Five questions to Jean-Marc Pontroué
At the end of the first Panerai XPerience ever, we sat down for a Q&A sessione with the CEO of the Italian brand.
At the end of the first ever Panerai XPerience, early this September, I spent some time with Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO of Panerai, talking about this experience, current product portfolio, present and future of the brand. I asked him five not so common questions, in my opinion, whose answers gave me a hint of what is in the works at the only Italian luxury watch brand in the business, whose history and military pedigree are as fascinating as no other.
Q - Since you first joined Panerai as new CEO, which are the areas you found the brand was strong enough, and which ones had to be strengthened instead?
A - Panerai is one of the top 25 watch operators in high-end watchmaking. Our first asset is the product, it's one of those watches you instantly recognize even without the logo on the dial, and it's the only Italian player in high-end watchmaking. I believe therefore the Italian flavor, and our motto "The Laboratorio di Idee," have to be further enhanced. Additionally, you can combine the best of two countries: the Swiss are the best in producing high-end watches, Italians are incredibly creative instead and often come with plenty of new ideas.
I prefer to work with a country where I have to say "no" to 80% of those ideas, rather than the other way round; Italians usually come with lots of creativity before we have any project briefing. Italy is, therefore, the most significant asset in our eco-system. So, to answer your question, we're pushing to get the brand even more Italian, even more attractive, even more aspirational. Here is the reason why we have hundreds of projects in Italy, in our pipeline.
Q - From a product perspective, the brand keeps investing a lot in new and innovative materials: we have the BMG-Tech™, for example, and now it's time for the Goldtech™. Is this strategy aimed at further separate the modern Submersible from the historic Luminor collection and can we expect more and more super-professional and military-ready timepieces along the way too?
A - Honestly, we have no project on that but can be a good idea, because the military gives us a great platform; not in terms of aggressivity, because we are cautious as we are in the environmental protection business too, but in terms of performance: diving deeper, running faster, climbing higher.
Our Submersible watches are "Survival Instruments," I think it gives us some chances in being even more spectacular in terms of functions, perhaps in colors, and specifications.
Q - One of the current trends in the industry is to avoid any proliferation of models and SKUs. Conversely, the concept of customization is widespread. How can you currently manage these apparently-conflicting targets?
A - There are two different answers to your question; first, there's what I call "core assortment" which in Panerai is very easy because we have around a hundred SKUs, which is not a lot in the industry. We have one rule we abide by, in our product development process: if we create 20 new SKUs in a year, we have to cancel 20 old ones.
Secondly, to meet base customization criteria, we have developed a wide range of straps, which add a different touch to any Panerai watch, especially when it comes to new colors.
Then we apply significant personalization as we move to high-end watches like tourbillons, where our customers are more demanding and don't just look for standard customization. In this regard, we do personalize parts like the case and the date, for example.
Q - I'd like to see a new Radiomir Egiziano and a Mare Nostrum re-issue too. What is in the works at Panerai, may you please tease us?
A - Next year it's all about the Luminor: from April onwards we will unveil a new one showcasing a green luminescence, as a signature of the brand. Concerning the specific models you mentioned, we're working on reviving these two icons but I don't want to create new families. We have many new developments in our roadmap that are, however, not hitting the market before 2022.
Q - Let's suppose I'm a potential Panerai customer, what should I expect before, during, and after the buying experience and why should I therefore choose a PAM, other than the product itself, over its peers.
A - Panerai is a brand for connoisseurs, known not just by the mainstream operators but also by the ones who know. However, the top 100 watch brands all craft quality products; hence, quality cannot be a factor of differentiation, as cannot be just measuring the right time either.
What you say is what is essential, the experience you offer is a compelling message, even to those who can't afford it or cannot be part of the 33 customers belonging to this specific project, but it is part of the innovative asset of the brand, and the "Laboratorio di Idee." Acqua di Parma is one of the top 10 luxury perfume makers and one that I follow; it is so quickly recognizable, thanks to its yellowish color, as soon as you're stepping in one of the brand's flagship boutiques.
Panerai is to the watch industry what Acqua di Parma is to the perfume business; we are not the biggest brand, but we offer an alternative like Acqua di Parma does, and the same was with Lamborghini at the time I was heading Roger Dubuis.
We were the Lamborghini of watches, and Lamborghini itself was back then an inspiration to me in terms of concept and customer experience, more than any other watch brand. Well, I see Acqua di Parma as a source of inspiration for us, I'm not saying we'll do what they're doing, but I want our customers feel they're buying a slice of Italy when they're buying a new Panerai wristwatch, as they do when they buy a product by Acqua di Parma.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Panerai, Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®