COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have deepened fragmentation and the emergence of competing geopolitical blocs, a new geopolitical world order is coming more clearly into view. War in a European theatre is not something that civilised society has considered in over 60 years and Russia’s “special military operation” is the largest, most dangerous military mobilisation in Europe since WWII. How would this bode for a brand that has such close relations with the Armed Services? Augustman caught up with Alessandro Ficarelli, Chief Marketing Officer of Panerai to talk about marketing communications in an age of political correctness and what do watch lovers really want out of a brand like Panerai.

Panerai has been an incredibly masculine brand with the likes of pop cultural influences like Daylight and The Expendables, tell us more about the new, more refined approach for the brand with the Due

Panerai’s military provenance is historical thanks to our association with the Royal Italian navy since 1910. So, more than 100 years ago, the first Panerai watches were made of the Italian navy and then also the Egyptian navy. Until 1993, these professional instruments for underwater missions were covered by the military secrets act. After 93, it became open to civilians and it had been the pioneer of big, masculine timepieces. But then, over the years, we saw more ladies wearing these models, the Due is a representation of our customer-centric philosophy because more and more clients wanted to wear Panerai but they were too big, either for the wrist or to be worn at work under a shirt sleeve. The Luminor Due is an evolution of the Luminor, authentic to the design codes but with three different proportions: 38, 42 and 45mm. Beyond the sizes, we also worked on the thickness to have the best wearability on the wrist. Once the collection was developed, we started to attract more and more clients, and not just the ladies. Signature Panerai aesthetics but in a slimmer, more manageable form – even at 38mm, it’s still not considered a “ladies’ watch” by industry standards. It’s an attractive proposition to men as well. It is a big success and its out of stock almost everywhere. We are still not certain of the full potential of the line. It has also given us the opportunity to sell more gold and bracelet watches and Panerai has never been a gold or bracelet watch brand.

PAM755 Luminor Due Steel with a grey sun-brushed dial

In your opinion, do you feel that the popularity of the 38mm Due with both genders means there’s no longer a need for a “ladies’ watch”?

For Panerai, this has always been the case. I would visit our manufacture in Switzerland and see elegant ladies on the train wearing a 47mm bronze Submersible or a 44mm Luminor in gold, so we can’t really say that our watches for men or women. We couldn’t not use the size of the watch as a determining factor for segmentation. I can give you another example: we each have the same 42mm Radomir, I wear it with a black alligator but she wears it with glossy purple or red alligator and everyone thinks they’re two different watches! She has very thin wrists and yet the same watch looks so different on her.

Panerai famously has no brand ambassador, they’re already fans of the brand, has there ever been discussion that maybe it’s time for an ambassador so that more people are aware that it can be a watch for both genders?

In China, Dilraba, our first female Global Brand Ambassador, a popular Chinese actress who has done very well for us over there. Then we also have our friends of the brand like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham who end up wearing the watches in the movies. In the past, we had Sylvester Stallone, none of these movie appearances were paid for and we are very grateful for their patronage of the brand. We even had our watches worn to space on a NASA expedition without our involvement, creating a much stronger image because it’s spontaneous rather than a paid placement.

Quaranta Quattro – in my opinion, it’s a series which takes military specifications for naval divers into a consumer collection, how do you manage collector desires with your own vision for the brand?

The Submersible Quaranta Quattro is another response to clients’ requests because until last year, we had two sizes in the collection: 42 and 47mm. We only just launched the 44mm in gold. When the 44mm Submersible line was first launched to the public in 1997, that was the original size so we don’t consider it an enlargement of the assortment. After three months of sales, the 44mm is the best seller. Everyone loves the 47mm but not everyone can wear the 47mm. A 42mm Panerai on the other hand, is too small and not considered emblematic of Panerai for some and so, now we are offering a collection of Submersibles in our best selling size.

With these experiences, you’re giving Panerai connoisseurs a feel for the hyper-real lives of military men, what are some of the key takeaways you want brand lovers to have when they go through an event like this?

It is deepening our association with the Italian navy. The history of Panerai is so interlinked with the military. We want to continue perpetuating this heritage into the future and you should also know that most of our watches are tested by men in the Italian navy, it is a tough and robust watch by any standard. The quality is very important and it’s not about war but the qualities of endurance, discipline and fighting spirit. That will to overcome all odds and achieve your best that defines Panerai. That undefeatable mindset is a real luxury in today’s challenging environment, we don’t really want to communicate the “war” aspects of the military, it is really about the endurance and resilience. It’s about a watch that can accompany you through all your challenges.

There’s plenty of discussion today about toxic masculinity and conversations about tough soldiers are going to be politically sensitive, how do you balance all these concerns as chief marketing officer?

First of all, we are not pushing on the masculine aspects. It’s part of our history but strength can be found in either gender. To be strong is a mindset, a man can be physically strong and a woman is emotionally and mentally strong. Second, our collection is well balanced between four families, Luminor, Submersible, Radiomir and Luminor Due. It’s not all testosterone driven.

We also continue to invest in technical content and historic content, all while finding the balance. Whatever we do, we do it the Italian way. We focus on the sea and then we have professional instruments for the modern hero. The modern hero isn’t some masculine super soldier or Marvel hero, the modern heroes are our clients who face day to day challenges of life. As a brand, we offer experiences that range from lifestyle like sailing across the sea on a yacht to the adrenaline driven ones like this special forces experience, the key is that we communicate on the codes of the brand and what it means in terms of brand values like robustness and this is not a quality only linked with the military.

Sustainability has been a big feature of the brand in recent years, how difficult is it to market “sustainable materials” as luxurious?

It was very difficult at the beginning. When we started this journey a few years ago, it was a challenge to associate the luxury industry with recycling. Then, we started to explain that “recycling” was not the same as “using rubbish”. Then five to six years ago, we tested the first bracelets with recycled materials and they were too rigid to wear and we too didn’t consider it luxurious. In the end, we found a solution to make it supple. Even the rubber we use today, 30% is recycled. it was 0% last year and there’s no difference in aesthetic and feel, only that the brand is a proud supporter now of the circular economy.

I’m not just pushing sustainability in the products but also in the boutiques, the point of sales materials are recycled, even the fabrics. the materials we use for events is recycled as much as possible. We can’t just change the world with products and stores, we are also introducing new, recycled, lighter packaging to reduce wastage and logistics. We don’t even print catalogs anymore. Once this message is consistent, the consumers know there’s a mission behind it.

A few years ago, some from the younger generation asked why we didn’t do it before. In three years time, 30% of our assortment will be based on recycled material, moving from old steel to e-Steel which is recycled. This means that in that time, more than 70% of our production will be based on recycled material. It’s impossible to have everything recycled because some components are more polluting to recycle than to produce. So we are already very ambitious, for us, this is an investment for the future.

What are the difficulties you face given that Panerai cannot be alone in pushing a message of responsible stewardship?

Instead of putting patents on all our sustainable innovations, we opened the ecosystem to all other brands and actually, a lot of brands are going to be using the same recycled steel. The more brands in the industry use it, the less expensive it becomes, the better for the environment. I believe that in the future, this will be standard practice.

There has been some controversy on the forums related to manufacture movements. A Paneristi remarked, that since the brand historically used stock movements, wouldn’t it be easier for Panerai to just stay away from the manufacture movement drama? Has manufacture movements today become a marketing message or can you go back to the roots?

There is so much obsession with in-house. There are facilities within Richemont Group that supply us and one building that makes movements exclusive to panerai. How should they call them? In-house, manufacture or external? For me, they’re exclusive to Panerai. Is it really a Panerai if it’s not from the same building? When you go buy a car, do you car if the engine is produced and assembled in factory A, B or C?

I would say that in the watch industry, with everyone obsessed over in-house, someone exaggerated and then we all started exaggerating and pushing this word that actually means nothing. For me, I prefer to say it’s exclusive to the brand.

Last year, someone asked where the movement of the Luminor Chronograph came from and someone from the concessionaire said it was an in-house calibre when it was actually external because someone in the communications team called it “in-house”. The truth was, the base of the movement was ETA and we co-developed the module with Dubois Depraz and customized with our own finishing with small seconds at 9 o’clock. I told my team to remove all mention of “in-house” from the website. One day, you will not find this word anymore, come to the manufacture and you will see what we produce in our building, I prefer to push the movement with the best quality for my clients.

written by.

Jonathan Ho

Managing Editor
Jonathan Ho might have graduated with a business degree but he thumbed his nose at commerce and instead opted for a harder life in journalism. He edits Augustman, a title he first joined when he became a writer after a career in advertising and now, earns a living writing commentaries on the luxury industry.
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