Jean-Marc Pontroué was appointed CEO of Panerai in 2016, invigorating the brand with new energy. Change was needed but with a brand like Panerai, whose fame is based on a unique concept (1930s to 1950s military dive watches), evolution can be the enemy. We took the opportunity of the launch of the Panerai Luminor Marina Titanio/DLC Bucherer BLUE in Zurich to sit down with Mr Pontroué and talk about his first 18 months at the head of the brand, his partnership with Bucherer, and what to expect for 2020.
“The Luminor was created in 1950… The 70th anniversary of Luminor will be our major theme (for 2020)”
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME – Managing Panerai is one of the most interesting but most difficult challenges for a CEO in the industry! What is your feeling after 18 months at the head of the company?
Jean-Marc Pontroué, Panerai – Well, no, it is rather easy instead. So many brands are striving to create iconic products. When I joined Panerai, I was lucky enough to know that the brand already had an iconic watch with Luminor. That makes your job easier. We even have a few watches that do not bear the name Panerai logo on their dials: very few brands can get away with a ‘logo-less’ product.
But did Panerai need change?
What you need are creativity and a good sense of business. You need to listen to your clients and listen to the market. You need to pay attention to consumer trends. For instance, we have launched “experiences” that are a huge success (editor’s note: check, for instance, the Guillaume Nery edition). Well, if you take the time to talk to a few of your customers, you’ll find out quickly that they are looking for such experiences. I was not the one to have had this idea. It is coming from our clients.
Yes, but this is a rather new type of initiative in the watch industry…
Yes. And we had to create the concept and have the right idea. But we have plenty of ideas: product, packaging, experiences, concepts, you name it… When you are an Italian luxury brand with the right team, you don’t lack ideas. But we need to select the right ideas that are coherent with the brand.
So, what were your challenges?
Well, I have a rather simple job. Panerai is an incredible brand. We have 30,000 Paneristi who are uniquely devoted to the brand, in a way I have never seen before. A few days ago, I was in Amsterdam for the P-days, a three-day worldwide Paneristi gathering. People coming from 30 different countries. It’s fantastic to have such a strong and loyal fanbase. We have an incredible number of celebrities wearing our products. Stallone was one of the persons that helped “launch” the brand. Then, we are integrated into a group, with distribution, boutiques and partners such as Bucherer. We have a brand that is lucky enough to get and have got amazing support.
Since you mention it, distribution plays a pivotal role in the industry. How does Panerai manage its distribution?
We have our directly-owned stores, our boutiques, and some sales points with external partners, like Bucherer. We are part of the few brands that manage to generate substantial turnover with a rather small retail space. Our business does not require large “real estate”. Some of our boutiques are 50/60 square metres. On the other hand, the location is key to successful retail operations. We have our own boutiques and boutiques we open with partners. I was recently at the inauguration of our Chicago boutique, which we opened with a partner.
Then we have e-commerce. This is a new channel in the industry. Once again, we are lucky to be part of Richemont that helped us open our e-commerce website. The group owns Yoox Net-a-porter and Watchfinder. It has a partnership with Alibaba in China. We are getting amazing support. So back to your first question, yes working for Panerai is indeed hard work and it takes effort like running a marathon. But we are in an easier situation than many of our competitors.
What role does a retailer like Bucherer play in your distribution?
Bucherer is one of the very few retailers to have such selling power, marketing expertise and merchandising know-how. It is a daring company with great ambitions and a long-term vision. Think of the acquisition of Tourneau in the USA or the way they have launched and shaped their CPO program. This is really impressive. The Bucherer BLUE concept itself is superb and they were the first. They are truly ahead of the game. Tonight’s event, beyond the launch of a Bucherer BLUE edition, shows their capacity to reinvent the way to present watches. Bucherer is a benchmark for all of us. I often visit their stores to see how they are working.
They are true partners for us. It goes beyond buying and selling watches. A meeting with Bucherer is about what can be done together to improve the way we work and create value together for our brands.
How was the Panerai Luminor Marina Titanio/DLC Bucherer BLUE created?
It is a 44mm Luminor Marina presented in DLC-titanium. The dial has been created using the Bucherer BLUE Pantone. The movement is our P-9010 with a closed caseback with a Bucherer engraving. It is limited to 188 pieces. It brings together the most iconic Panerai features. Working with Bucherer on this edition, we wanted something that would address American, European and Asian clientele.
Bucherer has just launched its certified pre-owned program. What’s Panerai’s take on CPO?
We have some experience with CPO because we work with Watchfinder in London. So we have feet in this new activity and we learn from it. We are gaining experience. Recently we have had a few watches that sold at impressive prices at auctions. For instance, a rare Radiomir sold for EUR 226,000. Very few watches achieve such prices for steel watches without complication. The resale value of Panerai watches shows the potential for CPO.
This year has been about Submersible. What can we expect for 2020?
The Bucherer BLUE edition gives a foretaste of what’s to come. 2020 will be a Luminor year. The Luminor was created in 1950 with its case and the use of tritium-based luminescent material. The 70th anniversary of Luminor will be our major theme.