There’s no denying that Ulysse Nardin has a long history and tradition, but the modern legacy of the brand is innovation and change. The Freak revolutionized the watch industry at a time when it was stagnant, and the plan, from brand CEO Patrick Pruniaux’s perspective, is to continue shaking things up, so welcome to the new Ulysse Nardin. Revolution sat down with Pruniaux in his Swiss offices to find out more.
How is Ulysse Nardin different today from say, five years ago?
I’ve always thought of Ulysse Nardin as a brand for people in the know. It’s one of the industry’s best-kept secrets — perhaps too well kept. What’s changed is how we tell our story and make people more aware of Ulysse Nardin’s rich history and technical achievements. From a product standpoint, our emphasis has been on rejuvenating and enriching the key pillars: Marine, Diver, Freak, Executive, and Classic. We are constantly asking how we can improve and drive those collections forward.
How does your history inform and inspire your future?
You may not think of historic Marine Chronometers as “innovative,” but in fact Ulysse Nardin and his son, Paul David Nardin, were innovators for their time. They sought to be the best in precision and accuracy — and they were. That drive to keep improving is very much a part of our DNA, and what connects our haute horlogerie and technological advancements to the foundations of the brand. This year, we launched the Marine Torpilleur Military Semper Fortis, which speaks to our historic Marine Chronometers and partnership with the US Navy. We plan to continue releasing timepieces that can communicate around our history in a meaningful way.
What is the focus for Ulysse Nardin moving forward?
Innovation has been and will continue to be a focus. The Freak is an especially important segment of the collection — expect to see more in the coming months. We will also continue to build our offerings in the under $30,000 segment with the Marine Torpilleur and Diver collections.
What makes Ulysse Nardin stand out in today’s cluttered watch world?
Ulysse Nardin’s past is a huge asset, one that has not been shared enough. There’s a deep respect for what has been done, while always questioning how we can improve and drive the brand forward. Many brands say they are innovative, but at Ulysse Nardin, it’s truly the foundation of the company.
What are the key products for Ulysse Nardin today?
The Freak is one of our strongest collections and it’s a great ambassador for Ulysse Nardin. It’s a piece that grabs the attention if you’re a collector, or someone just starting to get interested in mechanical watchmaking. I see strong potential in the Freak and you’ll see more of it in the months ahead.
We’ve been working to rejuvenate the key collections. We launched a new Diver Chronometer at the Monaco Yacht show, one that is sleeker, more modern in design. The Marine Torpilleur is extremely strong as well. We’ve enriched it with limited edition military models, including a US limited edition “Semper Fortis” in honor of our partnership with the US Navy. It’s a great storytelling piece for us.
Tell me why the Freak is important for Ulysse Nardin?
There’s really nothing like the Freak. It’s a daring product, one that is at the core of Ulysse Nardin. That is why we felt it important to enrich the Freak collection into its own pillar of the brand. It has always been a “laboratory on the wrist,” to experiment and showcase the newest technologies. The Freak Vision brought the collection to a new level with the “Grinder.” It is an automatic winding system that improves how energy is transmitted. It’s truly revolutionary and the Freak collection was the ideal place to bring this technology to market.
How is the Ulysse Nardin customer changing? What is your target?
Millennials are the group on everyone’s mind. There are millions of new consumers coming to the watch industry and we have to find an authentic way to connect with them. Ulysse Nardin is rarely a person’s first luxury watch. There is a learning curve as you discover the manufactures, the brands that are in tune with who you are. You want something that will differentiate you from the crowd and that is a strength for our brand.
It’s also important to remember we are not just competing with other watch brands. We’re also competing with other types of spending, whether it is a sports car, a luxury handbag, a trip. The consumer is the consumer. We don’t think differently based upon category.
How important is the US to your strategy?
The US is a priority for the brand. We have launched several US-exclusive timepieces this year — a “Stars & Stripes” Executive Tourbillon and the above-mentioned “Semper Fortis” from the Marine Torpilleur Military collection. We will continue to design products specifically for the US market.
The New Marine Torpilleur Military Semper Fortis is a beautiful piece. Why is this important for Ulysse Nardin and how will it appeal to new customers?
Ulysse Nardin’s partnership with the US Navy is important for us both as a technical recognition and as a piece of storytelling. The partnership began in the early 1900s, when our Marine Chronometers were tested by the Naval Observatory in Washington. We were selected from an international competition because we were No.1 in both precision and reliability. When I first joined the brand, I brought on a historian to delve into Ulysse Nardin’s archives. The partnership with the U.S. Navy was a story that had not been told before he discovered it.
What was the brief for the new diver and why do you think it will be successful?
The Diver has always been an important part of the collection. The Diver Chronometer is simply the newest evolution of it. We kept the core principles — the signature strap, in-house manufacture technology, and reliability, but gave it a sleeker and more modern design.
Ulysse Nardin has a great mix of products, from classic watches to true innovation and high watchmaking. What is the challenge when telling the brand’s story?
We have two seemingly separate parts: on one hand, there’s the story of Ulysse Nardin, the man, and our historic Marine Chronometers. On the other, you have a brand at the forefront of technology with the Freak. The challenge is in connecting these two pieces to understand that innovation is the thread that runs between them. Striving to be first in precision, in accuracy, that is what drove Ulysse Nardin from the beginning, and what continues to drive us today.
What excites you about Ulysse Nardin’s potential?
What we are doing now is really a continuation of what has been done for more than 170 years at Ulysse Nardin. Investing heavily in manufacturing and R&D has always been the foundation of this company. Rolf Schnyder instilled a mindset in the company — a daring one — that permeates everything we do.
I’m very proud of the fact that, at Ulysse Nardin, we are not driven by marketing or trends. We’re always driven first by the fact that we are a manufacture. I inherited an incredible R&D department, one that thinks not just in terms of how we do things now, but for the next five years, the next ten years. They’re always asking how we can evolve what we already have. I think you really see this in the Freak collection. How do you bring it to the next step? You make it automatic, you make it thinner, you progress. This is how we created the Freak Vision.
What would surprise people to know about Ulysse Nardin?
I think people would be surprised by how revolutionary the company is. Ulysse Nardin was at the forefront of the silicium revolution, but was also leading the development of Marine Chronometers back in the 1800s. The drive for innovation is what connects the different chapters of our history.
What do you enjoy about what you do?
The great privilege of my role is to be permanently challenged and to be the force to reinvent ourselves every day. There is no recipe for the right decision but a sum of great advice from others, back-and-forth, reworking the designs and dreams that make the job really unique.