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Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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:


Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

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.

Interview: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Talks 2020, The Year Of The Luminor, & Picks His Favorite PAM References ABTW Interviews

Watch Brands



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  • Mikita

    I wish Panerai remember what the brand is about. Is it really about 30M-WR $10k watches for pseudo frogman? Maybe, just for fun, make a single solid watch in more realistic 3-4k segment, but without usual puns like using unfinished calibers, snap-on casebacks, lack of sandwich, etc. I believe they will have enough profit if the put a well finished movement, screw-in caseback, sandwich, real >200M WR and everything good Panerai where known about in a 3-4k watch.

    • Joe

      I want to like Panerai (more than I do now) but just like JLC (of late) they make themselves hard to like.
      The Luminor Due to me summarises this wrong direction. I think it’s ok to introduce smaller watches with related DNA. However Panerai is supposed to be a dive brand, so the water resistance ratings should not be compromised (ie 10atm minimum). 30m WR, really?

      Just to explain my disappointment with JLC…using outdated movements with 38h PR in a new watch line is just inexplicable.

    • Jared

      the $3-4K segment is the desert of watches. Too expensive for impulse buying, not expensive enough to make it worth the marketing spend. Basically up to $3,000 people just buy a watch they like. After that it takes the same amount of convincing to sell a $4,000 watch as it does to sell a $8,000

      • Independent_George

        This is an interesting observation. I bought three watches, each priced around $2,500, as an impulse buys, and I no longer own them.

        Look at TAG. They offer, according to the website, 389 watches total. I count about 35 as priced between $3K and $4K, and about 15 or so of those are gem-set women’s quartz watches. You would think that TAG, of all brands, would dominate the $3-4K price point, if such a price point existed. But less than 10% of the total watches offered in TAGs current catalog fall within this price point.

        Hell, even Seiko is pushing Presage prices up toward the $3,000 mark, then you start seeing the “lux” models selling for more than $4K. Grand Seiko limits most of their sub $4,000 watches to quartz.

        Maybe a combination of marketing costs, low margins and consumer behavior make this the forbidden zone of watch pricing.

      • Mikita

        Well, one example. Most of the recent Bell & Ross BR03-92 fall exactly in the $3-4k range, have sandwich, top grade 2892 (of course I would have preferred a hand winding movement). Of course, they might not be in the same league (they aren’t obviously), but BR watches are well made, the sandwich is excellent, and they run more accurately (thanks to 2892) than most Panerai watches.

    • Russell DeJulio

      Agree 100%

  • SuperStrapper

    When is it going through be the year of the 1940. And don’t say 2040.

    • Independent_George

      Ha! I was going to say 2040 but you beat me to it.

  • Joe

    Also…strange to pick an automatic (1312) as a first Panerai.
    I would have thought it would be the manually wound PAM372 or PAM422 which are the most Panerai-like.

    • JamesWWIII

      Yep. My first Panerai was a PAM111. It represents well what I’d call the “DNA” of the brand.

  • PR

    Going quite a different direction it seems like and they are certainly trying to appeal to current trends like recycling and one time experiences. But one must wonder if they are pushing too far away from the core tool watch vibe that got them here.

    Maybe it doesn’t matter and this gamble will pay off and they will get a new fan base( looks like what he was hinting at with the DUE comment) but I am finding it hard to think that folks will be continue to be willing to push up to 10k for poorly spec’d watches and times that for a one time experience or recycled materials. It’s a bold risk for sure but at the expense of the existing fan base.

  • Joe

    Hey George, no you’re right, it’s just the Due.

    However I think Panerai could have offered 10atm WR on its Due line too, but simply chose not to.
    And as you say, I think they should continue to expand their lineup but I just think they missed an opportunity.

    For instance I have smaller wrists and wouldn’t wear a 47mm (or even a 45mm) Panerai.
    The Due could have worked for me but in this era I think they could have offered a minimum 10atm (like Seiko seem to mostly do – apart from their Tonneau-cased Presages).
    If they had kept their Due at 10atm WR, 100% of their lineup would be water-friendly. Ultimately I think this works against their Diver DNA and brand, but just my opinion.

    • Independent_George

      Good points. I was going to comment that the Due is the entry-level line, and I “guess” that’s true, even though their seem to be some Radiomir’s that are cheaper. But for that Panerai aesthetic with the crown guard, the Due seems to be the entry point, and if 30m WR is required to keep the price point within the 6-7K range, then so be it.

      • ray h.

        That was cool,yep if the best they can do at 6-7k is 30m wr,well….bless their heart !

        • Joe

          The half-moon Tight Seal Device was apparently designed for their (then only manualwind) divers, to help prevent de-threading of their crowns and crown tubes.
          It doesn’t make sense to me then to offer (what started as) an aid for a diving watch on something that only has 3atm WR.

          • ray h.

            Turns it in to a fashion watch right? That’s what a lot of people call them now, because what you pointed out.

          • Joe

            I find that a bit harsh, since I reserve that term for brands like Daniel Wellington!

            However I don’t think Panerai needed to do this and despite what I said above I would likely wear a 47mm watch before I ever touch anything from their Due line.

            So instead of calling it a fashion watch, I will simply vote with my wallet and say “it’s not for me”.

      • Changi Karhu

        Well, WR is hardly the main criteria for a luxury watch and considering the movements Due is hardly an entry level Panerai. The 30m WR is due to thinner case and starting from 38mm models they seems to be aiming new markets (esp. asian countries and also women).

  • Jared

    I bet most of the people attending those events were bloggers/media people….at least the coverage of Watchanish doing one of these events you could clearly see that his was a fairly large group.

  • Jared

    best to ignore people like that, they tend to have crazy high expectations with total disregard for what makes a luxury watch luxury. “yeah, I want an Audmears Piguet Royal Oak but for $3,000…then I’ll buy it!”

    • Mikita

      So why haven’t you ignored me?

  • Independent_George

    Open the back of an Aquaracer. Or the fact that TAG had to pull Autavia Isographs due to the fact that were having issues regulating them to chronometer certification specs. TAG makes a decent product, but they not a fine watchmaker. Any AD that carries them will tell you that. Good watches, and much better than the forum nerds claim but also with a higher rate of warranty work than say an IWC or Panerai. They are not a “fine” watchmaker.

    We can argue about Panerai’s perceived quality, but they strive to be a fine watchmaking brand, and, as such, are going to institute tighter manufacturing tolerances.

    • ray h.

      You seem to be of the school “if it cost more,it must be better” not evidence of that with Panerai in the general consensuses of owners on thees blogs and forums. I don’y really care ,just you seemed to have had some evidence tag is all around inferior to pam. ,I my friend ,am not so sure they are not very close in QC,(think of the cheap movements and Brooklyn watch debacle some years back.(seems to me that was the beginning of the end for their reputation even among the hard core.) if nothing else,and when comes to giving you bang for buck but that’s yet another story.

      • Independent_George

        Again, open the back of an Aquaracer, then open the back of a new Marina.

  • Mikita

    Haven’t had any experience with TAGs (Heuers?). But I can say that Panerai’s “tolerances” might be not as high as you expect them to be. Not impressed with their 510, neither from the accuracy, nor from the finishing. First of all, it gained around 15-20 sec daily out from the box. After being serviced three or so times, finally managed to (almost) match my other watch with 2892 caliber, but only for a month or so. Then the story repeated again. Overall, it’s a much less accurate watch compared to 2892 based one. Secondly – there was some noticeable burr in the movement, main plate. Maybe you won’t notice it, if I don’t point on it, but still. Sold it, but still miss the Panerai feeling. What I’m not missing is Panerai (lack) of quality.

    • Russell DeJulio

      Agree !

    • ray h.

      You sound like an awful lot of seasoned pam owners,that is they did not feel like they got the watch they paid (a lot) for.Same old story.Sorry to say.

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