August 28, 2010
by Ariel Adams
Probably good that Panerai doesn’t sell an “FU” watch in the western world as we are probably going to take it as a signal of their amusement that we are putting up with their prices. No, Panerai doesn’t even care too much about the English speaking world for the time being. Richemont, and other luxury watch groups have their sights securely set on (primarily) China, and other parts of Asia, given the fact that the only excitement in watch sales to be seen now is coming from those regions of the world. Each brand is vying for the attention and respect of the Chinese consumer – who is fundamentally a different animal than that the western consumer as I understand it. I hear tales of how Chinese consumers actually understand the mechanics of watches, know the values, and have keen eyes for details. Scary stuff for some watch retailers and some brands! Actually this is good. Not that people like us are without knowledge, but we aren’t exactly the “typical” watch buyer here in the states (which is why each of you needs to educate at least one person a month on the pleasure of being into expensive little machines).
As much as I don’t like being in a country where my beloved hobby and career isn’t taken as seriously as it would if I lived in Europe or Hong Kong – I am happy that in places where watches are selling well, the consumers are forcing brands to put their best stuff on the table. Panerai never made a watch with a four-leaf clover on it, but they don’t have a problem making one with the Chinese character “Fu” that means good luck, or good fortune. Probably the most important “positive” character in the Chinese language as I am told. Is this the best way of telling consumers in China that “Panerai really does care about you?” I am not sure. I think enough Panerai fans will enjoy the novelty, but history tells me that Chinese consumers like western things because they are western. Panerai is seen as an Italian brand, not a Chinese one. So why is there Chinese on the dial? It is entirely possible that this tactic works wonderfully for brand fans looking for a cool new limited edition piece – but how will it work in the long term. It is part of what I call “Asianification” of watch brands. Basically where a non-Asian brand focuses their designs, sizes, limited editions, etc… on the Asian market. The result is a total removal of the character and status that made the brands popular in the first place. If people in China want to buy watches made for the Chinese market, they have loads of local options. When they buy Panerai they want an Italian watch with an Italian or Swiss movement.
I think that having dedicated brand boutiques and marketing in a certain region is enough communication that a brand is “serious” about that region’s people. China has a lot of attention from high-end watch brands. Those brands should focus on what they do best in their home countries and carry it over to China, not try new things there necessarily.
The watch in steel, is 44mm wide with a Swiss (base ETA) OP II movement that is manually wound. I think this might be a Unitas. It has 50 hours of power reserve, and Panerai has them all COSC Chronometer certified. Water resistant to 300 meters, the watch has a sapphire crystal and a subsidiary seconds dial. Pretty standard stuff for entry level Panerai watches – which is what this is. At 1,500 units in the limited edition of the piece, these aren’t exactly super special in the scheme of Panerai watches. The whole allure here seems to be the whole “Panerai + Fu” aspect of the watch. You are basically talking about a simple Panerai with the Fu character on the dial as the 6 o’clock indicator. So while enough people in China will love the watch, I don’t feel as though it communicates a sincere level of Panerai “connecting” with the Chinese people. Panerai and other European brands need to stick with what they are good at, and simply market it well in China. Changing their image too much with permanently take away from the brand’s character, and ultimately damage sales in China, and the world over. Price for the Panerai Luminor Marina PAM366 China edition watch is reportedly about $4,400.
See Panerai watches on eBay here.