The venerable Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin, known for its elaborate and striking timepieces, was purchased by luxury group Kering (owner of Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Stella McCartney) in 2014 and recently appointed Patrick Pruniaux as its CEO. Hailing from Apple‘s smartwatch division, and before that rival brand TAG Heuer, Pruniaux reveals some bold new designs at this week’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie fair in Geneva. His challenges: to differentiate Ulysse Nardin from others in a crowded market; to conquer China; and to conquer the Millennial market.
LUX: Talk us through your releases at SIHH and also the Torpilleur?
Patrick Pruniaux: The general theme of our SIHH 2018 is #freakmeout! And the watch epitomising at best this mindset is the new FREAK VISION, a true revolution in terms of energy optimisation in a mechanical watch.
The Marine Torpilleur has been launched as our pre-SIHH novelty last October and It’s already a best seller.
LUX: What were the challenges you faced on taking up the position of CEO?
Patrick Pruniaux: Surprisingly, not so many. The foundations were there: incredible products, stunning know-how, motivated teams and great heritage. However, in terms of marketing and communication, we need to improve the storytelling and to create the dream around our products.
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LUX: What are the most interesting aspects of the luxury watch market for you?
Patrick Pruniaux: Challenges are always more interesting than assets. In the case of the watch industry, we have to invest on millennials. They represent the future and they are keener at wearing a connected than a mechanical watch.
LUX: Where are the most vibrant markets, and where do you have most growth potential?
Patrick Pruniaux: The USA, Russia and China are key markets for Ulysse Nardin. Historically, we are very strong in America and Russia. China represents for us a huge potential development.
LUX: Is the luxury watch space becoming too crowded? How do you differentiate?
Patrick Pruniaux: Creativity is the one and only answer.
LUX: How important is heritage vs innovation?
Patrick Pruniaux: One needs the other. Heritage always inspires innovations. Take for example our new Marine Torpilleur, its design comes directly from our onboard marine chronometers.
LUX: How important are technological advances and complications? Patrick Pruniaux: At Ulysse Nardin, innovation is driven by the research of horological performance. The best illustration I could give is our “Grinder” technology: a unique winding system we have incorporated in our new FREAK VISION timepiece, launched at SIHH 2018. Thanks to this innovation, every tiny movement of the wrist is optimised to rewind the barrel spring in the most performant way.
LUX: Are women becoming more influential in the watch market? Patrick Pruniaux: They have always been. Most of the time, when a man buys a watch, he always wants to know his wife’s opinion.
LUX: Do you wish to change what Ulysse Nardin stands for?
Patrick Pruniaux: Ulysse Nardin always stands for ultimate innovation, the desire to be different, the urge for exploration, in one word: freedom. This will remain the same, we are just going to express it in a different way.
LUX: Kering is not known for its watch brands – what is it like being a watch company in a fashion-oriented group?
Patrick Pruniaux: Great inspiration because the fashion world is going much faster than the watchmaking world, it’s very creative and drives us always one step forward.
Read next: 6 reasons to buy a high power Mercedes-AMG
LUX: LUX’s tagline is Responsible Luxury; Kering has a powerful sustainability program. How important is that for your consumers? Patrick Pruniaux: It’s a key value for the group and for Ulysse Nardin. Our territory is the sea, therefore, sustainability is at the heart of our brand positioning.
LUX: What’s your favourite Ulysse Nardin watch and why?
Patrick Pruniaux: Right now, I am totally in love with the new FREAK VISION, I am sure it will be the hero of the whole SIHH.
LUX: Will smartwatches wipe out mechanical watches?
Patrick Pruniaux: I don’t believe it will. At least not in the high-end segment. Why do you think I am back in traditional watchmaking? Just because I think there is not a product that is more contemporary than a mechanical watch.