By  on December 9, 2010

Officine Panerai has retail expansion on its timetable.

The storied watch brand, which was founded in 1860 and bought by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA in 1997, currently sells its watches in only 500 points of sale around the world, including around 100 locations in the U.S. There are also 24 company-owned boutiques worldwide, with three in the U.S., on Madison Avenue in New York, Beverly Hills and the latest addition, Boca Raton, Fla., which opened in September.

Over the next several years, Panerai will add significantly to its retail stable, revealed chief executive officer Angelo Bonati. “In three years, we will grow to 100 stores,” he said. “We’re convinced that opening boutiques is the right [strategy]” to attract Panerai’s customers.

London and Paris will be added over the next three months and, within three years, six to seven stores will open in key luxury markets in the U.S., as well as additional units in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Bonati said there are no plans to increase the company’s wholesale penetration, but the plan is to have a more “balanced” offering. “The priority for us is the boutique,” he said. “And now is the right time. We’re coming out of the [economic] crisis and the international luxury market is doing very well. So now is the time to invest to prepare us for the future.”

Panerai watches start at $4,400 retail and can go up to $160,000, depending upon material and craftsmanship. The company offers only two cases, the Radiomir and Luminor. Its most ambitious offering is the Equation of Time, a custom watch that indicates sunrise and sunset times for the city chosen by the purchaser and a depiction of the starscape in that city. That watch is so labor intensive, the company can only produce 30 pieces over three years, Bonati said.

To support the company’s retail expansion plan, Bonati said the company will expand its manufacturing facility in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. But Bonati stressed there is no intention of diminishing Panerai’s cult status, which has watch collectors eager to buy its latest styles.

“We do not use this brand as a cash cow,” he said.

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