Angelo Bonati




A conversation with Angelo Bonati, the legendary CEO of Panerai, who over the past two decades has created one of the great success stories of the watch industry. With his team, he has basically transformed one watch into an international brand. If there is one brand that knows how to express uniqueness and authenticity while staying true to its DNA, it is Panerai.

Mart Engelen: How would you describe Panerai?
Angelo Bonati: Panerai is a special brand in my opinion because it always represents passion and values. Typical Italian expression in a brand, despite the fact that we manufacture in Switzerland. But the mentality—the approach—is Italian. And this is Panerai: authentic, modern.
ME: How would you describe its collectors?
AB: The collectors are people who fall in love with this brand. Fall in love with this watch. Because it’s an unusual watch.
ME: We have to say collectors in fact and not buyers …
AB: Yes, because from the beginning when you are in front of a Panerai watch, you either love it or you hate it. Panerai generates a lot of collectors who all share a love for its story, design, authenticity and passion. In fact, when people write to me, they tell me with pride, “I own No. 1 to No. 5” and I really think that’s fantastic! They don’t stop after No. 1. They are very passionate.
ME: With its beautiful history, does Panerai have to follow trends these days? There was a time not long ago that many high-end watch brands were making their watches bigger and bigger.
AB: Let me add something. Panerai established the XL trend and the rest of the industry followed. Now it seems that the trend is changing but that’s not true because, when you look through the range now, in the new trend watches are still big. You can find a lot of brands when you stay within the dimensions of Panerai. Basically, all the brands have bigger or smaller watches than Panerai.
ME: It must have been such a challenge when you joined Panerai in 1997. And now we are twenty years later. Under your leadership, Panerai is now considered one of the most desirable timepiece brands. Can you tell me a little about how you accomplished this?
AB: Again, when you are in front of a Panerai watch you love it or you hate it. I love it. I was given the opportunity by the group and I took it because, for me, the challenge to transform one watch into a brand was something exceptional. In 20 years we have been able to realise all the objectives and to exceed them. Basically by establishing a brand, because before it was one watch and now it’s a brand. The brand is like a box, inside you put watches, image, awareness, manufacturing. You put in everything. It didn’t used to be like that but now it is. It makes me very proud because twenty years is not a long time. Well, it is a long time, but not in the watch industry. We achieved something that other brands were unable to do in a hundred years.
ME: When you look back at those twenty years, what do you cherish the most?
AB: Everything. The mistakes and also the exceptional success. If I should go back, I would repeat exactly what I did. Even the mistakes. Because through the mistakes you can learn. (laughs)
ME: Next year you will pass on the torch. What will your advice be to your successor?
AB: Oh my God! Frankly speaking, I think that every human being has his own head, eyes, nose, thoughts, etc. You can say “I suggest you do this”, but it’s very hard. For me that’s not the case. It’s not for me to talk about this. It will be a huge responsibility. After twenty years of this kind of success, it will not be easy. That’s why it’s better I stay silent. The manufacture, movement, brand, everything is there. What more do I need to say?
ME: How do you see the future of Panerai?
AB: Ah, Panerai is a brand with a huge potential. You have to manage it carefully but you can continue its great success. Because it’s pure, authentic. The basis of the brand is very strong. Sometimes someone says you should make a new case and then I say, “A new movement— yes. But new cases—no. This is Panerai.”
ME: It was a great pleasure to witness the marvellous Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge in Porto Santo Stefano and then in Cannes this year. What touched me most was the true passion and authenticity of all the participants. And Panerai, of course. Can you tell me more about the genesis; how this all started?
AB: That’s simple. At the beginning, we needed something to communicate the values of the brand. Of course while respecting the DNA of the brand. The sea was the first element on which we had to stay. For example, we could have chosen motor yachts to promote the brand but that was not an option because motor yachts signify pollution, extravagance. They don’t have a positive image. Then you have the option of a modern sailing yacht, but they are extremely complex and hi-tech and very difficult to sail. So then you have classic yachts left. The classic yacht is much more complicated than the others but the way they are built and how they stimulate the people who watch them is fantastic because these boats are very different from the others. They express freedom, for example you can sail with people to the Caribbean. It’s a dream!
ME: How do you think nowadays we can transfer all the important values like trust, quality, authenticity, passion and so on to future generations?
AB: Well, when you are at school today you don’t learn to study what passion, authenticity, human values, etc. mean. But I am really convinced that the young generation, the millennials, will grow into this aspect. Because at a certain moment you need something different as a human being. You can not live with the iPhone, technology, social media without having contact and feeling what passion, authenticity, etc mean. That’s my conviction and why I feel better for that and trust the new millennials. When I was their age, I was thinking about rock and roll, the first computers started to appear, suddenly there was the CD player. It was a fantastic time. Now you have the iPhone, the world is changing continuously. The present is the past and the future is the present. I am confident in any case that we are always human.
ME: So you are always positive at the end of the day?
AB: Yes.
ME: How can you manage the balance between tradition and innovation?
AB: As I said before, the future is the present and the present is the past. We face two extremes but they touch one another. You need innovation to create the future Panerai; to satisfy the future clients of Panerai. And at the same time you need to keep and cultivate the historical basis because it gives you awareness and credibility. You also have to look into the future, you cannot repeat and do the same thing. Most of our clients are collectors, so we always have to show them something new. They demand that. I am really convinced if you innovate, you always transfer your DNA to the newcomer. The millennials have to know the past but they also want to know the future and the present.
ME: Thank you for this conversation.
AB: Thank you too.
—Copyright 2018 Mart Engelen


Angelo Bonati, Milan 2017 Photo by Mart Engeleb

Angelo Bonati, Milan 2017
Photo by Mart Engelen


Visit to the Of cine Panerai Manufacture in Neuchâtel, Switzerland 2017

Visit to the Officine Panerai Manufacture in Neuchâtel, Switzerland 2017


Visit to the Officine Panerai Manufacture in Neuchâtel, Switzerland 2017