“Lo comandante del tempo” is the slogan expressed by Panerai in its advertisements. But the “commander of time” would be a fitting nickname for Panerai’s CEO, Angelo Bonati. Not because he’s an imposing man like Russell Crowe, a fan of his watches, but because he has waged a decade-long campaign for global domination and emerged victorious. In so doing, he has staged the final transformation of Panerai, from being the world’s fastest growing luxury watch brand, to becoming the youngest, but most exciting legitimate manufacture.
At what point, since taking the brand’s helm, did you know that Panerai could be a real manufacture? My vision, from the moment I received the phone call to tell me that Richemont had acquired Panerai and wanted to transform it from a military tool into a high luxury icon, is exactly what you have seen over the last ten years, culminating in our three new in-house calibers. Because in the beginning, those of us involved in this brand allowed ourselves to dream. We would say, “It would be fantastic if… It would be fantastic if…” And in the end, we realized everything we’d dreamed of.
So right from the beginning, you wanted to have an in-house caliber? Yes. It was from the very beginning that I had the ambition to transform Panerai into a legitimate manufacture and not just a brand. When I first analyzed Panerai, I saw that we were full of values. We had an incredible history, an incredible story, and a family that was still alive and deeply connected to Florence. From the perspective of the product, the shapes of the cases were already iconic. The signature features like the crown-locking device on the Luminor, the lugs on the Radiomir and, above all, the dials were highly distinctive. Panerai had pioneered technical advancement in luminous substances, but we did not have any technical values in watchmaking. We did not make movements. For me to add something to the enduring story of this beautiful brand, I had to bring it to its next stage of evolution.
Please tell us how you’ve evolved the technical content of Panerai over the years There has been a gradual evolution. First, in terms of the finish we applied to movements and the increase in reliability with the addition of swan-neck regulators; then, to the creation of movements exclusive to us with highly functional complications; and finally, to the advent of our own movements. The prices for the pre-Vendome watches and the pre-A and A-series watches are very high at the moment. But this is based on their historical place in our story. Looking at the technical content of the new watches, they are taking a big step forward.
How important is for you that the movements express the identity of Panerai? It is critical that the movements express our identity. We conceptualized and built up these movements based on our identity, and not just thinking of what would be nice functions. I remember when I first conceptualized the movement, I put all these different functions on a piece of paper. As I went through them, I made sure that every one of them was something that fit perfectly within our identity. Even the way the movements are mounted inside the watch cases has been optimized to be as stable as possible because Panerais may be luxurious, but they must still express an emotional connection to our past as a tool for heroes. This is why Panerai has an established reputation for being very reliable. Even visually, there is strength and robustness, which you will immediately recognize as a Panerai movement.
How does zero reset express Panerai’s identity? Zero reset (where the watch’s small seconds hand jumps to zero when the crown is pulled out to set the time) is very important because I was thinking, when the military divers were synchronizing their watches for a mission, they would need to set them as precisely as possible, and zero reset is the only way to do this. I explained this to Eric Klein and expressed that this is a part of who we are. The old watches may not be able to do this, but if they could have done it, they would certainly have done so.
Why three barrels to achieve the eight days power reserve? I don’t believe in gimmicks. The three barrels are exactly what we needed to achieve the optimal stability for the amplitude of the watch for an eight days power reserve. As you know, one of the famous movements used in our watches was the Angelus eight days movement and our legitimacy to create long power reserve watches comes from here. So we worked backwards. If we want to have an eight days power reserve, what is the most logical and robust way to achieve this? It was the three-barrel configuration you see today.
How does a GMT indicator express Panerai’s identity? The use of the GMT indicator in our watches is related to the understanding of our client base. The Panerai owner is an adventurer and a traveler. The GMT hand allows for you to always have a sense of orientation, regardless of where you travel. As such, it is in spirit similar to the compasses we’ve created to guide divers through the water at night.
Eric Klein, the head of Richemont movements, seems to be particularly inspired by Panerai. To work with me, you have to be passionate. Otherwise, our relationship will never work out. Panerai is a passionate brand and Eric is a truly passionate man for horology. Through Panerai and our collaboration, he’s found a great way to express himself. You can see that the relationship is very dynamic based on how much we’ve accomplished in a really short time. It’s true that Eric works for several other brands. But for him, it is really important that the CEO is directly involved in the movements he is creating. Because this way, the process is very short. For example, with me, I can immediately make a decision.
How did you come to work with Eric Klein? I’ve known Eric for a long time – almost 20 years. I was aware when he became involved in the group project to help in the creation of movements. Panerai was in the process of developing its movements. Don’t forget that inside our team, we didn’t have anyone who was experienced in movement development. So, when we were conceptualizing the P.2002, we went to another very famous company to advise us on the project. I drew out everything and gave a brief to this company, and they realized the first prototype. They did a good job executing everything I wanted: the linear power reserve for optimal visibility and the three barrels for long power reserve, but there was a big problem. This movement was impossible to industrialize. So, when Eric came on board, the first thing he had to do was to examine the movement and figure out how we can feasibly industrialize it and, if possible, even enhance its quality.
What is the risk you take when you create your own movements? You take a big risk when you create an in-house movement, because the reputation of your brand will largely be defined by the reliability and performance of this movement. I am proud to take this risk because otherwise, you will never be able to realize anything. We now have movement projects all the way until 2011, and we will launch something new every year. But with these first four calibers, yes, I definitely took a risk. But I am confident that the risk has paid off, because it brings the brand to the next phase of its life.
You are using some springs coming from other brands, is this correct? At the moment, we are using the Jaeger-LeCoultre mainsprings and the A. Lange & Söhne hairsprings, but we don’t want to stress this too much because you never know what the future brings in terms of developments. While there is nothing planned at the moment, I am a dreamer. And my dream is for Panerai to have its own spring technology one day. Why? Because this is the foundation of chronometry and accurate time-keeping, which is fundamental to our DNA.
Why did you create the tourbillon? The tourbillon was created to raise the brand awareness of Panerai. Part of Panerai has always been the creation of special edition watches. These are rare and are part of the tradition that we have established. Now, I wanted to enter the high complication segment with our own in-house tourbillon. But the challenge is this: if you fail in this segment, you will have lost your credibility. What do you need to succeed? You need a movement that is a statement of who you are – your creativity and your ability to bring something more to horology.
But first, let’s discuss the sequence of how we’ve built this movement. From the beginning, Panerai has had a tradition of high complications, initially using the NOS movements of others. At the same time, we began to build a foundation with our basic and semi-complicated in-house movements. Where these two paths converge, is the tourbillon.
Now, I would like to say something about rarity. From the beginning, Panerai has expressed the rarity concept and we have created special editions to this effect. But I wanted to go beyond creating a Luminor Marina with a special dial. Yes, if I make 300 of these watches and then stop producing them, they will automatically be rare. But I wanted to give something more to the consumer, and evolve beyond simple rarity in design by providing rarity in content as well.
This is why we undertook the tourbillon. From the beginning, our goal was simple: it had to be a real, functional tourbillon and not just an aesthetic tourbillon, which, as you know, the majority of these watches are. They cost a fortune, but their performance is no different from that of a basic watch. Our roots are in performance and chronometry, so our tourbillon had to embody this. To emphasize that performance is at the core of the watch, we put the tourbillon at the back of the watch, where it belongs.
How did the tourbillon develop into a watch with a revolutionary vertical rotating regulator? I started thinking about the tourbillon in 2002. This was before the tourbillon craze swept the watch industry. I started talking to this very talented lady engineer from within the Group who has a specialization in tourbillons. And she said, “I have a magnificent tourbillon for you.” So we sat down with her for half an hour. And after she explained her idea, I told her, “This is a great tourbillon, but it is not a Panerai.” She asked why and explained that the tourbillon was fantastic and that everybody wants it. She was upset. It was a magnificent tourbillon, very well done, but a normal tourbillon. I said, “Look, this is great, but if I want something like this, I could also go to Renaud & Papi.” I explained that it has to express who Panerai is. Then, she finally conceded that I had a point. So, she went back and worked. Then, she called me and explained to me her idea. A tourbillon where the bridge rotates 360 degrees vertically to enhance the chronometry of the tourbillon, specifically for a wristwatch. I liked this idea because Panerai, unlike many other brands, did not start with pocket watches. In a pocket watch, a regular tourbillon is useful. But Panerais were worn on the wrists from the beginning and this was expressed by her tourbillon. It was perfect. I said, “Go ahead.” And that was how we got our tourbillon caliber P.2005.
Why did you wait so long before issuing a modern black-cased Panerai? It’s true that we have the greatest legitimacy to create black-cased watches such as the PAM 4 and 9 that we made earlier. This is a direction that the entire industry has followed, but by using PVD to make their cases black. Now, those early cases that we made using PVD proved too fragile. They scratch easily and once that happened, you can’t do anything about it. For me, that was unacceptable. Because I believe that reliability has to be one of our core values, and issuing something that I know cannot last easily goes against that. Because if you ensure reliability, you ensure your business for the future. Today, I see people making gold and platinum PVD cases. But in two or three years, what’s going to happen to those watches? This is a big risk, and who loses in the end? The collectors!
We have done PVD watches only once in our recent history and that was for a group of collectors (the PAM 195 created for Paneristi.com). The watches were sold with the express knowledge that these cases are fragile, so buyers know perfectly what to expect. But you cannot put this kind of watch on the normal production. Otherwise, some innocent guy may buy this watch and wear it, and when it scratches, he’s going to be very unhappy. This will affect our reputation and I will not allow this to happen. I understood that there was a hunger for black Panerais, but we had to find a way to create a highly reliable product for our collectors.
Why ceramic? I started focusing on ceramic four years ago simply because it is the only material that is very robust. After we stopped making our PVD case watches, we had to continue to try to find materials that had this very stealthy feel. That is why we created the Panerais using titanium and tantalum. So, ceramic is the only way to provide the black-colored cases, yet ensure their full reliability.
How are your cases made? There are different ways of creating ceramic cases. Ours are not molded, but made by machining. And considering the complex shape of our cases such as the Radiomir’s distinctive cushion case, you can understand that this is a very costly process. But it ensures a stronger case.
How did the Submersible with depth gauge come about? Panerai was famous for making depth gauges in our past, so it makes sense that we would want to make a diving watch with a depth gauge. We’ve spent four to five years on this project. We started on a project related to a mechanical depth gauge, but there are problems ensuring the reliability of a mechanical depth gauge. Now, when it comes to making a diving watch with a depth gauge, you must be sure that what you are creating is 100-percent reliable because people are going to be using it for diving, and their safety becomes your responsibility as it relates to the watch. Our depth gauge in the Submersible has been officially certified by a third party institute that specializes in diving tools, so it qualifies as a professional-level diving equipment.
Will you release the ceramic 1950 that we’ve seen you wearing? I am currently testing a ceramic 1950 watch, but at the moment I still cannot ensure the reliability of the lugs. Because the 1950 is a massive watch, I need to make sure that the lugs can support the weight before I can consider introducing the watch into the market. H
Mr. De Witt (left) and Mr. Meunier, who was responsible for watches such as the ultra flat split second chronograph
Rose Gold 1950 8 Days With Tobacco Dial
Poetry in motion:
How the panerai
Panerai revives its tradition of black-cased watches with this ceramic Radiomir. We admire Bonati’s decision to not use fragile PVD-coated cases despite what must have been huge pressure from consumers for these watches
INSERT IMAGE SUBMERSIBLE WATCH WITH DEPTH GAUGE TO BE SHOT AT SIHH
Caption: This titanium Submersible diving watch features a professionally certified electronic depth gauge