Nick Walton talks with Panzera co-founder Andrew Herman on what it takes to build a formidable brand in the competitive affordable watch scene.
Whether it’s the internet, the changing preference of younger consumers or a move away from conventional luxury, the watch scene is in the midst of a shakeup as new brands edge in on territory traditionally dominated by big-spending Swiss brands. We’ve seen design-driven watch brands from across the world picking up market share and loyal followings as consumers increasingly shun the heritage brands in lieu of more affordable watches that look great and are gentler on the wallet. One such brand is Panzera, a brash Aussie brand that’s building a cult-like following from its base in Sydney.
Most Australian mates content themselves with fishing trips and the odd weekend test match; what made you start developing watches with your long-term friend Roger Cooper?
Yes, it is rare for friends to start a business together but great if you can make it work! One day over a casual brunch catchup Roger suggested he would be interested in doing something different and moving out of the corporate retail environment to start his own business. He asked if I had any ideas. I suggested we could do something together with watches as they were always a passion for both of us. We felt if we could aim to produce automatic watches that were of high quality and great design but at an affordable price point, there could be a good opportunity for us to build a new brand.
You both have backgrounds in retail and sales; where does the passion for timepieces come from and what did you identify as missing in the pre-Panzera watch scene?
My passion for watches started when I was just old enough to walk and my dad bought me my first wind up watch. It may be in my genes as my father is from Switzerland, but I have always been obsessed with watches for as long as I can remember. Roger’s passion for watches started a bit later when he was working for a number of retail design companies. He really appreciated the high-end design and that flowed through to his appreciation of watches. Despite the passion for watches since a young age, it was not on either of our radars until around 12 years ago that we would one day start a company that manufactures and supplies watches to hundreds of thousands of customers around the world.
What was missing in the Pre-PANZERA scene? As someone who really loves watches it was always disappointing that to purchase a traditional quality timepiece you would generally have to pay very large amounts of money – making it unachievable for a lot of people or a rare occurrence over a lifetime. We felt a lot of the costs of high-end timepieces were artificially created by high marketing costs (getting Brad Pitt to wear your watch in an advert is not cheap!) and attempts by fashion brands to make themselves exclusive.
You can see a lot of that currently with many high-end models of popular watches being almost impossible to purchase without being put on a waiting list due to “stock shortages” which is causing the prices to rise. However, there is likely no real production or supply constraint for these watches as it is just the desire to keep the brands appearing exclusive/elusive.
We however wanted to take the opposite approach and offer people a relatively high-end product but at a realistic price point that enables people to buy 2, 3, 6 or more of our watches even in a single year. Our ability to sell online direct to consumers through e-commerce has really helped enabled this also. We pass on this efficiency to our customers who, like Roger and I, just want to enjoy quality timepieces at a reasonable price rather than as a very high-priced status symbol which many watch brands have become – even if Brad Pitt does not wear a PANZERA (yet!).
Your collection is defined by big, bold, masculine timepieces; where does Panzera trace its design DNA from and what has the reception been to this design ethos to date?
This big bold approach comes from two things. Firstly, we initially wanted to focus on selling men’s watches into Australia, the US, UK and Canada as our main target markets. Men in these countries generally like big bold watches that look very masculine and suit a larger sized wrist.
Secondly, watches have long since moved from being functional timekeeping devices to being a piece of individual jewellery for men as well as a personal style statement. We felt if a man was going to wear a watch it should make a clear and strong statement rather than be timid and subtle. Hence the big bold and masculine look to our watches. They also differentiate us from a lot of the other more neutral watches out there that we compete with.
Having said that, last year we introduced the Aquamarine 38, which is a smaller version of our Aquamarine 45. This was created due to popular demand to allow women (and men who have a smaller wrist size) to also be able to enjoy a PANZERA.
One benefit of having a common design across our watches in terms of size and masculinity is that we have an amazing fan base of customers who buy 2, 3 or even 6 of our watches. We even have a few customers who buy every model we produce! This is a wonderful compliment and exactly what we hoped to achieve when we started the brand. They have also been instrumental in helping us build a roadmap for our future models by providing constructive feedback.
You produce both pieces with Swiss-made movements and also Australian-made watches with Japanese Miyota movements; what was the motivation behind this move and how has the reception been to an “Aussie watch brand”?
Our original plan was to supply cost-effective yet high-quality watches to the market. However, we did not want to go down the path of many low-end brands by supplying rebranded China, Hong Kong or Taiwan products to market. It would have had a negative impact in terms of perceived quality and also differentiation. So our design and assembly have always been done locally here in Australia, which has worked really well for us.
Watches also tend to be partly valued on being unique and what could be more unique to someone than buying an Australian watch? It’s a real talking point over dinner or a drink.
Using Japanese movements was also a great move. These movements are bulletproof in terms of reliability, they are easy to maintain and well respected in watch communities. But most importantly it enables us to produce a cost-effective watch that most people can afford.
Recently we have introduced fully “Swiss Made” models manufactured in our Swiss production facility in Ticino in the southern part of Switzerland. Originally these were going to be seen as low volume sellers to expand our sales to higher end watch enthusiasts and existing customers who wanted to own a Swiss-made watch but still at a realistic price point while also providing a flagship model for the PANZERA brand. Since their launch earlier this year we have actually found these to be very popular and we will be increasing the number of Swiss models to make them a larger part of the PANZERA line-up in 2022.
We have seen a surge in new, relatively affordable watch brands over the past decade. Do you think there is a move away from complications and towards bolder, design-forward timepieces?
It is an interesting comment. Generally, the fewer complications a watch has the easier it is to make, especially at a lower price point. So it is where most brands, including PANZERA, start out, hence why you tend to see a lot of simple three handed movements out there in the market. However, the number one criteria we have found for a successful watch is its design and making it stand out from the crowd.
While complications on high-end watches can make them more exclusive or functional, for us they are about improving the look and design of a watch. A good example is our recent F46 pilot’s chronograph. While most people who purchase this watch probably never use the analogue chronograph function apart from maybe timing a steak cooking on their BBQ, the additional subdials on the watch make the dial look much more interesting/busy. Our customers agree too as they have now made this one of our best-selling models. So, I do see for PANZERA more complications coming out in 2022 to enhance our designs and offer visually interesting watches.
One complication I do love from a functionality point of view, rather than just visual, is the GMT function or ability to read a second time zone on the watch. As a traveller, I find this very useful and it is on our list of complications we would be looking at adding to our range soon.
Panzera prides itself on its affordability and value proposition; how to maintain the balance between affordability and quality and are there lessons other Australian companies could learn from Panzera?
The number one thing I think other Australian brands can learn from PANZERA is to focus on design first. We have had a few models in the past that achieve the same affordability and quality as our existing watches, but they did not take off. Watches are very much a visual and emotive purchase. If you do not have the right design the rest of the value proposition does not make any difference. On the other hand, people will pay a premium for a design they find visually and emotionally appealing. This gives you the flexibility to use good quality components as the price point is less significant. Also, marketing a visually appealing designed watch is a lot easier.
In addition to design, quality and engineering are also important when you are building a long term brand. However, this needs to follow behind the design in terms of priority, especially in building a long-term brand.
What can we expect next from the brand?
There have been some good lessons learnt in 2021 that we will be applying to our upcoming plans for 2022. Firstly we have learnt that our higher end Swiss watches, although at a higher price point, are very popular especially with our existing customers wanting something special to add to their collections, so we will be coming out with additional Swiss models in 2022.
Secondly, we have learnt that our Pilots Chronograph has become one of the best selling models, which is something we did not expect as our Dive/Marine watches have traditionally been our best sellers for more than five years. We will be adding new chronograph models to the range in 2022.
Lastly, there has been a lot of requests for different dial colours from our customers, other than the traditional black and blue we currently offer. Therefore we will be launching some new options in this space soon.
We expect 2022 to be an excellent year for PANZERA with more new models being released than in any year previously. As always we try to offer our customers what they want and we appreciate the growing group of vocal fans that keep us moving in the right direction.
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