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Just over a year ago, Jean-Marc Pontroué was named CEO of Officine Panerai. Although he is relatively new to the Italian watchmaker, he has worked within the Richemont family for decades at houses like Montblanc and Roger Dubuis.
At SIHH in Geneva last January, Panerai put forth a focus on sport and adventure. While performance and diving have always been at the heart of the brand’s offerings (inspired by its Royal Italian Navy heritage), its latest novelties took that one step further, into real experiences with adventurers Mike Horn and Guillaume Néry.
Whitewall spoke with Pontroué in Geneva about highlighting heroism, as well as incorporating innovative materials like EcoTitanium and Carbotech.
WHITEWALL: Since joining Panerai as CEO, what have you observed that makes the brand so unique?
JEAN-MARC PONTROUÉ: Panerai is such a mythical brand. What makes it unique is the bond of its main features and the way they are fused one to another: It stands for an exclusive technical sports watch brand, made of unmistakable Italian design as well as Swiss mechanical content and creative innovations closely associated to the sea.
WW: How does that translate into design direction?
JMP: Panerai’s Italian side is, for sure, a source of richness for the brand; it completely permeates Panerai products. The meaning of the slogan “Laboratorio di Idee,” which is part of the brand, is very original. I think that the greatest value of a brand is its ability to be different from what already exist and, at the same time, its ability to create new modern stories.
WW: Panerai’s offerings at SIHH this year are very focused on sport and performance. Tell us about this direction.
JMP: Sport and performance are naturally in Panerai’s DNA from the very beginning. What we are now adding is the willingness to be the pioneer in the sport-related experiences field, not only showing our lifestyle to customers, but making them live it. We aim to establish an even stronger connection with our customers, offering them a dive into Panerai’s world, which is much more than just a product.
We want to connect them to Panerai’s DNA of heroism and adventure. That is the idea behind the three unique experiences we developed: free diving in French Polynesia with Guillaume Néry; training with the Italian Navy Commandos; Arctic exploration with Mike Horn. Each experience is unique, emotional, and spectacular.
WW: The Panerai submersible Mike Horn edition is made from EcoTitanium. Can you tell us about this unique material?
JMP: EcoTitanium is a material first introduced into the world of high-quality watchmaking by Panerai. What is very interesting is that it is obtained not from the exploitation of natural resources, but from recycled titanium. In the Mike Horn edition’s model, the parts made of EcoTitanium are the case, the device protecting the winding crown, the bezel, and also the back, engraved on which is Mike Horn’s signature and an image inspired by the creatures which inhabit our seas.
WW: Is responsible sourcing of materials a growing focus for the brand?
JMP: This is a topic which has always been and still is very important for Panerai. We just did the EcoTitanium example, but speaking more in general, Panerai has a 360-degree commitment toward sustainability; from the necessary certifications to improve the quality and design characteristic of the brand to the guarantees related to the origin of raw materials and their impact on the environment.
WW: What makes the new Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech a “survival instrument”?
JMP: Panerai watches and precision instruments have equipped the commandos of the Italian Navy for years and, in honor of that partnership, today Panerai still makes creations of invincible spirit, which evoke the legendary history of those special forces who carried out numerous feats of heroism. The Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech is the latest of this creation, a professional underwater watch of remarkable technical performance made by the Panerai Manufacture in Neuchâtel.
It is made of Carbotech, a material lighter than titanium and stronger than stainless steel, which was introduced into the world of high-quality watchmaking by Panerai. The special composition of this material, based on carbon fiber, gives every individual watch a unique, unrepeatable camouflage appearance. Other fundamental requirements of every professional diving watch and which make it a survival instrument are the unidirectional rotating bezel that enables the times of immersion to be calculated with confidence, with legibility in the dark, and the black rubber strap fitted to the watch that is also very tough and perfect for diving.
WW: You’ve said that luxury products highlight your individuality. What do you think a Panerai says about its wearer?
JMP: I think it says that the man who is wearing it is a bold, adventurous man that wants—and is able—to go beyond his limits.