There are watch fans, and then there are Paneristi – Panerai’s ardent community of buyers and brand enthusiasts. Its website receives an average of over two million visits a month. And while the community is not officially affiliated to the watchmaker, the latter has created a special edition “Paneristi Forever” timepiece dedicated to this loyal following.
Among them is 48-year-old Australian Alan “Hammer” Bloore: adrenalin junkie, former professional tennis player and a man who owes his life to the Italian watchmaker.
After a boating accident seven years ago left him paralysed from the chest down, Bloore faced some of his darkest days while in recovery. His only distraction was his passion for watches, and for Panerai in particular, along with the overwhelming support from fellow Paneristi the world over in the form of donations, recommendations for therapy and general encouragement.
And it worked. The help of his family and sometimes faceless friends aided him in finding the optimism he once had. Today, he travels around the world meeting fellow watch collectors and sharing his story. He even buys gifts for the boutique staff he visits – even those he’s never met.
In Singapore at the Panerai boutique in Ion Orchard during the interview, Bloore insists on clearing his own cups, joking that he ought to clean the window displays and vacuum the floor, too, wheelchair be damned. “That was the deal I made with Antonius (Kerssenbrock, general manager for South-east Asia),” he quips. “If you let me play here in your ‘toy house’, I’ll do anything!”
His offer is made in earnest. “There is no other group more united than the Paneristi,” declares Bloore. “I once made a bet with a friend that he could name any country, and I would be able to find a Paneristi there I didn’t know, who would be happy to show me around. He named Kazakhstan, and I really did find a nice gentleman who wanted to meet up for coffee and show me the sights. He was quite upset when I told him I wasn’t serious.”
Infectiously cheerful despite his deteriorating physical condition, Bloore considers it all in a day’s work to share his touching tale and to meet up with the people who kept him going.
You’re not just here to do part-time work at the boutique, are you?
My family and I are in Singapore for a few days, and we went to Universal Studios and the aquarium today. I just sat under the sun while the kids went on the rides, but just being there is part of being a good dad. Singapore is a special place for us because my wife and I honeymooned here, and my son was conceived during that time. We haven’t been back since the accident.
That must have been a terrible ordeal.
My friends and I were on a boat and I didn’t see the freak wave coming. We hit a sandbank and I flew over the bow. I hit my head hard and I felt this “click”. I was drifting down into the water and I was thinking: “What’s going on? Swim!” As I watched the top of the water get farther and farther away from me, my friends were going: “Stop fooling around and get up!” But I couldn’t move and I started to drown. You’d think that if you knew you were drowning, you wouldn’t open your mouth. But when you really are, your mouth opens on its own. I started swallowing seawater and seeing black spots. And I thought: “I’m going to die.”
Thankfully, you didn’t.
Someone cradled my neck and floated me to the top. I was lucky because I had a six-year-old son and a six-month-old daughter at the time. But my vertebra was cut in half and four or five of my thoracic vertebrae were shattered. I couldn’t feel anything below my chest. I couldn’t cough or sneeze. What’s really sad is that scar tissue has developed around the area where the spinal cord was severed and it’s grown into a tumour that’s moving up and crushing the nerves. Now, my paralysis reaches just under my armpits. It’s not looking too good.
And how did you maintain being this extraordinarily upbeat?
I’m usually pretty upbeat. I’m a “Let’s do it!” kind of guy. I heard the news about the tumour two weeks after the accident. I hadn’t cried but, suddenly one night, I thought to myself: “When I close my eyes tonight, I’m just going to let myself go. I’m going to die. I don’t want to live like this.” That’s when I reached for my laptop and all I could think of was to visit Paneristi.com and talk with my mates about watches and look at pictures. I got through that two- to three-hour period when I wasn’t doing too good. After that, I went back to being upbeat.
Is the community aware of your condition?
Yeah, of course. They’ve raised money, helped me get into rehabilitation by flying me to California to see doctors; they help me everywhere I go. It’s hard to imagine, but the reality is that I managed to get through the most horrible things in my life because I fell in love with a watch.
Which watch was that?
Well, I’ve always been into military timepieces, and I remember it was 1999 when I was reading a book about them. It was in Italian, but I knew I would like the pictures. Ah, Longines is nice, sure. Then, boom! I turn a page and there it was– the Panerai 6154. The last time I felt like that was when my wife told me she was pregnant.
What drew you in?
It’s the aesthetics at the start. But the more you learn about the history of the brand, the more it becomes a slippery slope on the wallet because it’s like reading a real-life adventure book. You can see the similarities between the watches made today, and the original ones worn by the divers from the Royal Italian Navy between 1938 and 1993. Other horology houses have histories that involve building a pocket watch for Marie Antoinette or something like that. It’s not quite the same.
So, how many do you own?
I have no idea. I’ve purposely never had all my watches together to count them. I know some collectors run Excel spreadsheets for their watches, but I honestly don’t know how many I have.
Do you collect watches from other brands?
I have vintage pieces and watches from Audemars Piguet and Hublot. I do like other watches, but at the end of the day, I want a watch that makes me feel strong when I look at it; a watch that will remind me of a time when men were men.