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A brand sets sail


Italian watchmaker Panerai uses its maritime connection to appeal to connoisseurs.

Watches are the new indicator of status - or lack of it. So it's no surprise that Panerai, the Italian watch marque known for its timepieces for divers, prides itself on exclusivity. It has just a handful of retailers who get new watches only after they've sold their existing stock.

The watchmaker, which recently opened its first boutique in Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel, has a cult following - loyalists go by the name "Paneristi". British artist Damien Hirst even uses them as inspiration for his art. In 2011, he created a painting with hundreds of Panerai watch faces at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan.

The watches are simple: no crystals or clutter, just a big dial and an elegant leather band. Started as a family business in 1860 in Florence, Panerai's precision instruments including luminous watches, timing machines, depth gauges, even mechanical calculators to launch torpedos that were used by the Italian Navy during the First World War. The connection with the sea has been reinforced by Panerai's chief executive, Angelo Bonati, who is a keen yachtsman. Panerai organises classic yacht regattas and is involved in heritage yacht restoration. TOI-Crest spoke to Bonati about his twin passions: luxury watches and classic yachts.

Are you planning to customize designs of your products to cater to the Indian market?

The Panerai watch is an Italian diver watch and its shape, attributes, design and characteristic are the same since the very first watch was produced. Our customers love our heritage and we do our best to preserve it so we don't change it to face the needs of any market, otherwise we risk losing our strong identity.

Panerai has been organising regattas for some years now. Why did you choose yachting to promote the brand?

The Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge is the main pillar of our communication strategy because it strengthens the historical link between our brand and the sea that is part of our heritage. This international circuit has now come to the 8th edition, confirming our long-term commitment to the promotion of classic yachting, and is now recognized worldwide as the most important circuit of classic yachts. Furthermore, classic yachts express an amazing blend of uniqueness, authenticity, passion, craftsmanship and timeless beauty and this is exactly the same mix that a piece of haute horlogerie holds.

You are a yacht connoisseur yourself. Could you tell us a little about what prompted you to rescue the old and abandoned Bermudian Ketch, Eilean, and refurbish her?

When I saw Eilean for the first time, the beauty and the architecture of the boat immediately brought me to the link with Panerai. Eilean was conceived in 1936 and in the very same year Panerai produced the first prototype Radiomir for the Royal Italian Navy. These dates immediately created strong affinities and further reinforced the connection between the sea and the brand.

Do you have any plans of organizing a yacht race in India?

For the time being we are focused in the areas of the world where the culture of classic yachting is already very strong and well established, like the Mediterranean Sea, the British Channel, the shores of New England in the US and the Caribbean. In the far future, who knows!

Do Indian customers or yachting enthusiasts participate or take interest in the Panerai regattas?

Every year there are thousands of yachting enthusiasts who come to our events to enjoy the charms of classic sailing. Among them there also a few Indian customers but we would be very happy to see their number increase. We are sure that Indian customers have the strong cultural background that is necessary to understand the exclusive beauty and authenticity of the historic vessels.

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