Jean-Marc Pontroué, the Frenchman who became CEO of Officine Panerai in April 2018, is hardly a stranger to the luxury world. He served as sales manager for Givenchy from 1995 to 2000, then went to Montblanc from 2000 to 2011, where he eventually became executive vice-president for product strategy and brand development. After Montblanc, Pontroué moved on to Roger Dubuis in 2011, where he assumed the role of President and CEO in 2012.
In a recent interview with Luxury London, the seasoned exec discusses a range of topics that show he is more than ready to meet the challenges facing a luxury watch brand, which has sometimes seemed to be stuck in the 1990s, despite having developed a cult following. The Q&A session shows that some of Pontroué’s strategies, including offering unique experiences along with limited-edition Panerai pieces, have paid off.
The Future of Panerai
The headline news is that the brand plans to launch a number of new products next year across its iconic Luminor and Radiomir lines, as well as the more professional diver-focused Submersible, and the thinner-cased Luminor Due range. “All luxury brands strive to create an iconic product family, whether they’re in eyewear, telephones, watches or handbags,” Pontroué says. “We had two families [Luminor and Radiomir], now we have four. We have no plans to launch new families but next year will probably be the biggest ever in terms of new products within the same families – new sizes, new dials, new straps.”
The brand has recently been making forays into different colored dials, so we expect more of that across the different collections in the coming future. Who’s in for a purple dial Panerai? Another innovation on the way: “Next year we will launch a product made of 40 per cent recycled components,” he reveals. “Our target is to be the first brand to have 100 percent of a watch made from recycled components, including the movement. Hopefully we will achieve this in between three and five years.”
Exclusivity and New Retail Strategies
U.S. retail sales of Swiss luxury watches jumped by double digits in the first half of 2018, and Panerai seems to be riding that wave – with caution. “The price isn’t really the issue; it’s how much added value you bring to your product,” Pontroué opines.
“The price is a cocktail of how much you bring to the table creatively, how much you bring in terms of limitation. We want to remain an exclusive brand; we will not increase production quantities in the next five years; the increase in business will come through creativity: new materials, new movements, more complications.”
Panerai’s plans also include new retailing strategies, such as e-commerce. “I totally believe in e-commerce because e-commerce and social media is about content – product is what you get at the end,” he says. “Content is what provides your brand with relevance. Panerai is a brand of content – it’s expressive, with a bold product, bold performance and an association with high-performance and extreme sports. As long as we have that, we have a voice on social media and in e-commerce.”
Expect more watches bundled with exclusive experiences, as those did well for the brand in the past year. “We want to offer customers access to more than just watches,” Pontroué says. “We are running three experiences in the next six months, allowing customers who purchase certain watches to dive alongside French free-diving world champion Guillaume Néry; accompany extreme explorer Mike Horn to Svalbard; or train for two days with commandos of the Italian Navy. To be honest, it was an experiment because we had no idea what the response would be; but it’s been a huge success. We had one customer who took all three watches.” Good old superfans.