Photos: R. Naas
It’s difficult to imagine the sheer magnitude of an all-glass building in Neuchâtel where man and machine come together to research, develop and build the high-precision Officine Panerai timepieces that are coveted around the world.
Here we go behind the scenes and inside Officine Panerai Manufacture. Scroll down to read it all or use the following menu to jump ahead:
New Headquarters In Switzerland
Having visited a lot of watch factories, I can honestly say that this facility is impressive. It was built when previous CEO of the brand –Angelo Bonati – determined that Panerai would begin making its own movements in-house.
The company needed more space for the equipment, machinery and manpower to accomplish this feat. All of the machines were new at inception, and the brand went from employing just about 110 people in its previous headquarters to more than double that size.
To date, Panerai makes more than 30 different movements in house.
The state-of-the-art building is incredibly modern and sophisticated. With a work flow from room to room, its configuration not only makes sense but also ensures that all of the different functions involved in making movements and finished watches is smooth and steady.
Furthermore, the modern facilities have allowed Panerai to take unprecedented steps into drastically reducing the brand’s carbon footprint. In the following section, you’ll learn how Panerai has taken some remarkable green initiatives in recent years.
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Panerai’s Green Commitment
The 10,000 square-meter (33,000 feet) facility has played home to the brand for five years now. Built in 2014, the Manufacture today houses approximately 250 employees, at least 50 of which are engineers and scientists.
The security level, especially in the Research and development areas, a very important priority for Panerai, is extremely high. The manufacture even has bulletproof windows.
Additionally, the facility is highly green – ensuring that the brand does not leave a carbon footprint. The ecofriendly building has 35 geothermal sensors in the ground to exchange cold and heat.
On the roof, there is a rainwater collection system and that water is recycled and used for the toilets, watering the grass and other needs.
The building has solar panels, and a garden filled with fruit trees from which employees (with an average age of 38) can reap the rewards.
Furthermore, the brand also opts for hydroelectric energy instead of nuclear energy. With all the snow-melt in Switzerland, this is a much greener power source.
The lighting system uses energy-saving bulbs and LED, as well as special sensors that automatically switch off if there is no activity in the vicinity for more than 30 minutes.
Panerai even encourages employees who live locally to take the company shuttle to and from work to cut down on carbon. They are rewarded with money back on a weekly or monthly cycle for doing this or for taking their bicycle to work. Those who drive pay for driving their car and parking at the facility.
Manufacture Layout & Machinery
Like most manufactures, the heavy machinery and equipment—such as the CNC machines for cutting components – is located on the ground floor. The brand machines both sides of its movement plates at the same timing – yielding more precise machining and better performance.
Additionally, a nuance for Panerai comes in its finishing. In fact, the polished angling on movement parts is actually executed during the CNC stage – achieving great precision and cutting costs for hand anglage.
Machines also help with the grained finishing on other movement parts – using robots to uniformly apply sandpaper for the graining. On the haute horology pieces, further hand finishing comes into play later.
Throughout the upper floors of the Manufacture, the different processes of research, development, design, assembly, testing, and final production – as well as after sales service occupy room after room.
The top floors also play home to the brand’s haute horology master watchmaking assembly and to its Laboratorio di Idee (Laboratory of Ideas). It is where where the creation, design, prototype making and more takes place.
By bringing together the best possible technical machines with human interaction for every process of watchmaking, Panerai regularly turns out timepieces that are rugged, durable, precise, and cutting-edge.
Easily one of the most impressive portions of the Panerai manufacture is the testing facility. Every watch undergoes stringent quality control tests and is held to extremely high standards.
In fact, the tests are exhausting, and focus on everything from shock resistance to anti-magnetism, pressure, corrosion, helium air pressure, salt spray, temperature and climate change and more.
In one area robotic arms test for shock resistance, and in another area water resistance is tested, and there is a special salt-water testing for corrosion.
After all, water resistance is key for a brand that is known for its water and regatta timepieces.
Panerai even tests the effects of perspiration (using synthetic “sweat”) on its cases and straps.
Every watch also goes through meticulous and labor-intensive tests for winding and, of course, chronometry.
One of the more fun tests to watch is the drop test, where each watch is dropped from a height of about three feet and checked for damage. While other brands have intense testing, Panerai goes above and beyond to ensure that when a Panerai watch is exposed to the elements, it withstands them.
The Future Of Panerai
Recently in an interview with Jean-Marc Pontroue, the CEO of the brand since late in 2018, he acknowledged plans moving forward with the brand to make the Submersible a separate collection. Currently it is part of the Luminor collection.
“The purpose of the Submersible is to be a dive watch. It is not meant to be a normal watch,” says Pontroue, “It was originally made as a tool watch. It is meant to be uncivilized. So we will make it its own pillar line, at 47 mm or bigger, and it will have its own statement. It will be extreme and disruptive.”
Other pillars for the brand are the Luminor collection, the Radiomir and the Due.
According to Pontroue, the Luminor is the signature of the brand and will focus on contemporary Italian styling; the Radiomir is “dedicated to the history of the brand an will be Italian at its best with vintage inspiration.” He also said that the Radiomir will be crafted in steel, or the noble metals, no more ceramic.As was its intention when the line was launched, the Due is a more civilized, slimmer watch designed for newcomers to the brand. Says Pontroue, “About 95 percent of new customers to Panerai come for the Due. They know the brand, and this smaller version attracts them.”
This year, too, Panerai unveiled its first “watches sold with experiences” concept, and Pontroue says it makes sense to continue this in small numbers. The brand also partners with the Italian team competing in the next America’s Cup.
Now that you have read about our tour of Officine Panerai’s manufacture, check out some more of our watch resources:
- Bespoke Unit’s Watch Reviews
- Watch Brand & History Guides
- Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture Tour
- Different Bezel Scales & How To Use Them
- Watches Homepage
"Italian excellence helmed in Switzerland. An ecological and technical marvel, Panerai's facilities in Neuchâtel is nothing short of awe-inspiring."Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★