CEO Jean Marc Pontroué
How Panerai got back to the future
How Panerai got back to the future
»In the end it’s all about audacious concepts.«
When and why did your passion for watches begin?
I had my very first encounter with the watch world back in 1988. I was based in Paris and worked for Renoma, a ready-to-wear fashion brand. Back then I was involved in a Renoma watch project and met Richard Mille. He worked for the French watch company Yema and introduced me to different watch types. I remember that he offered me my very first ever since, by the way, and we always joke about our first encounter.
My actual professional involvement with watches began at Montblanc in Hamburg, Germany, in August 2000. My first mission was to take over the newly created watches division where I gained my first experiences.
Panerai is a brand with a great heritage and lots of stunning stories. How do you define the essence of the brand?
When you work in a landscape with more than 700 watch brands from Switzerland, it’s very important to define your own profile. We are very much shaped by the bond with the Italian navy. They need tools they can rely on 100%, instruments without fuss that are a kind of life insurance. That’s what we stand for.
The explorer and adventurer Mike Horn, one of our brand ambassadors, used to say that his Panerai was often the only mechanical instrument that still worked in the most extreme conditions. That’s the essence of Panerai.
It’s not a marketing stunt, functionality is within our DNA, just like our Italian design. The combination of both is what makes Panerai so unique.
We imagine the transformation of Panerai to be an extremely challenging and multifaceted task. What are the most interesting aspects of your mission so far?
When I took over three years ago, we already had the foundations. I was very lucky because my predecessor had been working on establishing products lines that are very emblematic. Today, everybody is looking for that emblematic watch for the next fifty years. Some have found it, some are trying hard.
At Panerai, we have the chance to work on iconic products that already exist, so that was probably the biggest asset when I started. In a way, my mission is to work an these emblematic products and give them sparkle, variety and modernity depending on the product line.
Within our four product lines we will always identify creative adjustments on material, dials, colours and functionalities that reflect the brand. That’s why we don’t have the need or a plan to come up with new product lines in the near future.
What role does the Laboratorio di Idee play in the Panerai context?
The Laboratorio di Idee is located in Neuchâtel and we have thirty watchmakers, researchers and engineers, working on the ideas for tomorrow. My mantra is always: they are the only unit in our company that is allowed to fail 90% of the time. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about the 10%, the good ideas, that ensure Panerai’s success in the future. So we have all the technological innovations based in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and the design part is located in Italy.
All the creativity you need for our watches, for our retail concepts and brand communication is based in Milan where the fashion and design heart is beating. In the end it’s all about audacious concepts. This applies to products as much as to communication.
We have to be audacious in all of our expressions. It’s this special combination of these two worlds that only Panerai is able to create in the world of luxury watches.
What are your thoughts about smart watches?
It’s a fantastic tool but it’s a different product. It’s a great way to introduce watches to a lot of new people who never wore watches before. And once you get used to wearing something on your wrist all the time, you might switch to a mechanical watch one day.
But I don’t believe that smart watches are a territory for luxury brands. That’s why we have zero smart watch projects at Panerai. Even though there are pictures in the digital networks of smart watches with the Panerai logo – they are all fakes. I believe in staying true to our origins and I believe in mechanical watches.
It seems that Panerai has increased the pace of inventions and got back on track since your arrival. Is there a certain philosophy of yours to motivate the team and to push the brand forward?
The key task is to perpetuate that pioneering spirit of our DNA and make it future proof. On the one hand we consciously stick to our origins of creating reliable instruments in real scenarios, no matter how extreme and challenging they might be. Whether it’s for a 48-hour mission by a special unit of the Italian navy, for example, or on assignment with freediving world champion Guillaume Néry in the South Pacific.
The other aspect is our ecological approach which is close to my heart. To be honest, the time I spent in Germany was a strong booster 21 years ago for me personally. I understood that fighting for the environment is our duty and a state of mind that can be reconciled meaningfully with economic goals. A mindful cultivation of a pioneering spirit that captures these two aspects will pave the future path for Panerai.
»We gave our competitors all the contacts of our suppliers who share our ecological approach.«
Panerai presented the Submersible eLAB-ID and the Luminor Marina eSteel in the Watches & Wonders Week. Please tell us a little bit more about them. Will there be more products like these in the future?
Yes, of course. It’s not about one-shot-stunts in 2021, it’s something we want to establish overall in the spirit of an open ecosystem. In April, at the time of the Watches & Wonders fair, we invited our competitors to our manufactory and gave them all the addresses and contacts of our suppliers and partners who share our ecological approach.
We just want to ensure our competitors don’t lose three years trying to reach the place where we are, because we all need to win time together. It’s all about the climate countdown. Nobody wants to endure summers at fifty or sixty degrees, and more and more storms and other ecological disasters.
All the big car companies have embarked on this huge learning curve over recent years. It’s the same for us in the watch industry, but we are still at the beginning of this curve and we have to make up as much time as we can.
Speaking of this open-source kind of spirit – do you work with Luna Rossa both in terms of product development and in terms of sponsorship?
When you are faced with a new way to approach your business, the more you learn from others, the better. The partnership with Luna Rossa is a big source of inspiration for me.
If you want to make a difference in the Americas Cup as they do, it’s all about product development. The lighter the better and as resistant as possible.
»We will unveil a partnership with a German manufacturer at the Monaco Yacht Show in September.«
What is your focus for Panerai in the next twelve months?
The business is pretty strong. Panerai will open boutiques all over the world. We will open in China, in Japan, the US and we will have our new store opening in Geneva.
The beauty of Panerai is, that it’s not focused on one country. Apart from that we will unveil a partnership with a German manufacturer at the Monaco Yacht Show in September. But I can’t tell you more about that, I am afraid.
Over the recent twelve months, we have had plenty of time to think. We’ve not been travelling abroad in planes, trains and cars, so we’ve had much more time to define the major priorities in our business for the next five years. I think that has been a very helpful exercise.