The brand has already started making its iconic Luminor Marina timepieces using recycled eSteel cases and dials. eSteel is an alloy made from nearly 55 per cent recycled steel.
This year, Panerai also claimed a first by launching the eLAB-ID, a watch which uses 98.6 per cent recycled material.
Almost every feature – including the case, movement bridges, indexes, strap and buckle – is fashioned from materials which incorporate recycled elements.
It is the first watch to use 100 per cent recycled SuperLuminova for the dial and hands, and 100 per cent recycled silicon for its movement escapement.
“The movement is especially complicated. We liaised and worked with 10 suppliers to develop the watch,” says Mr Pontroue.
But instead of keeping the process close to its chest, Panerai has released the list of suppliers it worked with on the timepiece.
“We do that so other brands don’t lose time to find the same solutions. I strongly believe that our problem is a shared problem,” he says.
“And even if I think I’m a great guy, I will not be able to save the world alone,” he adds cheekily.
The Frenchman, who headed watchmaker Roger Dubuis before joining Panerai in 2018, hopes Panerai’s ecological approach will pave the way for other watchmakers.
Initiatives on the environment, he says, have to go beyond straps and packaging. “It’s not enough because of the magnitude of the problem.”
The ethos of Panerai Ecologico applies to all 740 employees of the company, which operates in three cities – Geneva (where the headquarters is), Neuchatel in western Switzerland (where the manufacturing facility is) and Milan (where the creative team is based).
“I joined the team three years ago before Covid-19 started. In one year, we cut by 91 per cent the number of trips between the locations by installing video-conferencing facilities,” Mr Pontroue says.
Also helping to cut carbon footprint is the brand’s decision to do away with service guides for its watches.
“That saves 20 tonnes of paper a year. Think of the weight of all that paper travelling by plane to all the watches we are selling around the world,” he says.
The production plant in Neuchatel has also been held up as a sterling example of sustainable design.
Instead of fossil fuels, it uses – among other things – solar panels, geothermics systems and hydraulic power for heating, cooling and operating machinery. Rainwater or any water used is recycled.
“Even when we build stores, we use low-intensity lighting and recycle our decor,” Mr Pontroue says.
The way he sees it, being ecologically responsible is also a marketing tool and a way of positioning Panerai.
It has helped the brand win over a new generation of fans.
“The new generation will take care of the planet better than we do. And they will ask us why we didn’t do it better,” he says.
Another marketing tool that has reaped rewards is Pamcast, a digital storytelling platform it launched last year.
Mr Pontroue hopes Pamcast – which was conceived to connect with consumers online – will be the “Netflix of the watch industry” when it comes with websites.
“We talk about Italy, history, heritage, key events and our ambassadors like Mike Horn,” he says, referring to the famous South Africa-born Swiss explorer.
Since the launch, the brand has seen a 30 per cent increase in traffic to its website.
“And they stay longer too. Instead of 10 people who come in and stay just one minute, I prefer one person who comes in, really gets into a story and stays 10 minutes,” says Mr Pontroue.
He intends to get better at the pioneering game. “When we take the lead, we need to be credible.”