Dealers of time

Shilpa Dhamija | Updated on December 28, 2018 Published on December 28, 2018

Jean-Marc Pontroué   -  ©

In conversation with Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO of Panerai, which recently opened its third store in India

Admired by watch-lovers for its distinctive cushion-shaped dials, Panerai first shot to fame for developing Radiomir watches for the Royal Italian Navy commandos during World War II. Around the turn of the century, Panerai was acquired by Richemont, one of the largest luxury goods holding companies in the world. When Panerai showed its prowess in horology to the world with an amplified international distribution, there was no looking back. It is now one of the most profitable watch brands under the Richemont banner, and has been selling watches in India for nearly a decade. The Italian watchmaker now hosts three branded boutiques in India. During his introductory visit to India as the newly appointed CEO of Panerai, Jean-Marc Pontroué talked to LUXE about the future of the company and the challenge of wooing a new generation to buy mechanical watches.

The recently opened Palladium Mall boutique in Mumbai is your third installation in India. Would it be right to infer that India is emerging as an important market in Asia for Panerai?

India is not yet a very important market yet as compared to something like Paris, which is a very important city for most luxury brands. The ironic bit is that 80 per cent of the business there is made through tourists! When we choose cities it has always the local potential, plus the interest for tourists. We bet on Mumbai as well as Delhi and more cities in the future in India because we strongly believe that in the coming five years, India will become one of the top five countries where Panerai watches are popular. We see this today because Indians already travel and buy our products in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Paris and Singapore.

With you at helm of affairs at Panerai, what are your top targets to achieve?

The beauty of a brand which has 740 people is that it can be a very strong or a very bad asset. So how are you going to transform it into a very strong asset? Also, how to make an iconic brand not only iconic, but also hot? If I am able to do that, then I will be very happy. Building distribution is important. We bet on India because we believe that the the country is still growing. If you are one of the prime brands here, then you benefit more than other brands who enter the market in five or ten years. One has to take these risks when entering a new market. Now will the watches at SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, Geneva watch fair) be a flop, or a success? The only thing that matters, ultimately, is the number of people who wear your watch.

Panerai will launch the next bunch of novelty watches in Geneva in January 2019 at SIHH, one of the most important watch shows in the world. What should Panerai collectors expect?

It will be the year of Panerai submersible watches. It will be the first year where we take Panerai submersible watches as a dedicated line. We currently have two lines of products, Radiomir and Luminor. In the future, we will have four different segments with assortments of watches. To give you an example, Radiomir will be the line which tells us all the historical background of Panerai. If you want a vintage model, it will be a Radiomir. No more ceramic in Radiomir, it will be pure steel and red gold. The Luminor line is what is an icon of Panerai. They are hundred per cent made with Italian flair. The Due collection is a tool to acquire new customers, women or men, people who are not willing to wear bold and big watches but love the style, spirit and values of Panerai. Plus it allows us to make precious metal. Because when you do gold on a smaller model, the price is cheaper than doing precious metal on bigger pieces. Then we have the Submersible. It is a divers’ watch with pieces well researched and developed by our laboratories.

You were heading the Roger Dubuis watch brand before Panerai. Both are very different. How do you plan to make Panerai a cool brand while preserving the historic and iconic value. coming from a more youthful brand?

When you start with a watch house, it is most important to see what the institution stands for. Does it care for higher prices or higher complications or new materials? Panerai is not so different from Roger Dubuis. It is a masculine and bold brand. It is less expensive than Roger Dubuis. It is not into motor sport but it is in the super yachting business. The history of Panerai will not be an obstacle. It’s a source of inspiration for the future. What we will highlight in Panerai is the Laboratory-ID approach. The approach in Panerai has always been the new material approach. New materials like Carbotech, the Bronzo & the BMG (Bulk Metallic Glass technology denotes a metallic glass that is stronger and lighter than steel). Watches with these materials get sold even before we launch them! We already have a deposit for 1000 BMG watches worldwide and they are expensive watches.

How do you propose to promote Panerai among millennials and young watch collectors?

Attracting new generation in India, Middle East is priority number one. I have two kids — one is 21, the other 24. They get all their information on social media. I would not be surprised if they told me they have not spent a single euro on a newspaper. If I ask them how long were they on the internet to search for watches, they will say half an hour to two hours. When I have to decide how to target the next generation, should I advertise in newspapers or the internet? You already know the answer. This also varies from one country to another. The young generation is one of the key priorities.

Not many luxury watchmakers are using e-commerce to its full potential to sell watches. What is Panerai’s course of action to utilise e-commerce?

We have already started e-commerce in US, Europe. We will start in China soon. We will encourage e-commerce for people who are not close to a brand store. The group is investing a lot in the e-commerce business. We will also come out with online exclusive models. We want to develop a product offer which is very exclusive to online.

Shilpa Dhamija is the founder of

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Published on December 28, 2018
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