Style News

Style Notes: A Question Of Time With Panerai

Style Notes: A Question Of Time With Panerai

If it’s a question of time, Panerai has the answer. The luxury Italian watchmaker has been designing and manufacturing some of the world’s finest and most technically superior watches since 1860. Established in Florence on the Ponte alle Grazie, Panerai has a legendary military history – supplying the Italian Navy specialist diving corps with precision instruments for use deep under water during the Second World War. This rich heritage fuels the brand’s identity, but they have always looked to the future whilst maintaining their links to the past. In a particularly futuristic move, Panerai developed and patented Radiomir in 1916, a luminous substance that made watch faces visible under water and for which we have the iconic Radiomir watch to thank. Whether or not you fancy yourself an elite marine commando, when you buy a Panerai, you buy a slice of the history and status afforded by such a storied and prestigious past.

We invited a panel of watch connoisseurs to the FLANNELS London store to find out more about these extraordinary timepieces. Our host, Kate Finnigan from the Financial Times, talked to Panerai’s Creative Director Alvaro Maggini, luxury influencer Anish Bhatt, AKA Watch Anish, and fashion columnist Polly Vernon, about haute horology, the enduring appeal of a luxury watch, and the things that make them tick. Here are some of the highlights from last night’s discussion.

A black Panerai Submersible Carbotech 47MM watch
A black Panerai Submersible Carbotech 47MM watch

KF: Polly, it might not have been a luxury timepiece, but kick things off by tell us - what was the first watch you ever owned?

PV: My first watch was not a luxury watch. The first watch I ever wanted was a Mickey Mouse watch, desperately. I didn’t get one. But I had an American aunt who seemed fantastically glamorous, and when I was about 10 or 11, she gave me a digital watch for Christmas, which I’m fairly sure was Timex. The idea of not having to read a watch face seemed like the most insanely glamorous and futuristic thing.

KF: Alvaro, what was the first watch you had?

AM: It seems a very long time ago. It was given to me by my grandfather, and it was a vintage Zenith. I don’t remember which model it was, but I still have it. It doesn’t work anymore, I need to repair it, but it is a part of my DNA and my family, so it’s very important in my collection.

KF: Anish, what was yours, was it something fabulous?

AB: Not really. I was eight, maybe seven. I was in India, visiting my grandma, and I saw a Timex in a newspaper. This is 30 years ago now, and I was like “wow, that’s so cool, this watch glows in the dark.” I asked my grandma if she would please buy it for me. She said no, it’s too expensive. I tried to throw a tantrum, got slapped. The day that I was leaving to go back to London, she gave it to me. So that was my first watch.

KF: Alvaro, what is a luxury watch? What makes it distinct from other watches?

AM: In my opinion, having had the chance to work in the high-end watch industry for nine years, having an integrated manufacturer is very important. To have a competent watchmaker is very important. The designer, the new concepts and creatives, this is all very important. But rarity is something that everybody wants, and is probably what makes them exclusive. I suppose that good watches in luxury are all well done. I don’t make judgements on what’s the best or not so good – but everything needs to be controlled by the manufacturer. If you start to go out to suppliers and use outside information, you lose the identity, the preciousness, the attention, the details, you lose everything. I think the secret is always that you’re the best, you are the only one, you know what’s best. If you are there at the beginning of the product, you check everything, the details. It’s not just about being Swiss, it’s about being the best, and making the best, and being rare. Less is more.

KF: Panerai has a really interesting military history. Is history a large part of what drives the client to the brand or a particular watch?

AM: Our new CEO has tried to go back to the past, to the history. We try to work with the past, but our legacy is the future, it’s what’s happening now. I think that Panerai can be described in a couple of words. The first word is ‘water’. There are a lot of watch brands connected to water. And you have ‘military’. There are fewer of them, and Panerai is the only brand worldwide that’s Italian designed with Swiss-made mechanics. These are the key words, the ingredients that help us do what we do. And what we do isn’t just about watches, we are about identity, about feelings, about emotion, about patience. We don’t sell luxury, we don’t sell watches, we sell emotion. This is the cradle of our new strategy and philosophy.

KF: Anish, what drew you into the world of luxury watches?

AB: I think it’s a mixture of things. The mechanics, especially, the interesting ways of telling the time. I’m a very visual person, and the aesthetics, the way it looks, the way it makes me feel, the story, the history of a certain piece – it might be a vintage watch, might be new – what that watch says about me, how I feel when I wear it. It’s a very emotional purchase. When I think about it, the function of a watch telling the time is almost secondary, tertiary even, to the reason why I buy and collect watches. For me, it’s a mechanical piece of art that I can look at, and every time I notice something different about it. It sparks conversations between people, there are communities around the world and people meet and become friends because of this thing.

KF: So it connects people?

AB: Absolutely, yes.

A Panerai Luminor Due 38MM watch with a navy strap
A Panerai Luminor Due 38MM watch with a navy strap

KF: Polly, your audience is predominately female and are very fashion literate. What is the interest in watches for them?

PV: I think that anyone who is interested in fashion is interested in beautiful things. For a female fashion audience, it’s an opportunity to own something else that is beautiful. I also believe that there are some things that anchor your look. There are some things that become incredibly essential to your look, and other things change around it, but there are some pieces that are so essential to it, and it makes sense that a luxury watch would be part of that. My audience is also increasingly interested in buying fewer pieces – the sustainability message is getting through and it’s resonating. I certainly find that I’m buying fewer and fewer things, I’m thinking more carefully about what will endure, what will make sense in five, 10, 15 years. I’ve felt a shift in the way I look at clothes and I look at fashion and style, and other people’s style, and feel a desire to have elements of it that will just last. I just don’t want my flat filled up with stuff that I’m not going to care about in two years time. Obviously, something like a luxury watch makes absolute sense, more sense than it ever has done before in that context. That is possibly a female perspective on it, certainly something I’m seeing in my readers.

KF: Alvaro, I read a great quote from you the other day that said “fashion is like falling in love at first sight. It is passionate, but doesn’t last long. Watches, on the other hand are like being in a long-term relationship.” Tell us more about that.

AM: It’s true. If you buy a beautiful pair of yellow trousers, you see them in the shop, you fall in love. You suddenly want to have it, you want them now, you don’t care how much it costs. It’s like a love affair. If you fall in love with someone, the first six or eight months, maybe a year, you’re still so in love, you don’t see anything that disturbs you, because everything is beautiful. If you want to buy a watch, it’s totally different. You have another state of mind, you have more time, there’s less pressure. Even if you have a lot of money, it’s first of all emotional, and you think about it, because it’s something that you’ll wear for a long time, perhaps not every day, but at particular times, or it’s a present, or it belongs to you. And a good watch is never old fashioned. Beautiful yellow trousers, maybe in two seasons, you’ll wonder why you spent the money on a pair of trousers that you only wear once.

KF: Polly, is a luxury watch a long-term relationship?

PV: It would be, but I’ve never been able to commit. I also think that sort of purchase requires an extraordinary amount of self-knowledge, which is really cool. You need to know what’s going to work for you on an ongoing basis. You need to know what’s going to work in your lifestyle. Realistically, where are you going to be wearing it? What are you going to be doing with it? What’s it going to be worn with? It’s a statement of self-knowledge, really, which is pretty cool.

KF: Anish, do you think a watch provides something that other luxury items cannot provide?

AB: It tells the time. I think that for guys, it’s seen as a way of saying something, without saying something. A watch can tell a lot about your character, about your taste, about your knowledge, about a lot of different things. You can say it’s the same with fashion, you can say it’s the same with suits, but I think with purchases of luxury watches at such a high price point, it’s not like a pair of sneakers, you’re talking thousands and tens of thousands just to enter.

KF: I’m going to ask you all – what is your favourite Panerai watch?

AM: I won’t lie to you, my favourite watch is coming next year. I also love the Submersible. We’ve used something from the past and made it so super sexy and nice, it’s a combination of the new Panerai stories and the brand.

AB: Probably the 538, which they did about four years ago. It’s got the rose gold case, it’s a really nice dress watch, a beautiful combination – rose gold, blue dial, amazing size. For me it was the perfect dress watch, it had a lot of rotation amongst my collection.

PV: The sheer magpie in me is going for this blue one. Or the one that Alvaro is talking about – I’m in.

A Panerai Luminor California 44MM watch with a brown leather strap
A Panerai Luminor California 44MM watch with a brown leather strap

Photography: Matthew Brann