I recently got the chance to spend an hour talking with Jean-Marc Pontroué, who has served as CEO of Panerai since 2018. Prior to taking on this role, he was President and CEO of Richemont sibling Roger Dubuis and was at Montblanc before that. Just as 2019 was the year of the Submersible, 2020 is going to be the year of the Luminor. Jean-Marc had to be understandably tight-lipped about new offerings, but he did go out of his way to call 2019 “conservative” when compared with what’s to come in 2020…
We also talked about the “experiences” that were introduced this year and what’s in store for the future after the “warm-up exercise” that was the introductory year of 2019. Jean-Marc says the rand is so deep in ideas that it can have 10 experiences a year for several centuries (which I’m at least somewhat sure was hyperbole), but the point remains that we should expect new and novel experiences to be a regular thing for the years to come.
We talked about the future of environmental sustainability and the subject of electric cars came up a few times, including the topic of when we can hope to see more affordably priced Panerai watches that use sustainable materials like EcoTitanium. Though indirect, I think we can assume that the parallel means it’ll be a little while until that happens, sadly. We can look forward to the furthering of sustainable materials with a new dial that will be made using recycled fishnet. I’m looking forward to seeing that.
I also asked Jean-Marc what PAM reference he loves most, which he thinks is most underrated, and which he would recommend to someone new to the brand.
Below is the full aBlogtoWatch interview with Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué:
Let’s talk experiences. We’ve had an Arctic expedition with Mike Horn, training with COMSUBIN in Italy, free-diving with Guillaume Nery in French Polynesia. How did these go?
2019 was a warm-up exercise that has been offered to something like 67 customers in total. I wanted to test it to see if our organization was able to do these types of experiences. These first few experiences have gotten great feedback from the customers and press.
So, next year, instead of three we will have eight experiences. We believe that, in the next three years, Panerai has the ability and creativity to develop 10 experiences per year for 300 years. But we need to be novel in finding the right program because these experiences need to be disruptive in that they can’t be offered by many others. As you know, the principle is a limited-edition product associated with a spectacular experience. This leads to a package that’s limited in terms of an audience. This year, for example, we had 15 for Guillaume Nery in Bora Bora, 19 with Mike Horn in the North Pole, and 33 with Marina Militaire in Italy.
Can you tell us about a new experience coming up this year?
I can unveil one, which is going to be a new tourbillon that will be associated with the Luna Rossa Sailing team. When the finals of the America’s Cup World Series happens in Auckland, New Zealand in 2021, we will pick the experience-goers up from their homes anywhere in the world and take them to Auckland for three days where they will sail with the America’s Cup team, after which we will drop them back home.
Let’s say, in a perfect world, you could come up with a “dream experience” without any limitations — what would it be?
Going to the moon! Soon, you’re going to have companies that are offering trips into space. There are companies in the U.S. and Europe that have been marketing this.
Right, like Space X.
Exactly. Experiences should be things you’ve read about but never thought could be possible. Maybe we’ll be dead before it happens, but I’m sure that day will arrive.
I want to move on to the new Panerai Ecológico program. Sustainability and environmentalism aren’t limited to new products but rather the whole organization at Panerai.
Ecológico is like an umbrella concept supported by the 740 employees at Panerai, and it’s one of the pillars of our brand organization. We use video conferences to save on transportation. We make sure we are building our new infrastructure to consume less energy, like our headquarters in Geneva. Now, we also think about how we can develop our new products to integrate an environmentally conscious approach. Two years ago, this was not our priority.
So many brands in the car industry are thinking about how to save energy with hybrid and electric technology. Of course, that is a much bigger industry in terms of numbers and pollution because, at the end of the day, watches are not a polluting industry. Still, I believe that, since we are exposed to the oceans, we all have a responsibility to do something.
You said that something like 20% of the value of the Mike Horn comes from recycled material (EcoTitanium, Nylon from fishing nets for strap), and next year that number will be double for certain similar pieces. You’ve also said you hope to make pieces with 100% of their value coming from recycled materials within the next five years.
Can you talk about what is new coming up in 2020 with regard to recycled materials, as well as the longer-term innovations in this space to achieve a product that’s made from 100% recycled material?
When it comes to products, next year we want to have four aspects made with recycled products. Packaging will be 100% recycled material. For the case, we will, once again, use Eco-Titanium. The straps will, again, be done with PET plastic bottles. Finally, the dial will be made with fishnet. Altogether, this is going to make up 40% of the value of the watch.
The dial being done in fishnet is new, right?
Yes, that is one of the new components.
We are working on the very first recycled watch that should be launching in the next three to five years. For this, we will have to do the entire movement with recycled materials, not with materials from scratch.
We are working with a few companies here because doing the first components is rather easy, but the more you step up, the more complicated it gets. That final remaining part to get to 100% is the challenge. All of our development teams are aware of this priority and work with our suppliers, who take into account this new environmental approach.
It takes time to repurpose materials for a recycled movement, but the principle is that you have to start somewhere. Again, the watch industry is much like the car industry; it took something like 10 years to develop the electric concept. Panerai sees the oceans as our natural playground, so I think the brand has a stronger connection to this concept than some others.
Just one more thing on this topic. Since this is a new thing Panerai is doing, obviously the costs are quite high to create something like an EcoTitanium case. Can we expect more affordable recycled pieces?
Again, the parallel is the electric car. They’re more expensive than normal cars, and we have the same problem with watches. A recycled watch costs a lot more than a normal watch because there’s a whole new network of companies that have never worked with a watch brand before. With eco-titanium we work with a french company called Eramet, and Panerai is the first watch brand it’s working with. The company is accustomed to exporting huge amounts of titanium, and we just need a few kilograms.
So, we’re on a learning curve with these new developments and processes.
OK, moving on to next year. You’ve mentioned that 2020 will be the year of the Luminor. What can we expect, and what’s your vision for the Luminor in 2020?
Well, I can tell you that 2019 was a conservative year compared to what’s happening next year when we will be celebrating the Luminor. I promise you new materials, new movements, and new experiences, but you’ll have to wait a few months to learn about the new products.
We’ll be looking forward to it! Some newer developments you can speak about include the expansion of the Luminor Due collection and the upcoming Luminor Due PAM1041 and PAM1042 in red gold.
We’ve found that almost 100% of Luminor Due customers are new to the brand, and so the collection hasn’t fully reached all our customers yet. We were missing gold pieces because, historically, Panerai hasn’t been a brand that does gold watches due to the weight and how large the watches are, which made the price prohibitive. These are two pieces in red gold that will be available soon and will complete the assortment of the Due collection.
Right, the Luminor Due obviously made Panerai watches that are more suited to the tastes of buyers in emerging global markets as well as women buyers. Still, the U.S. is still Panerai’s biggest market, right?
Yes, this year we’ve opened new locations in Chicago and Houston, and we’ll be opening our second New York store in Hudson Yards. Our network in the USA is growing fast with boutiques, and I’m proud to be at the head of a company that has America as its number one country in the world.
Moving on to you — can you talk about your personal relationship with Panerai and how you fell in love with the brand? And what’s your personal favorite so far?
When I joined Richemont in 2000, Paenrai was a brand I was fascinated by. Before you get excited about a product, you get excited about a brand’s story. Panerai has a unique story because it’s really the only big player that comes from Italy. What I also love is that the brand has a power that you love or you hate, but it makes a statement. I’m not a fan of the brands that try to please everybody.
Personally, I like bigger watches. The Submersible 47mm Luna Rossa that uses part of the Lusna Rossa boat is one I truly love.
What do you think is the most underrated or overlooked Panerai reference?
Well, the one I find interesting that I don’t think gets enough attention is the Tourbillon that was launched about five years ago now. It’s a piece that never got any staging with marketing, though next year we will have the new edition that will have the experience with Luna Rossa. That will allow us to stage that complication because I feel too few people know it, simply because it’s not at most of our stores because it’s the kind of product with a waiting list.
It has the essence of Panerai, the essence of Liboratorio di idee. It’s done in incredibly light titanium material with 3-D printing, and it’s a skeleton movement. Again, it’s the essence of Panerai with all the innovation in the signature case from the brand.
Finally what’s your personal recommendation for someone new to the brand who wants that Panerai DNA in one approachable reference?
With no hesitation, the magical number is 1312 — the Luminor Marina PAM 1312 . It’s the product you think of when you think of Panerai.