While starchitect-designed luxury fashion stores may be all the rage, it is rare to find a watch boutique helmed by an equally illustrious, big-name designer. The reason, if one might hazard a guess, is that star designers are often commissioned to create spectacles — everything from stores that appear to float on water, to sculptural staircases that rise four storeys into the air — whereas many in the watch industry still lean towards the conservative.
Clearly, the balance between contemporary architecture and traditionalism is a feat not easily achieved. And this is what makes Officine Panerai's collaboration with Spanish architect-designer Patricia Urquiola so interesting. The Milan-based talent is well-known for her fresh, modern designs and has contributed to the collections of home-furnishing companies such as Moroso and Flos. Panerai, on the other hand, is a watchmaker with a rich military heritage dating back to 1860. On paper, it's hard to gauge how well a partnership between the two parties would turn out but it does — and very well for that matter.
“Patricia Urquiola has perfectly respected the philosophy of the brand and she has succeeded in expressing our link with tradition while looking forward to the future, to design, to innovation and to the pursuit of excellence,” says CEO Angelo Bonati. The Urquiola touch will be seen in five of the brand's stores, including its historic Florence outlet.
Most noteworthy is the recently reopened Canton Road boutique in Hong Kong, which is currently its largest in the world and the only Asian store with the new concept. First opened in 2010, the outlet underwent an extensive nine-month renovation and now boasts a much larger floor area of 367sq m that spans five levels.
“[The] Hong Kong [boutique] is a special project, which has enabled me to express the various spirits of Panerai,” says Urquiola. “In the five floors, we have aimed to provide a special experience, explaining the history of the brand, its dedication to technology and design, its concern for its clients and its respect for its watches.”
Over the festive Lunar New Year period, the premises officially opened with an auspicious lion dance staged outside its doors. With the “lions” prancing atop stilts by the sidewalk, one could not help but also admire the boutique's external facade. Large panels of undulating aluminium sheath the building, while an oversized wall clock — constructed to be typhoon-proof — displays the signature Panerai dial with oversized numerals at the three, six, nine and 12 o'clock positions.
Once led into the store, the Urquiola-designed experience is enjoyed first-hand. A warm colour palette of brown, cream and grey greets visitors upon arrival, while the floors are made of calacatta luccicoso veined marble (one of the finest Italian marbles on the market). For an interesting textural element, walls are lined with semi-reflective, reeded glass panels.
Not forgetting the watchmaker's celebrated heritage, the Italian designer took great care to infuse elements into the decor that subtly draw upon the Florentine brand's military history and association with the sea. Bronze, a material often used in naval equipment, is featured in the showcases and lighting fixtures. Some of the watch display cases are also built in an elongated fashion, recalling the oval portholes found on sea vessels.
Most notable is the in-house service centre on the sixth floor. A life-sized historical replica of a naval frogman stands tall at one corner of the room, alluding to the commando divers the brand used to equip back when it served as the supplier of precision instruments to the Royal Italian Navy.
From the look of things, Urquiola's attempt in bringing together elements from the manufacture's past and present cohesively in a singular space is nothing short of a success.
In light of its Canton Road boutique reopening, three new Luminor 1950 models — with “Hong Kong” engraved on the lever of its crown-protecting device — have been created especially to mark the occasion
LUMINOR 1950 3 DAYS ACCIAIO 47MM (PAM00606)
Equipped with a hand-wound mechanical P.3000 calibre and an Incabloc anti-shock device, the polished steel watch has a power reserve of three days and a water resistance of approximately 100m. The piece features a black sandwich dial with luminous Arabic numerals and hour markers.
LUMINOR 1950 3 DAYS AUTOMATIC ACCIAIO 44MM (PAM00608)
The AISI 316L polished steel watch is fitted with a P.9000 calibre and Incabloc anti-shock device, offering a reserve time of three days and water resistance of about 300m. It presents a brown sandwich dial with luminous Arabic numeral and hour markers, as well as a seconds counter at nine o'clock and a date indicator at three o'clock.
LUMINOR 1950 3 DAYS AUTOMATIC ACCIAIO 44MM (PAM00618)
As a variant of the PAM00608, this piece is equipped with the same movement and features, but instead displays a black sandwich dial with luminous Arabic numerals and hour markers.