July 2011

IMAGE XY Factor

Deciding who gets its coveted limited-edition watches is an exercise in diplomacy for Panerai’s Chad Warrick
by ADAM TSCHORN

PHOTO: BARTHOLOMEW COOKE

Officine Panerai’s large-face timepieces have a nearly cult-like cadre of devotees, who covet them in part because of their extremely limited production runs of 150 to 3,000 world-wide. This makes for quite the fever spike despite price tags of $5,000 and up.

No one knows that better than Chad Warrick, 41, director of Panerai’s Beverly Hills boutique since it opened six years ago. “We probably have the largest collector base in the industry,” Warrick says of the brand, which began back in 1860 and then flourished when the Royal Italian Navy needed watches that could be easily read underwater. “Bigger than Rolex, bigger than Patek, bigger than anyone.”

But what’s great for brand demand is lousy for logistics. Each January, when new models are unveiled at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, Warrick must solve a supply-and-demand problem that might earn him the Nobel in economics if he were allocating bushels of corn or wheat instead of pricey watches. “By about 9 a.m. local time, my phone starts ringing, and by the end of the week, I can have 100 to 200 requests—when I might get one or two dozen [watches], tops. I won’t know that until summer.”

This makes Warrick a popular fellow among those seeking the rarest of the rare. When asked to share what he has been offered over the years to sweeten the pot, he just smiles and shakes his head. So a laundry list is put to him: a steak dinner? Lakers tickets? An introduction to a comely niece?

“All that kind of stuff,” Warrick says. “People know we can’t accept gifts, but it doesn’t stop them from trying.” He’s had to field everything from polite requests from a credit-card company on behalf of an elite account to demands from less than courtly captains of industry. “Telling a billionaire they can’t have something? They’re not used to that. We don’t care if you have six billion or $100,000—we treat everyone the same.”

With one big exception, says Warrick: “If you’ve been a good customer and have been buying your watches from this boutique, you’re on my VIP list. And I’ll know what’s in your collection, whether it’s three or a hundred Panerai watches.”

In other words, if you were lusting after this season’s $9,950 Panerai PAM 372, and this is the first you’ve heard the name Chad Warrick, chances are you’re in for a lonely stretch of wrist real estate come autumn.