While the general population is becoming increasingly more comfortable purchasing high-value items online, a brick-and-mortar retail presence is still highly important when it comes to the luxury watch market. In addition to providing buyers with the opportunity to experience how watches actually wear on their wrists, boutiques also serve as the public-facing image of brands, and they create a unique environment where customers can immerse themselves in the world of a company and learn more about its products. For 2023, Panerai has launched Casa Panerai, which is its new flagship boutique located on Madison Avenue in the heart of New York City, and this new retail location is now the brand’s largest in the entire world.
Located at 711 Madison Avenue, right down the street from numerous other famous luxury brands such as Tiffany & Co. and Hermes, Casa Panerai is exponentially larger than the company’s previous New York City boutique. Spanning two floors and including a bar stocked with Italian beverages, the goal of Casa Panerai is to create a physical destination that is both befitting of Panerai as a brand, and also one that is able to translate its spirit into a retail environment with an increased emphasis on hospitality and approachability. Rather than opting for the traditional boutique approach of just having current-collection watches inside glass display cases, Casa Panerai aims to create a much more comfortable and immersive experience, and the new location almost feels more like a mix between a lounge and a museum, rather than just being a straightforward retail space.
While Casa Panerai certainly has the brand’s current models on display, the walls are also occupied by other items such as historic models, reproductions of original technologies, and copies of various patents and certifications that chronicle the brand’s history and significant milestone moments. Upon entering the doors of Casa Panerai, you are greeted by the familiar oversized green luminous clock that can be seen in various forms at other Panerai boutiques, while a large LED screen occupying the wall immediately to the left displays various Panerai-related graphics. While similar features can be observed at various other boutiques, directly to the right-hand side of the entranceway is an interactive submarine periscope installation that can be raised and lowered by pressing the two buttons adjacent to it. Further inside the boutique is a detailed museum-worthy timeline set against an original brick wall that spans nearly 30 feet and incorporates a number of physical objects that help tell the story of the brand’s history and highlight its landmark innovation.
Given that New York City is one of the fashion capitals of the world and serves as a shipping destination for countless individuals, both from other U.S. cities and abroad, creating a larger NYC retail space simply made a lot of sense for Panerai as a premier luxury brand. While other cities such as Miami and Los Angeles are also highly important to Panerai, its presence in New York City had simply outgrown its previous location, and as the brand’s largest boutique in the world, Casa Panerai will allow the brand to cater to more customers, while also providing them with a more elevated and interactive experience. Additionally, Madison Avenue is where you will find many other famous brands’ flagship boutiques, and having a major presence in this historic and prestigious retail destination helps assert Panerai among the various other premier marquees from a number of different luxury industries.
While the American market makes up a significant portion of sales for all luxury watch brands, I didn’t quite realize how important American buyers were to Panerai until I had a chance to sit down and speak with the brand’s CEO, Jean-Marc Pontroué. The United States is Panerai’s largest global market, accounting for some 20% of its total sales; however, this does not include all of the American buyers who purchase Panerai watches from various other boutiques around the world while traveling abroad. Buying luxury items overseas is a fairly common practice, but the number of Americans who choose to purchase a Panerai from one of the brand’s other international boutiques is significantly higher than what I had anticipated.
To help illustrate how much Americans love Panerai, Pontroué took out his phone and showed me that day’s sales figures from the brand’s Florence boutique. Among all of the watches sold by that particular store that day, Italian buyers were the significant minority, yet approximately half of the watches were sold to Americans. Although some collectors make intentional efforts to buy a Panerai from the brand’s Florence boutique for the full-Italian experience, high percentages of American buyers are not just something that is exclusive to the brand’s various Italy-based stores, and similar figures exist for many of its other boutiques, such as those located in France and Switzerland.
While Panerai watches are manufactured in Switzerland, the company is first and foremost Italian when it comes to its fundamental design approach and heritage. Just like the watches themselves, the new Casa Panerai boutique has been conceived and designed entirely by the Panerai Studio, which is the brand’s in-house creative agency based in Milan. Additionally, if there were any doubts about where the brand’s heritage lies, the boutique opening featured an outdoor area that transformed the New York City sidewalk into a miniaturized Italian street, complete with vintage Italian cars, gelato, and an espresso stand, along with a team of guys making individual pizzas on the spot and a wealth of different exclusively-Italian beverages. Even Hollywood actor Chris Pratt was in attendance, and while this is simply due to the fact that he is a long-time fan of the brand and a current Panerai Ambassador, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pratt also plays the voice of Mario in the recent Super Mario Bros. Movie, and the titular cartoon video game character also happens to be an Italian plumber, so we can count that as yet another Italian-inspired detail of the event.
Casa Panerai represents a significant step up from the brand’s previous New York City location, and as Panerai’s largest boutique in the world, it offers a significantly more elevated overall experience. Buying a luxury watch can often be a very personal purchase, and many people want to feel connected to the brand that produces their watch. Part of why collectors and enthusiasts love microbrands is because they get to interact directly with the small handful of people who create their watches. However, for global luxury icons like Panerai, this simply isn’t possible, and a different approach is needed in order to bring people into their world and make them feel like they have a connection to the watch on their wrist. Approachable and immersive retail environments like Casa Panerai serve as excellent ways of achieving this, and they give customers the opportunity to steep themselves in the world of the brand, learn about its history, have a drink, and then walk out with their favorite model. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.