Razer & Panerai On Their Luxury Watch Collaboration And Environmental Conservation

Panerai and Razer CEOs, Jean-Marc Pontroue and Tan Min-Liang on how how they found common ground in conservation, even if their collaboration has faced fan controversy.
by Lynette Koh

Razer and Panerai

From supercar marques to top athletes and graffiti artists, the names that luxury watch brands collaborate with reflect the cultural milieu of the time. In recent years, gaming and e-sports have provided fertile ground for horological partnerships.

In February, Swiss-Italian watch company Panerai and homegrown gaming brand Razer stepped out together in a pop-up that ran for three weeks outside Ion Orchard. Their partnership began in late 2021 when they joined forces to support non-profit environmental organisation Conservation International.

That year also saw Frederique Constant and Hamilton partnering video games Tennis Manager and Far Cry 6, respectively. Additionally, last year, Tag Heuer unveiled a $36,000 tourbillon watch featuring Mario Kart characters racing around the tourbillon cage. Even though some might question the link between the two worlds, it makes sense for luxury brands to tap into e-sports. According to market research firm Statista, there are more than 3.24 billion gamers worldwide, with the average age being 35. That’s a lot of potential watch buyers.

However, in an interview with The Peak, Panerai and Razer CEOs, Jean-Marc Pontroue and Tan Min-Liang both insist product sales are not the priority in their partnership.

Going green together

Credit: Razer founder and CEO Tan Min-Liang.

“Our focus is on our joint sustainability initiative,” says Razer’s Tan, who speaks with an eloquence that reflects his former profession as a lawyer. A Panerai fan, Tan initiated the meeting with the Italian watchmaker. The idea for the collaboration was seeded 20 years ago, when he bought a Panerai timepiece to reward himself. “It was a basic model and the first watch I bought with wages from my first job!” he says, laughing.

Both companies realised at the meeting that they shared a passion for the environment. Panerai’s interest lies in marine sustainability, while Razor supports reforestation, among other green activities. “It was two sides of the same coin,” says Tan, “So Jean-Marc and I chatted about our focus on the environment and what we could do together.”

“The real story is that Conservation International brought us together,” notes Pontroue, with his characteristic flair for the dramatic. The non-profit works with Razer as part of the latter’s 10-year sustainability programme #GoGreenWithRazer. To date, Razer’s support has helped Conservation International protect more than a million trees. On its part, Panerai last year launched the Panerai Ocean Conservation Initiative, developed in partnership with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of Unesco (IOC-Unesco).

As a team, both brands are supporting Conservation International’s research of marine species. The project specifically tags manta rays via satellite to gather data for the conservation of these creatures and their habitats.

The luxury watch industry was late to embrace sustainability

Credit: Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroue.

While it is clear that they champion green causes, Pontroue admits that the luxury watch industry was late to embrace sustainability. He says: “Five years ago, nobody in the watch business had any idea what sustainability was. Panerai was one of the first watch brands to open that chapter. In the beginning, our intention was not to make it such a huge thing, but the more we got into it, the more we saw that there was a lot more to do.”

This also explains why Panerai works with organisations such as IOC-Unesco and Conservation International. “I have no idea what the priorities in the protection of the environment are,” says Pontroue candidly. “That’s why we support the scientists and specialists in this area. They tell us this species is in danger; we should invest money here. We listen to them and help with resources, financing and amplification.”

Even though both leaders insist that product development isn’t the point of their collaboration, one has nevertheless emerged. During Razer’s digital convention RazerCon last October, the duo unveiled their first co-branded timepiece — the Luminor Quaranta Razer, a 500-piece limited-edition watch in recycled steel with a black DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating. Razer’s signature black and neon green colours perfectly matched Panerai’s black-dialled tool watches, which feature numerals and indexes coated with Super LumiNova and glow green in the dark.

Sales of the 40-mm timepiece have been brisk in Singapore, where it was launched. At the same time, new and often younger customers are discovering Panerai. Tan says, “I can’t name names, but some of the top tech entrepreneurs in the world pinged me and asked, ‘How do I get one of these?’ We were fortunate that the Panerai team here could help us get a couple of units to the US.”

Razer and Panerai

Credit: The Panerai x Razer pop-up at Ion Orchard.

Despite the abundance of interest in this collaboration, some in the famously vocal communities of both brands have baulked at the joint venture, questioning the commonalities between the two companies. When the Luminor Quaranta Razer was spotlighted during the RazerCon livestream last year, positive comments (“Honestly kinda lit” — lit being youthful slang to describe something cool — appeared alongside sceptical observations such as, “There can’t be that much overlap between Razer’s and Panerai’s markets.”

Strong customer sentiments are exactly what create buzz and thus amplify the message that both brands aim to deliver. Tan and Pontroue — or the head of any successful brand — are familiar with criticism. Tan shares: “Jean-Marc and I were just talking about it. Razer is a very polarising brand, and people love us or hate us. I believe that all great brands have that. It’s better to have a brand that people love or hate, rather than one that everybody is ambivalent about.

Razer and Panerai

Credit: Panerai Luminor Quaranta Razer Special Edition.

“I was surprised at how similar our fanbases are. In the watch industry, you have people who are passionate about the smallest things. You get those parallels in the gaming space too. People know exactly what a specific chipset does, and stuff like that. People in watches are similarly intensely passionate and can argue about the smallest details for the longest time.”

Pontroue remembers the criticism levelled at Panerai when the brand began releasing timepieces made of recycled materials two years ago. Launched in 2021, the Submersible eLab-ID was crafted almost entirely of recycled materials, including titanium comprising more than 80 per cent recycled metal. He recalls: “When we first launched our recycled watches, we had people who were hysterical, saying things like, ‘I would never spend money on a watch made of garbage’, and so on. Today, the same people ask us, ‘How can it be that you don’t use recycled components in all your products?’”

Razer and Panerai

Credit: The Panerai x Razer pop-up at Ion Orchard.

While the partnership is still in its infancy, both men are full of ideas about what their brands can do together. This can be major environmental initiatives, a cool timepiece — or simply a fun mini game. For the pop-up, the Razer team designed a simple game called Plastic Hunt, which allows players to shoot plastic waste floating in the ocean setting without hitting the manta rays.

Just don’t expect to see Pontroue’s name topping the leaderboard. He laments: “I tried playing the game at the pop-up and had a very bad score.” But he might yet succeed in another quest — getting Tan out of his gaming chair and into the sun to train with the Italian navy. This is part of an exclusive experience some Panerai customers have enjoyed with their purchase of certain watches. Tan laughs, “It’s not me who’s getting him into gaming. He’s the one trying to get me to be more outdoorsy right now.”

This article originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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