At a time when only essential services are thriving, it is hard to see the silver lining to one of the world’s worst health pandemics. But Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué is doing exactly that.

Responsible for 720 employees, Panerai was forced to temporarily close two thirds of its global stores due to the novel coronavirus.

From Panerai’s HQ in Geneva, Switzerland, Jean-Marc sat down with The CEO Magazine in what has become the new norm of video calls.

“We have been taken by surprise because we didn’t expect this to land so brutally with so much strength in Europe, started by our friends in Italy,” Jean-Marc explains. “Our first priority has been to see how we can save the lives of our employees.”

Working country by country, Panerai’s boutiques are operating to different measures across the world. Quarantine guidelines and social distancing restrictions have created challenging situations but each day inches a step closer to normality.

“Many people – some for the first time in their lives who have never experienced any crisis – see that you can live differently and not in a never-ending race.” – Jean-Marc

“Now we see some light in the tunnel,” Jean-Marc says. “Over the past two weeks we have seen boutiques reopen in China, the US, Germany – but we do maintain very low activity compared to the pre-COVID world.”

Many believe the novel coronavirus is nature’s way of slowing down the world, allowing for a much-needed climate reset and environmental recharge.

“People are re-approaching their priorities,” Jean-Marc says. “You don’t necessarily need to be in the speed of opening new products, managing deceleration is a very different approach than always being in a race of more – more profit, more projects, shorter deadlines – this race where you have to run faster and faster and faster.

“I think this deceleration is a very good approach to rethink how you can be happy, and not necessarily at any cost.

Panerai CEO
Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué

“It’s making many people – some for the first time in their lives, kids who are 23 to 26 years old have never experienced any crisis – see that you can live differently and not in a never-ending race.”

Jean-Marc, who rides his bicycle to Panerai’s HQ most days, explained the global health crisis has given him more time.

From spending 40% of his time travelling out of Switzerland to taking just 20 minutes to commute to his office, the executive is enjoying the spare time.

“I haven’t been in an airport since mid-January, which hasn’t happened to me in the past 30 years,” Jean-Marc reflects. “I read much more than usual; I do more sport than usual – I think it’s a much more balanced life.”

But the increased relaxation is bittersweet.

“I miss travel a lot because, at the end of the day, you learn your job by travel and meeting customers and the team,” he says. “Zoom, WhatsApp, emails – they’re my best friends.

“I think we have to remain optimistic. I’m an optimistic person so I believe in the human nature to find a vaccination in coming months.

“The memory has something which is great: you forget the bad things and remember the good things.”

Panerai guarantees 70 years of perfection

It’s this passion for wellbeing, sustainability and ecological preservation that flourishes through everything Panerai produces.

Last year was all about the Submersible. This year, the light is being shone on Luminor.

“I like the idea of being very focused,” Jean-Marc tells The CEO Magazine. “I don’t like the idea of having hundreds of priorities.”

The Swiss watchmakers focused their craft on the company’s best seller, Luminor 1312, by creating a striking range developed through innovative materials.

“When you develop products for the military environment, the first reason for our products to exist is the reliability.” – Jean-Marc Pontroué

Limited to just 270 pieces each, the Luminor Marina 44mm (PAM1117), Luminor Marina Carbotech 44mm (PAM1118) and Luminor Marina Fibratech 44mm (PAM1119) are some of the most spectacular of its new releases.

But it’s the 70-year guarantee that really packs a punch with watch aficionados.

Marking the 70th anniversary of the Luminor’s introduction, Panerai promises a 70-year warranty for these three limited-edition models.

“It’s not a gimmick,” the CEO says. “The 70 years is a way to say that our brand exists because we come from the military world. When you develop products for the military environment, the first reason for our products to exist is the reliability.

“The 70 years for us is proof we can take that type of risk because we have reliable movements.”

Inside the Panerai laboratory

Innovative materials including Carbotech, Fibratech and precious metals encapsulate the 2020 Luminor range.

“For me, the beauty of Panerai is its position as a pioneer brand,” Jean-Marc says. “In terms of product concepts and marketing concepts, we have to be a pioneer otherwise we don’t exist.”

The brains behind the captivating creations are 15 talented chronographers, all honing their craft for fine Italian timepieces in the Geneva laboratory.

“Even working on gold, which is a very old material, we have been able to improve it or bring additional innovation to add our Panerai touch.” – Jean-Marc

Responsible for exploring new materials, exciting services and state-of-the-art creations, the watchmakers play with time, tinkering with what could be, in 10 years’ time, the brand’s newest watch.

The pioneers have been scouting partnerships with universities, car manufacturers, aviation companies and medical institutes to develop the next game-changing material.

“All their prerequisites to develop new materials are all the same prerequisites for us, which are, for us, very interesting because they’re lighter and faster,” the Panerai CEO explains. “That’s the beauty of partnerships. You can go to a medical company here and they aren’t skeptical about opening the door because you’re not in the same business.

“You can also come to Panerai, whoever you are, to visit and get access to all different departments.”

Although, the highly exclusive laboratory is off-limits for cameras.

Not only does Panerai delve into the unknown with new materials, but it revitalises traditional methods including the use of gold.

Developed purely for the Italian company, Goldtech has a share of copper that prevents products from discolouring in the future.

“Even working on gold, which is a very old material, we have been able to improve it or bring additional innovation to add our Panerai touch,” Jean-Marc says.

The future of luxury

While Panerai promises that selected timepieces of its 2020 collection will perform at optimal levels until at least 2090, the reassurance also plays a role in redefining luxury.

“I strongly believe the future of luxury is not only about the product but experiences; services, assistance, moments in time,” Jean-Marc says.

Its rich 160-year Italian heritage strongly plants the company ahead of its competitors.

“The future of luxury and Panerai is to develop this type of experience for which you pay,” the executive says. “Customers are entitled to get a product associated with an experience, with a special host; a celebrity or one of our ambassadors.

“It’s for our historical customers to enjoy something they cannot find in any tourist guide.”

From an expedition to the Arctic with explorer Mike Horn (limited to just five guests who will each receive the new Panerai Submersible EcoPangaea Tourbillion GMT PAM01108) to a two-day experience with the Italian Navy special forces, the adventurous escapades are limitless, making for truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

And it’s the passion for fine Italian craftsmanship that helps shape opulent experiences.

“We are the only pure Italian player in the watch industry,” he says. “We have permission to be more creative than the rest of the watch industry. Otherwise, what is the beauty of being Italian?"