remain optimistic…
THM: Panerai as a brand faces alot of backlash on social media. How do you deal with that?
JMP: Honestly, I don’t believe in any form of conspiracy. We have a committee to fight against all the fake news about us. Fake news like we have never produced our own watches and we don’t manufacture our own movements! To which we invite respected journalists to come to our Manufacture in Neuchatel, take all the pictures you want. Just this week we had 300 people visit our Manufacture…
THM: Tell us about the PAM’s for smaller wrists. And do you think women are more inclined towards watches today?
JMP: Everytime I travel I realise many of our stores are on the ground floor of department stores or are in malls like in America and in Asia. When I was in Taiwan, I realised there was Chanel on my left and Prada on my right with a Panerai boutique in the center and the majority of people there were women in that area. Hence we developed an offer which does not impact the way we operate our business.
The second point being that having 30,000 Paneristi today who have partners who love wearing their watches. This made me realise that we don’t have products for slimmer wrists. At Panerai we don’t do specific products for ladies with diamonds or flowers. We are clear we are a masculine brand that now also offers smaller products like the 38’s, we remain automatic, we will not do diamonds but have introduced aspects like the mother-of-pearl dials and the special partnership with Prada for the straps to support sustainability. However I have to mention that be it men or women our 40mm is the best seller this week at Watches and Wonders 2023.
Panerai has always taken the sustainability route. With their watches made of eSteel which means 95% recycled material, they have taken several such steps including a recycled watch box that is also a travel pouch.
On June 8th Panerai will be the official sponsor of World Ocean Day for the UN. Jean-Marc plans to take this opportunity to get everyone at Panerai to get 10 tonnes of plastic bottles from beaches and lakes across the world where the brand has subsidiaries. Jean-Marc himself will be doing the same himself in Johannesburg, South Africa on June 8th.
Overall, we are quite happy with what we saw at Panerai at Watches And Wonders 2023 and although it seems to be all about the Radiomir, we are expecting alot more in the coming months.