Officine Panerai On Middle East Plans

Regional MD Milvin George discloses why the luxury Italian watchmaker shuns traditional marketing to reach its fan base.

You are not going to see their billboards splashed across the UAE and you will be hard-pressed to find them advertising the way some mega Swiss watch brands do. But if you understand your watches or are on the path to being a watch connoisseur, you will have heard of Officine Panerai.

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Founded in Florence in 1860 as a workshop, shop and school of watch making, Officine Panerai made its name as the watch that adorned the wrists of the Italian Navy’s officers across the two great wars.

Acquired by Richemont (OTCMKT:CFRUY) in Y 1997, the luxury watchmaker has come a long way since then. Today, even though it does so stealthily, it operates sales across the world through distributors and boutique outlets, explains Milvin George, managing director, ME, India and Turkey.

“We don’t do big billboards, big events and it’s not very in your face,” says Mr. George. “We are a discreet brand. Our approach is to help customers discover the brand. It’s more about creating the right environment to find Panerai without being pushy, and this is the difference between us and other brands.”

Being hand-made also means that the company shuns mass-production, and creates products based on demand. In the process, some of the boutiques even see long waiting lists, he admits.

“In our Dubai Mall boutique store, we have an average of around 45 to 50 people on the list every month.”

The production time varies between models, the company is unable to disclose estimates, and people tend to wait for between one to six months to receive their orders.

“It’s no secret that [meeting demand] is a challenge. While we are really trying to gain market-share and grow as a brand, it has to be done in a very calculated and careful manner in the sense that, if we grow, we have to grow within the target audience. Because today our customer profile is clear who we want, who appreciates the brand and whose wrist we can brand.”

According to George, the dedicated international Panerai fan-base, they have a website and organize conferences, also includes several regional customers.

To tap into this market and further increase brand awareness locally, Officine Panerai has now opened 10 specialty boutiques across the six GCC countries, with the latest in Bahrain opening its doors just last year.

Panerai watches are priced from 4,800 Euros to a whopping 165,000 Euros for the brand’s flagship Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Equation of Time, which indicates sunrise and sunset times for the city chosen by the purchaser and is made with precious metals.

“We have received 10 orders for this model in the region, which is quite good,” he says.

But there are no plans to offer a little custom ‘bling’ to suit regional tastes. “Our customers understand that our brand is not ‘bling-bling’,” George explains.

“We like to be true to our history, our identity and our DNA as a brand and I think people respect that. So we do customize; for instance for the Equation of Time, we can customize the back-case, but we haven’t done it up to now. We have had some requests, but these are friends of the brand so when we sit down and discuss it, they walk away convinced.”

© Erwan Grey 2015

Thanks to the strong appetite for luxury in the region, the brand has seen double-digit growth in the last year, and despite challenges such as the recent drop in oil prices, George hopes to achieve similar targets in 2015.

“They buyers in the GCC are not the kind of customers who will say,‘I’m going to make less money this year so I will not buy’.

“They always consume luxury. I think it’s something they grew up with and I do not think it’s easy to change such habits. Luxury is part of their culture, it means a lot to them, it’s quite emotional to them as well,” he states.

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