Apart from being Officine Panerai’s CEO, Angelo Bonati is one of the watchmaking industry most prominent personalities. Watchmaking guru, Bonati joined Richemont Group’s Italian brand in 1997. He substantially shaped the strategy and future of the house, creating not only its products, but also its identity. He managed to build a universe of values and experiences – especially related to the Sea and vintage sailing boats – around Officine Panerai. We met Mr Bonati in January 2018, on the occasion of his last SIHH salon before his retirement. Let’s discover what he told us…
At the time of my appointment in 1997 we could say that the brand, in a sense, did not even exist: it was rather a name to give substance to. It corresponded to a precise history of its own, born in Florence in 1860 in a small shop soon became a supplier of the Military Royal Navy. If, at first, it was a question of “founding” an identity worthy of a name with more than a century of history, then my role was transformed into the propulsion of new routes and the guarantor of a very precise identity.
It is very difficult to give an answer: in 21 years, there have been so many moments that I will remember, which have marked the history and evolution of Panerai in the world of watchmaking. As I just said, when I was called by the Richemont Group in 1997, there was a watch with great potential, but there was no brand. Today Panerai means manufacturing with research and development aiming at an increasingly sought-after innovation. It means a highly selected and professional distribution network, it means to be recognized as the only circuit of vintage sailing boats, it means recognition in the world of design. The list is rich.
Its coherence. A formula where past, present and future know how to live together in a complete synthesis. If you consider a 150 year history, research in the technical and design field, the ability to renew oneself while remaining always adhering to one’s own canons, the passion for the sea and its challenges…. if you combine all this with a stainless identity you will get an idea of what in my opinion makes Panerai… Panerai. The customer recognizes this, so he remains faithful. Where there is this fidelity, you will find success that remains constant over time.
I like to think that Panerai has been able to maintain its character despite the many changes in the world of watchmaking. I say this because I have always seen Officine Panerai as a promise. What do we do when we promise something? We make a pact that must remain firm as circumstances change. I signed this invisible agreement with the brand, with myself, with my target audience: to offer a clearly identifiable product, with its distinctive design, strong charisma, vocation (for the Sea) and quality where nothing is left to chance. And the response has always been positive, a sign that that promise has, after all, been kept.
In fact, I have always been at the forefront of any project. In this, I admit, I am a little obsessive, always attentive to detail and consistency in respect of the identity that has been created over the years and has become history. My involvement is and has always been total. That is right. What will you see in the future? You will tell me this.
The world of watchmaking had to respond to many stimuli in recent years. The advent of digital technologies radically changed our way of life – denying it, would be blindness. But the watch remains. It remains because it is an object that transcends its specific use. It can mark out a specific moment, remember the passing of time, it is always present even when you don’t look at it. But you know it is there. That is why I can say that we have, of course, experienced this crisis, but fortunately less than we might think. Those who perceive the watch as an object of desire, for use or even just for collecting purposes, kept going after it and desiring it, being satisfied of it, everyone in his own way.
It would be nice to be an oracle, predicting the future of the brand. As I leave Panerai I leave a piece of heart. But the line is drawn: whoever succeeds to me will collect a legacy which I hope he will treasure. The difference will be in the passion that the person will put into the brand. I have made my path. I would redo it all again, with the mistakes, the ups and downs.
I strongly wanted the Luminor Due in the new 38mm version, the smallest case ever on the Panerai, because I believe it meets the needs of our customers: a smaller size that does not affect our design and reliability. I am convinced that it can cover a new market segment of Panerai watch lovers who have never been able to wear it because of its size. We are also very satisfied with the excellent result obtained by L’ ASTRONOMO, masterpiece of haute horlogerie where the innovation lies in the introduction of the moon phases. It is already giving great satisfaction, confirming the fact that innovation and tradition can, indeed must, walk together.
This is a world that I’ve always followed with an “external” attitude, with a hint of detachment. At the same time, however, I recognize its fundamental contribution, especially to bring our product closer to a young audience – these channels become indispensable. An example? Our recent partnership with MR. PORTER, one of the most popular online stores in the world, who grasped the uniqueness of our product, given by its unmistakable Italian style, heritage and design. We are also very active on the main social networks.
I don’t believe in the effectiveness of “cohabitation”. If you allude to watchmaking as a whole… well, this is a love that cannot be erased.
It’s a bit like asking a father what his beloved son is…. The answer doesn’t exist. But if I really have to give one, my answer would be: the models who had less success. There is always an affection and respect for those pieces that have been “misunderstood” or not understood by our public.
I would like to answer in a very simple way: the biggest regret is that I worked to “serve” the time without being able to control it. I would like time to be eternal, as eternal as my experience at Panerai. But if I had not believed, even with a hint of unconsciousness, in a dream, and if I had not shared this dream with those who made the brand what it is today together with me, perhaps today Panerai would not even exist.
By Valeria Garavaglia