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Panerai under full sail
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Panerai under full sail

Tuesday, 04 November 2014
By Thierry Brandt
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Thierry Brandt

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3 min read

Sloops, cutters, schooners, ketches and yawls: hundreds of historic sailing craft take part in the Classic Yachts Challenge, sponsored for the past ten years by Officine Panerai.

For the 2014 edition of this friendly but no less hard-fought race, boats jostled for position in eleven regattas, in Europe (Cowes, Antibes, Argentario, Naples, Mahon, Imperia, Cannes), North America (Marblehead, Newport, Nantucket) and the Caribbean (Antigua). An irresistible armada, thanks to which collectors can rival in elegance on the water and on the quayside, and the public discover these old-world masters of the sea. The different vessels, most built from wood and lovingly preserved by their owners, are certainly a magnificent sight.

What interest does Panerai – which owns and races a boat, Eilean, a bermudan ketch – have in sponsoring such an event? In town for the Imperia leg of the Challenge, September 10th to 14th, Angelo Bonati, Chief Executive of the Swiss-Italian brand, explained.

The sea was the obvious choice.
Angelo Bonati
The Classic Yachts Challenge is certainly a fine gathering but doesn't attract the same media coverage as other sporting events. What prompts you to take part?

Angelo Bonati, CEO, Panerai: That’s not how we look at things. We wanted to stand apart from the crowd in a simple and natural way, and given our history the sea was the obvious choice. Not the modern races though, which already attract plenty of brands. We were in search of something more exclusive and less ostentatious. Classic yachts share similar values to ours, such as respect for the sea, and being built to last. When you think that some of these boats are almost a hundred years old! Every single one is unique, like a watch. Every single one has its own spirit, like a watch. They capture a dream, like our watches.

Still, why does Panerai insist on being so discreet? Most watchmakers today are more assertive…

That’s a word I like to hear: discretion. Discretion is a form of elegance, and has long been the rule at Panerai. It hasn’t stopped our customers from seeking us out, in fact it’s something they appreciate. We could always open the floodgates and launch a massive communications campaign but we prefer our image of exclusivity, and organic growth.

We wanted to strike the perfect balance between human intelligence and machines.
Angelo Bonati
Speaking of growth, how has the 2013 financial year been?

As you know, the group doesn’t publish figures. All I can tell you is that we’re satisfied with results, which are on a par with performance in the Swiss watch sector last year. We’ll no doubt see similar figures in 2014.

You recently moved to new premises in Neuchâtel. Are all your activities now under this one roof?

Almost all. We manufacture all our Fine Watch movements in Neuchâtel. We took advantage of the move to install more new machines, all the very latest technology. Now that we have more room, we can organise production more rationally. We wanted to strike the perfect balance between human intelligence and machines. We’re continuing to produce our base calibre, the P9000, in Buttes, also in the canton of Neuchâtel, at the Valfleurier factory which belongs to the Richemont group. They’re better equipped than us for large-volume production. Not that Panerai can really be associated with large volumes.

Our exclusive nature and powerful identity.
Angelo Bonati
So no new strategy regarding movements?

We’re continuing to work on our movements. They are organised in a pyramid, which we have no reason to change. At the base of the pyramid we have the P9000 calibre I just mentioned, which is evolving all the time. Above that are the petites complications and our automatic chronograph. Then, at the tip of the pyramid, we have our special editions.

No changes in design either?

I’m not sure the Paneristi would ever forgive us! It’s precisely our attention to detail that adds to our exclusive nature and powerful identity. It’s no easy task, because the watch gives us such a small space in which to express ourselves. But it’s something we all feel passionately about.

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