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A Conversation with Angelo Bonati

The man who has guided Panerai for nearly two decades talks about attracting devoted followers, the relationship between a watch and its wearer, and the importance of passion—in watchmaking and in life

Photo By Stefano Oppo

Angelo Bonati has been the chief executive of Italian watchmaker Officine Panerai since 1997, when the family-founded company, once an exclusive watch supplier to the Royal Italian Navy, was bought by Swiss luxury conglomerate Compagnie Financière Richemont, then known as the Vendome Group. During that time Bonati has guided the brand to its status as one of the watch world’s strongest brands, particularly beloved by watch aficionados, collectors and the fervent Panerai groupies known as Paneristi, who gather online and at annual meetings. After 17 years of leadership, Bonati offers his thoughts on the company he loves.

“When you buy a watch, it’s not like buying a tie . Because after six months, you don’t wear the tie anymore. A watch has to live with the owner for a long time. The watch is linked to you, and when you don’t have it, you look for it—where is my watch?”

“We have a strong segment of collectors who want to buy our special editions, people who own over 100 Panerai watches. And we have the Paneristi—these people are enthusiastic!”

“I don’t talk to the Paneristi too much, because you don’t want to pollute the ecosystem. They are the passion. You have to leave them to talk to each other about the experience.”

“It’s not that we don’t grow—when you stop growing, you die. We grow in terms of quality, if not quantity. I am a maniac about quality, and I want everyone else to be. Otherwise, at the end of the day, they say, ‘My job is done.’ No. Your job is done, now what else would you suggest?”

“We don’t want to get bigger than we are now. In terms of brand, in terms of niche, we want to stay where we are. Otherwise we risk losing the exclusivity.”

“Some people ask me, ‘When are you going to do a women’s watch?’ We don’t do a women’s watch, we don’t do a men’s watch—we do a watch.”

“I will never be able to work without passion, without something beyond the job. ‘I give you my work, you give me money’—for me, this is not a relationship. Because, OK, you pay me. But what I give you is without condition.”

“I am 62 years old and the most important experience of my life —not just professional, but as a human being—is Panerai .”

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