Interview: Panerai’s CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Previews The Future Of Watchmaking

Interview: Panerai’s CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué Previews The Future Of Watchmaking

Watchonista talks to the Panerai CEO about how the future of watchmaking is community and collaboration.

By Rhonda Riche

Fairs like Watches & Wonders are not just about the buying and selling of new timepieces. They are also a marketplace of ideas.

This year, Panerai won accolades from both fans and the media for working to build an environmentally conscious and sustainable future with two new releases – the new eSteel collection and the eLAB-ID – a concept watch made from 98.6 percent recycled material.

The watches look great, but perhaps the most beautiful thing to come out of this moment is that it is an open-source project. At the time of their release, Panerai provided a list of all the suppliers and engineers involved in the project with the hope that the rest of the watch industry will take more definitive steps toward a sustainable future.

But this is not the only example of Panerai’s commitment to the community. Last year also saw the launch of the PAMCAST – a digital space where Paneristis could gather while the world was under lockdown.

On a Zoom call with Watchonista, Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué talked about how collaboration is key when building a better tomorrow. 

Conceptual Collaboration

The eSteel collection and the eLAB-ID concept watch are big news. But we were curious to know more about how these watches came to be.

“Every year, we ask ourselves, ‘Can you create a new concept?’ ” said Pontroué. “In the last 30 years, we’ve also given much more thought about the consequences of production to the environment.”

Panerai has always teamed up with celebrities with a connection to the natural world. Ambassadors include photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin, free diver Guillaume Néry, and explorer Mike Horn. “They have educated us about the issues,” Pontroué told Watchonista. “You live in a place with huge spaces to keep protected. It’s one of the biggest challenges. And now collaboration is exactly the concept.”

Case in point: the eSteel collection and eLAB-ID timepieces look like a traditional Panerai. Unsurprising, given the brand has been using upcycled materials in its straps for years.

What is new is Panerai’s willingness to listen to and work with people outside of the watch industry to advocate for change within. “There are only 30 pieces available,” commented Pontroué. “It’s not going to change the world. The real concept is what more can we do in the future.”

The idea of working with Eco-Titanium initially developed three years ago after a conversation with Mike Horn. Panerai first used recycled metal from the hull of Horn’s ship (itself made of recycled aluminum) to create the 50mm Submersible EcoPangaea Tourbillon GMT Mike Horn Edition (PAM01108) in 2020. But as environmentally sensitive as that watch was, the brand recognized it could do better.

That is how Panerai turned to outside manufacturers to help the brand develop ways to incorporate everything from recycled Super-LumiNova on its dials to recycled silicon components in its movement’s escapement. And then, in the spirit of full transparency, Panerai made the list of these suppliers available to everybody.

Sharing is Caring

“Sharing knowledge is good practice,” said Pontroué. “I’ve learned from others, and I want to share my success. I want us all to survive. I want an open business model.”

Sharing shouldn’t be shocking, but, for some reason, the Swiss watch industry has always operated behind a veil of secrecy. “The beauty of our brand is that we are the only player that comes from Italy. We have appeared on the list of top 20 luxury brands, but we are still young. It allows us to be disruptive,” the CEO continued.

In the spirit of collaboration, Panerai is open to listening to enthusiasts as well. “Panerai clients are so passionate,” added Pontroué. “People email me or contact me through LinkedIn all the time. We like to hear what they have to say.”

Connecting during Quarantine with PAMCAST

It hardly needs saying but connecting with clients was a challenge for all brands at the height of the pandemic. It was especially problematic for Panerai, however, because buying one of this brand’s watches is more than a mere transaction – it is an experience.

In 2019, beginning with the revamped Submersible collection, the brand began offering experiential packages alongside select limited editions. “It allowed the creation of a community,” said Pontroué. And when the pandemic put planned adventures for 2021 on pause, Pontroué came up with PAMCAST – a digital storytelling platform that brought these immersive journeys straight to the Paneristi.

“PAMCAST allowed us to travel the world when we were all under lockdown,” Pontroué told Watchonista. And these virtual adventures were a success. PAMCAST connected the brand not just with owners but also a younger audience of would-be buyers. “We thought the biggest issue was not getting people to come but getting them to stay on the site,” he added. That turned out not to be a problem at all.

Moreover, PAMCAST allows viewers to go behind-the-scenes of Panerai partnerships like the one between its Laboratorio di Idee and the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team.

The brand has just also signed a long-term commitment to the UNESCO Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development project. The goal of the UNESCO-Panerai partnership is to promote environmental education and literacy, thus enabling people to embrace a more responsible mindset and behavior towards the ocean and its preservation.

“We want to make upcycling common-place in luxury. That’s why we’re making a long-standing commitment to not only donate but also share resources and educate,” said Pontroué. “The watch, PAMCAST, is not just a novelty. Our perspective is that they will start a movement.”

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