Italian watchmaker Officine Panerai launches their first Australian boutique

You're the watch brand that grew from creating instruments for the Italian navy and are now known for large tool watches, so how do you mark the opening of your first boutique in Australia?

Well, not with anything overtly connected to the sea or no-nonsense implements for frogmen, rather with a swish sit-down dinner complete with an eccentric performance and instagram-perfect guest list.

This after-all was Melbourne circa May 17 2018, a million light years from the birth date of Officine Panerai, the fuss-free Florentine watchmaker founded in 1860.

An intimate soiree

Panerai has partnered with luxury watch and jewellery retailer Kennedy to open a boutique in the western end of Collins Street, the brands 75th such salon worldwide.

The evening started out at the boutique itself, a jewel-box-like space configured by Spanish architect and "long-standing friend of the brand" Patricia Urquiola who has worked on countless Panerai boutiques worldwide.

A press release informs us Urquiola "ensures each store showcases a functional yet unique design which respects the philosophy of Panerai's oceanic history and Florentine origins," although over champagne and small talk the vibe felt more majestic than marine or military, with oak wall panels and brass vitrines vying for attention alongside Panerai's latest timepieces.

An obligatory ribbon cutting with Julio Sato, Managing Director of Panerai Asia Pacific, and James Kennedy, of Kennedy Luxury Group followed, after which guests decamped in limousines to a private dinner at the $17.5 million Toorak residence of Melbourne chef Shannon Bennett.

One for the fans

Bennett, we were informed, had designed a custom menu for the evening "taking inspiration from Panerai's key brand pillars and long standing legacy," some challenge one would have thought.

If that's a stretch it was also delicious, upstaged only by the night's guest performer, pianist David Helfgott, inspiration for the award-winning film Shine.

Helfgott is the Bishop Curry of pianists, surprising most and alarming some with his passion and evangelical style. As with the Bishop's viral performance at the Harry and Meghan Wedding just 48 hours later, Helfgott ensured the Panerai event would be remembered for more than it original purpose – entirely apt for a watch that fans routinely regard as larger than life.