FLORENCE — Waiting a week or two for a pair of Prada’s latest sky-high pumps certainly doesn’t put off a die-hard fashionista, but a five-year waiting list for a watch was unexpected for the executives at Officine Panerai, the Florentine watch company known for its oversized watches and high-precision movements.
This story first appeared in the July 1, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Fueled by this recent increased demand, Officine Panerai, owned by Compagnie Financiere Richemont AG since 1997, has a number of new growth initiatives underway, including the opening of its first modern store in Florence. Panerai is also beefing up its technology, expanding its distribution, and adding the finishing touches to a five-story palazzo in Neuchatel, Switzerland, that will house the research and technology division, as well as its sales offices.
Last month, Officine Panerai opened its store on Florence’s central Piazza San Giovanni, the square of Brunelleschi’s Duomo cathedral. The tiny store was renovated in deference to the original structure, with the frame of the characteristic front door made with a type of beige stone found in the area. With metal fixtures and wooden floors and windows that resemble submarine portholes, the store design aims to complement the design and styling of Panerai watches. The first floor houses the historical archive and is a meeting point for collectors.
But Panerai is no newcomer to Florence, since it opened its first store in 1850 on the Ponte delle Grazie bridge, when the company specialized in precision instruments and measuring devices. The new Florence store is the first in a retail rollout of the Panerai brand, fitting in with Richemont’s strategy to open more of its own stores for its various brands. In September, Panerai will inaugurate a boutique in Hong Kong, followed by one in Portofino, Italy, next January. The company is also scouting locations in Manhattan.
Increasing distribution is another key initiative, and the company is in the process of bumping up current worldwide points of sale from 300 to 400. It is also working to strengthen its marketing campaign, which already absorbs 20 percent of Panerai’s total sales. Officine Panerai doesn’t release sales figures, but according to industry sources, the company’s production of timepieces ballooned to the current 25,000 units from 1,000 in 1997.
Part of people’s interest in Officine Panerai watches stems from its history as a timing device for the Italian military.
“Already after [World War II], collectors would track down the sailors to buy their Panerai watches,” said Franco Cologni, chairman of Panerai. “When we acquired the brand, we safeguarded three elements: authenticity, identity and originality.”
Retail prices for the watches start at $2,348 for a basic Luminor style with a steel case and leather strap, but skyrocket to $163,000 for a special-edition Panerai Tourbillion, which is in the works for two years. Officine Panerai, which now has two years’ worth of orders backed up for some styles and is forced to turn down new clients. In recent years, its watches have become a favorite for many celebrities and starlets, including Russell Crowe, Jerry Seinfeld and Sylvester Stallone.
Mark Udell, chief executive officer at London Jewelers in Glen Cove, N.Y., said many of his customers have caught Panerai fever.
“In the watch business, Panerai is a fairly unique phenomenon,” said Udell. “The Radiomir Alarm GMT, for example, is impossible to find, which is why we are trying to find one as a gift for a special client.”