Jean-Marc Pontroué, who took over as CEO of Panerai this April, has spent a lifetime working with some of the world’s biggest luxury brands. He was with Givenchy for five years, followed by an 11-year stint at Montblanc, and was most recently the CEO of Roger Dubuis for six years. He was in Mumbai recently to celebrate the opening of the third Panerai store in the country, where he met MW for an exclusive interview. Here is an excerpt:
Panerai now has three stores in India, which is quite a feat considering the experience of many other high-end watchmakers in recent times. What is your India strategy?
We opened our first store six years ago. We now have three stores. It shows our confidence in India as a market. We see a large number of Indians going to places like Paris, Singapore, London or Dubai and buying Panerai watches. So, it’s an alert to us that we should be more involved locally. In some countries, we cover the market with one store, but we cannot pretend to cover a market of 1.3 billion inhabitants with one store. So we have to be visible. Visibility is critical for the credibility of the brand in any country. If we were to wait for another 20 years to open a new store, the cost of entering the market goes up more than 20 times. I firmly believe that this is one of the very few promising markets where it makes sense to invest for the future.
Will more stores be coming up in the near future?
Before we start to think about what could be the next opening, we’re going to play with what we have. We will ensure that we can make it a success, create an excellent database, acquire interesting new customers, find out how our customers are reacting to our products etc. After that, we can decide whether we should open ten more stores in India or whether we should wait. It’s a question of proportion. If we had only India to take care of, it would be very easy. The problem is that that we have about 20 countries that also require investments, priorities, new projects, new models etc. So, what we do in India also depends a lot on the resources we invest in other countries.
Angelo Bonati was a legend at Panerai for having rejuvenated the brand as we know it in the last 20 years. What is your plan for the brand going forward?
We are brand builders, we are storytellers, and we are retailers who provide the emotions of a brand to customers. That is our biggest mission. I will invest all my energy to continue the success story that Angelo Bonati started 22 years ago. However, it will be a different style; it will be a different story. He created the foundation, and now we have to build on it. Antonio has established the key assets of the brand, a team of 720 people in 25 different countries, and a retail network of 80 boutiques. We will continue to enrich it. But we will not create new lines of products – no squarish, no rectangular, no long watches, no cheaper watch with quartz movement etc.
You have been with Panerai for six months. How is it different from the other watch companies that you worked for in the past, like Montblanc and Roger Dubuis?
Well, each brand is like a kid. Each kid reacts differently to feelings, to chance, to messaging, to communication, to passions, to emotions etc. No kid responds the same way as another kid. So whether it is Montblanc, Roger Dubuis or Panerai, the key is to remain loyal to what the brand has experienced from its very beginning. If you try to make changes that are not consistent with the brand’s philosophy, it won’t work. The key when you enter a brand is to learn how it is vibrating. Panerai, for example, has a vibe that is very masculine, bold, sporty, technical and Italian in its flavour. We had no Italian flavour in Roger Dubuis or Montblanc.
The new L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time that you launched this year is a very compelling watch, even by the standards of Panerai. Can you give us the backstory of this watch, and how has it done in the market?
It is part of the assortment we have in our high-end watchmaking segment. I strongly believe that Panerai has a message to provide in the high-end segment in terms of credibility, in terms of manufacturer competence and in terms of innovation principles. L’Astronomo is a watch that does that. It is a watch inspired by history, and it is targeted at countries where customers are seeking high-end complications, including markets like India. It is doing very well. We produce 20 pieces every year, and we sell all of them.