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Panerai Celebrates the Luminor at 70

The model’s anniversary is being marked with about 30 special editions and variations in new high-tech materials.

A Panerai Luminor PAMPL010 from the early 1950s
A Panerai Luminor PAMPL010 from the early 1950s

Jean-Marc Pontroué had planned to mark the 70th anniversary of the Panerai Luminor, the Italian brand’s best-known watch, at Watches & Wonders Geneva. But the trade show, scheduled to start April 25, was canceled as the Covid-19 outbreak began in Switzerland. Then the country, along with most of Europe, shut down.

“We are faced with a landscape we’ve never had before,” Mr. Pontroué, Panerai’s chief executive, said during an interview in March. “In 2008, the crisis was purely business. Now you have health plus business. We don’t know how long this storm will last.”

But the 55-year-old Frenchman, who took the helm at the companytwo years ago, was sanguine. “We intend to launch a record number of innovations around Luminor this year,” he said. The first new products were unveiled in late April, and arrive in stores in November.

Jean-Marc Pontroué, Panerai’s chief executive, took the helm about two years ago.
Jean-Marc Pontroué, Panerai’s chief executive, took the helm about two years ago.

While Panerai was pressing ahead, others were putting the brakes on. Patek Philippe and Rolex said they would delay the introduction of new watches (although both have announced they are leaving Baselworld to create a new trade show in Geneva next April). And government restrictions prompted the Bulgari-led Geneva Watch Days presentations scheduled at the end of April to replace the canceled major watch fairs, to be postponed until the end of August.

Swiss watch exports have been hit hard. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industrysaid exportswere down by 21.9 percent by value year over year in March, and that worse would come. “A deterioration is expected in April,” it said.

But anniversaries don’t wait.The Panerai Luminor was introduced in 1950. At the time, the company was a supplier to the Italian Navy and didn’t make civilian pieces. The Luminor, named for a tritium-based luminescent material that Panerai had patented the year before, had an oversized cushion-shaped case and a levered crown guard designed to increase water resistance.

It wasn’t until 1993 that the first civilian models were produced. Sylvester Stallone gave the brand an injection of Hollywood glamour by buying and then commissioning a series of timepieces, some of which were featured in his films, like the 1996 movie “Daylight.” In 1997, the company found itself in financial trouble and was sold to what is now the Richemont group, which still owns it today.

Sylvester Stallone in the 1996 film “Daylight,” wearing a Luminor Logo.Credit...Universal Pictures/Getty Images
Sylvester Stallone in the 1996 film “Daylight,” wearing a Luminor Logo.Credit...Universal Pictures/Getty Images

While Richemont does not disclose sales by brand, the Swiss private bank Vontobel estimated Panerai’s 2019 revenues at 470 million Swiss francs ($487.6 million), which would include it in a listing of the country’s top 20 watch brands by sales.

The Luminor and its sister watch Radiomir (introduced in 1936) are now among the most recognizable wristwatch designs for their distinctive silhouettes and bold dials, and often are prized by collectors.

“Any time you have a Panerai watch in an auction, it attracts the eye of collectors,” said Remi Guillemin, a specialist in Christie’s Geneva watch department. “The fact the Luminor has kept its identity through the years and the design has been well preserved helps a lot in terms of collectibility. Now, it’s seen as one of the great diving watches.”

In 2015, Christie’s sold a L’Egiziano model, one of about 100 watches that Panerai made for the Egyptian Navy in the late 1950s, for $149,000. “Many collectors enjoy buying Panerai watches because of this history,” Mr. Guillemin said.

“In the luxury world,” Mr. Pontroué said, “we’re all working to have one highly recognizable watch. The top 10 watch brands all have one iconic model that their development relies on. An iconic product is a key asset, and it’s our responsibility to make ours bigger with new executions.”

This year, Mr. Pontroué’s anniversary vision is to flood the Luminor line with about 30 versions of the watch, some in limited editions and some made in high-tech materials that the brand intends to trademark. New models are to feature cases made of Fibratech (a composite tested in the aerospace industry that is based on basalt fibers and said to be 60 percent lighter than steel) and Titanium DMLS (created by 3-D printing using a process called Direct Metal Laser Sintering that layers titanium powder). Mr. Pontroué said both substances would be appearing in a watch for the first time.

Credit: NY TIMES

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