When I received the invitation to join Panerai for a rather special experience in the south of Italy a couple of months ago, I didn’t think much of it. I expected to have just another well-organised hands-on experience with a luxury watch company and enjoy my time on the Mediterranean coast. But once I received the program for the two days in and around Brindisi, followed by an 8-week training regime, I understood this was more than just some days of fun in the sun. This was, in fact, an all-in Forze Speciali Experience with the Brigata San Marco in Brindisi, Italy. During this event, we were engulfed in full-on tactical combat training by the legendary Marina Militare, the Italian Navy with strong historical ties to Panerai. A unique experience for sure, and one that followed be endured by up to 50 Panerai clients who bought the Panerai Submersible Forze Speciali Experience PAM01238. It also presented a perfect opportunity to sit down and chat with Allessandro Ficarelli, Chief Marketing Officer of Panerai, on the current state of the company, supply and demand, and the Forze Speciali experience itself.
Robin Nooij, MONOCHROME Watches – You’ve been working for Panerai for a long time already, what brought you to where you are now?
Alessandro Ficarelli, Chief Marketing Officer for Panerai – I started working for Panerai in 2005, as a marketing and product manager. Then I moved up to the position of product director to work closely with product managers and designers. Over time came more responsibility from the manufacturing side of the business and since last year I took over the marketing & communications for events as well, and also the heritage part of Panerai.
How is Panerai doing at the moment, coming out of two years of Covid?
We are actually performing very well and business is good for us. Most markets are up and in some areas we’re opening up new points of sales. We’re working on expanding the mono-brand network actually. The past two years were very tough because we saw a lot of closures from brands, retailers, boutiques et cetera and now things are improving but we can’t get back to the same level as fast as we would like. It’s a bit of a double effect, tough times and closings for a while, and not the “revenge buy” where people are looking to spend their money. It was almost like a boom, as the boutiques and points of sale were empty and didn’t have any stock to sell when people were rushing back in.
On the other side, we try to control our scarcity, as in some watches we don’t want to produce too many of. We keep them limited and control the quantities and allocation to keep the value high, like the Bronzo or BMG-Tech where our objective is to manage the scarcity as best we can. This also includes limited editions and high-end models of course. The best scenario for us, and many other brands I think, is to always have a higher demand than supply for such watches.
The current market is also under a lot of stress due to issues with supplies versus demands. How is that for Panerai?
We feel that as well to be honest, and the demand for some collections is hard to keep up with and meet timelines. There’s a lot of tension on the supply side of Panerai as demand for certain products is high. And it’s not only happening to Panerai as you said, multiple brands are facing that issue. Some collections are out of stock for our retailers so we are paying attention to that as best we can and increasing production gradually to meet the demands.
But for us it’s not possible to increase production whenever we want, it takes a lot of time to build that up. We want to produce a high-quality product so we can’t push too much otherwise we end up cutting corners which we don’t want. We’re very protective of our manufacturing and production capacity, as want to keep things 100% Swiss Made. Most of our suppliers are part of the Richemont Group, so either we produce internally or we source components from internal suppliers within the Group.
Our bread-and-butter watches, the Luminor Marina or the Luminor Due should be always available but they’re not. The Luminor Due in 38mm has been out of stock since it was launched for instance. We simply cannot produce it fast enough. Whatever we ship to our boutiques and retailers flies out the door. This is a “good” problem in a sense, as we’re in the business of selling watches obviously. Our objective is to grow in a nice and sustainable way, we don’t have a short-term strategy in terms of turnover but are aiming for long-term brand development. And yes, there is plenty of room to grow for us.
Speaking of the new lines within the Panerai portfolio, how are the novelties performing?
At the moment we have 4 product lines, from Luminor to Luminor Due to Radiomir and to Submersible. We’ve worked hard on the increase of versatility across all four collections. The new Submersible Quarantaquattro range we launched at Watches & Wonders this year has been a huge success for us and outsells most of the other models we have right now. And like I said, we cannot produce the Luminor Due fast enough. In fact, the 38mm size of the Luminor Due has been out of stock since we launched it. And that’s not because we’re not producing them, it’s because whatever we deliver to our boutiques and retailers is sold immediately.
We launched the 44mm Luminor with white and blue dials, and they are selling very well. We also introduced a 40mm size, which also performs very strong. And even the watches on metal bracelets, something we didn’t do before the year 2000, is performing very well. Until not too long ago we used bracelets on limited editions mostly, so they were quite scarce. NowadaysNow we have some models as part of the permanent collections with metal bracelets, but they’re all sold out.
You’ve been working hard to diversify the collections, can you talk us through some of the developments?
We now have more options in size than before, and there’s something for everyone, from 38mm up to 47mm. In the past, most of the models came in black or dark dials only, even if compared to collections side by side. The Luminor and the Radiomir for instance, both came with similar-looking dials. What we’re doing now is to differentiate in terms of assortment. And of course the Submersible has been a stand-alone collection for a number of years now.
Compare that to our Radiomir, the line that is mostly associated with historic models, and now has a more vintage look. The Luminor Due is a dressier watch, it’s thinner and easier to wear, also for ladies who don’t want a 47mm Panerai. Our most emblematic watch, our icon, remains the Luminor. This has been further developed with innovative materials as well as complications. We aim to build an assortment of watches that always respects the DNA, but also look at diversity and innovation.
You’re also investing big in sustainability, can you explain to us what you’re doing in that area?
We came out with eSteel a couple of years ago, and that was a big hit for us. Besides that, we also use recycled bronze, titanium and gold for the time being and we’re looking into recycled carbon fibre to use in our Carbotech watches. When we launched this program to use recycled materials it was received with scepticism, as people didn’t connect it to a luxury product. Now we have the younger generation asking us why we didn’t do it before, and if we can do it faster!
Last year we communicated that in three years’ time, so in 2024, we aimed to have 30% of our collections made with recycled materials. but now I can tell you it will be closer to 70% actually. That doesn’t mean the entire watch is made with recycled materials, but as much as we can do, we will do it. Around 95% of our steel is already recycled eSteel, and all the gold is recycled, and we’re pushing for titanium to be 100% recycled as well. We’re also testing and developing other materials, such as our rubber straps, textile straps, packaging et cetera. But the goal is always to produce at the same level of quality.
One other thing that we’re doing is to get our own people involved, do presentations at universities to raise awareness of the issue of sustainability and incorporate that into a business strategy. We also do plastic collection days on the beach or in parks etc.
Can you tell us more about the Forze Speciali Experience and the idea behind these multi-day events?
As you know, Panerai has a long history with the Marina Militare, the Italian Navy. We have supplied official watches in the past, and are still in a close relationship with them. The Forze Speciali experience is a unique event for those who purchased the watch. Each client gets the chance to join us for a two-day military experience with the Brigata San Marco in Brindisi, Italy where we will do all sorts of tactical training, physical exercises and challenges, and demonstration. It is a unique chance to experience what the men and women of the Marina Militare do day in and day out, to protect our country and allies.
It’s something that has never been done before, as no civilian has been able to train with official elite soldiers of the Italian Navy to this extent before. It is tough for those that joined, as you’re treated as a recruit all the way, but for sure an unforgettable experience for everyone involved. And yes, I joined too if you’re wondering. These experiences are a way to welcome people into the world of Panerai like never before. We work with some of our partners to offer unique experiences, such as the Forze Speciali Experience with the Brigata San Marco.
And what about the watch that you’ve made for this Experience?
We presented two models actually, both limited editions. One is the Panerai Submersible Forze Speciali, which is limited to 300 pieces per year, and the other is the Forze Speciali Experience limited to 50 pieces. Both are 47mm in diameter with a black DLC-coated titanium case, and with the same flyback chronograph movement. The difference is the colour scheme and the fact that the Forze Speciali Experience gives you the opportunity to train with the Brigata San Marco of the Marina Militare for two days.
The Italian navy is one of our longest partners, and we’ve been producing instruments since 1910, and watches since the 1930s. Every few years we create special edition watches with new materials or new designs to commemorate our history. We thought about organising another Experience, so we reached out to the Marina Militare and came up to join the Brigata San Marco. Together we came up with the idea of the Forze Speciali watch, with the countdown mission timer, the military colours and the camouflage strap. We also work with the navy to see if we can use some materials used in submarines for instance, to make watches, but that’s something for the future.
For more information, please visit Panerai.com