Italy's dangerous margin

October 2003

Besides their many qualities, the Italians also have their faults. One in particular is the bad habit of cultivating a certain sympathy for fake items, and in general for those who exhibit a healthy knowledge of how to scheme. While these people are seen as delinquents, they are often excused in part or even admired for being, if not gentlemen, at least resourceful individuals in the now famous art of the 'combinazione'. Ah, another myth of the Bel Paese that is destroyed…

With this in mind, it is a small distance that separates being 'resourceful' and considering fakes as something positive rather than as something detrimental to the whole community. This margin is decidedly dangerous since it tends to turn attention away from the crime itself instead of building initiatives to protect the product.

The case of the Luminor Marina watches made by Officine Panerai is emblematic, although the problem concerns all the other brands as well. Carefully redesigned by Giampiero Bodino (currently Art Director at the Richemont Group, owner of the Italian firm since 1997), the easily identifiable new models were launched in 1998 and became an immediate critical and commercial success. Quickly, they were seen as 'cult' objects for aficionados and collectors alike and soon became status symbols expressing a modern and dynamic lifestyle in tune with the latest trend. Especially appreciated were their extra-large size, Swiss Made movement and their captivating design.

As explains Angelo Bonati, CEO of Officine Panerai, whose historical headquarters are in Florence, the launch was accompanied by a powerful marketing and communication campaign. The result was a deluge of 20,000 Panerai 'style' fake watches onto the market, causing serious damage to the brand, both from a financial and image point of view. Some of these fakes copied only a few design details such as the crown protection or had they had a similar sounding name. Others were more blatant and attracted either the inexperienced or those who deliberately sought out an imitation Panerai.

Panerai did not stand still faced with this threat and we will not go into the various legal actions taken by the brand, except to say that a number of websites selling the phony watches were closed. In passing, it is worth mentioning the small amount of attention that the Italian 'system' gives in protecting its own creations. On this point, Angelo Bonati hopes that something similar to what is happening in Germany will happen in Italy.

In Germany many private individuals, trade and consumer magazines, as well as a number of institutions have united to protect Lange & Söhne watches from the counterfeiting 'mafia'. For them it has become a question of honour, based on their national pride. It is important for Italians to understand the possibilities offered by the German initiatives in terms of patents and the defence of the identity and legitimacy of a brand. Among them, in particular, is the opportunity to register a distinctive 'shape' when it identifies the product, as in the case, for example, of the Coca-Cola bottle. As far as shape goes, Panerai could certainly register its models.