Fighting on twin fronts
With more than its fair share of purist fans, it seems hard for Officine Panerai not to sometimes feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.
In a market of excesses, the brand has resolutely stood behind two lines - the Radiomir and the Luminor - since its early days.
The brand's understated subtlety, technical accomplishments and compelling history with the Italian navy make its watches a popular choice with aficionados.
Nevertheless, in new and growing markets, where subtlety is not a prevalent trait, such as the mainland, getting brand values and messages through has required some thinking - and a new advertising campaign. Launched just before the SIHH 2012, the new slew of advertisements now feature the Panerai watches as the centrepiece, as compared with previous campaigns where the watches had to share the spotlight with visuals related to their inspiration.
The taglines have also been shortened to two intrinsic brand values, such as 'Art and Science' or 'History and Heroes'.
'It was not an easy decision,' says Officine Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati, of the decision to move from its public identity of the past decade.
'But the old campaign was launched 10 years ago, so we decided to evolve a bit, but keeping all the values of the brand intact. We focused more on the product, but played on the claims of what is Panerai, and what are the values of Panerai.'
The process of educating a new generation of customers did not begin - nor will it end - with the new image campaign though, but also through a number of events connected in ways, subtle or otherwise, to such values.
Besides the classic yacht challenge, with which Panerai has become synonymous, the brand has also sponsored time-related exhibitions such as the Galileo Galilei exhibition in Shanghai and the recent 'O'Clock: Time Design, Design Time' in Milan, which featured reinterpretations of time by such leading artists as Damien Hirst, Patricia Urquiola and Marc Newson.
'The campaign was to make [new customers] take notice of the watches, otherwise they would not recognise the brand. Through the exhibition, we can communicate the values of the brand. Behind that we have to work with the media, so that we can activate the storytelling easier through magazine interviews,' says Bonati, who admits that it is a fine balancing act, getting new customers excited and keeping the purists happy.
'The important thing is to keep the dial simple. Simplicity is the trademark of Panerai. It is not easy to achieve. You have to work on the technical aspects, otherwise you pollute the brand.'
Keeping the dial simple is the reason you won't see Panerai rushing to skeletonise its tourbillons. Instead, there has been a tendency for the brand to work with new materials such as ceramic, bronze and, this year, red gold.
The new Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Ceramica 48mm watch (PAM 396) is made of synthetic ceramic based on zirconium powder and retains the classic black dial with the small seconds dial at 9 o'clock and am/pm indication over 24 hours at 3 o'clock. It is powered by the Panerai P.2005/B calibre movement and offers a six-day power reserve.
'A lot of people tell me that I can sell more if we have an open tourbillon, but we don't want to sell more,' Bonati says. 'I want to sell what the customer appreciates from us. If you want the Panerai tourbillon, this is it. The function of the tourbillon is not the aesthetic, it's the movement.'
One concession that Panerai has made this year has been for the Tuttonero Luminor 1950 3 Days GMT Automatic Ceramica (PAM 438) by giving it a fully matte-black bracelet.
The dial features the date at 3 o'clock and a small seconds at 9 o'clock. The ceramic Luminor comes in another reference (PAM 441) with a brown leather strap.
Panerai also goes for red gold with the special edition Radiomir 8 Days GMT Oro Rosso in 45mm. A stronger infusion of copper into the red gold alloy gives the watch a stronger golden hue. In keeping with the campaign to harken back to the brand's intrinsic values, Panerai has also chosen to reinterpret two classic Radiomirs: the Radiomir California 3 Days and the Radiomir SLC 3 Days, both in 47mm.
There is also a limited edition box set of 100 pieces of the Radiomir 1940 in stainless steel and red gold.
'We want to be a brand that always has something new for clients,' Bonati says. 'New materials are something that can help us achieve that.'