Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin talks technology and the latest developments in the watchmaking industry
When Patrick Pruniaux joined Swiss brand Ulysse Nardin as Chief Executive Officer in 2017 there was much talk in the industry of the direction he would take this marine inspired watchmaker. Joining the brand straight after a three-year stint at Apple, where Pruniaux was involved in the launch of the Apple Watch, it was no surprise that questions were raised about plans to develop an Ulysse Nardin smart watch and how the brand might move forward in terms of technology. But so far it has been a steady ride since Pruniaux took over two years ago as he seems to be taking small steps towards his overall goal for the brand.
With a history dating back to 1846, Ulysse Nardin has always been known for its pioneering and innovative approach to watchmaking. Founded by Mr Ulysse Nardin who was inspired by the sea, he produced some of the earliest marine chronometers which are among the most reliable ever made, still sought after by collectors around the world. As a brand that prides itself in being at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies and the innovative use of materials like silicon, it is no surprise they sought leadership from someone from the technology field.
The brand is one of the few with the in-house expertise to produce its own high-precision components and movements and this has earned Ulysse Nardin membership in the most exclusive circle of Swiss watchmaking, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. Today, from its manufacturer in Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, the brand focuses its products around five collections: The Marine, the Diver, the Classico, the Executive and the Freak. In 2019, Ulysse Nardin introduces the X-factor in watchmaking.
At the opening of the brand’s first store in Dubai, we met with Pruniaux to discuss what makes Ulysse Nardin so unique and his plans for the future of the watchmaker.
How have things been since you took on the role?
It’s been very exciting. I inherited a company that has a lot of history and a very interesting product line with a lot of potential. Most importantly, I think Ulysse Nardin has always been quite a reserved brand, it was a brand that even I wasn’t that familiar with although I knew some of the products, the Freak in particular. I’ve worked with the team over the last two years to continue finalising the product line-up. We have launched a new diving watch and extended the Freak to be not only one product but a whole collection. We worked a lot on the story and the storytelling around the brand. This already exists but it’s about making people aware of it.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Honestly, I’m facing a lot of challenges! My job is to make sure the level of excitement around the brand is the right one. For me and the team, all of our products are exciting, but for the consumer it’s not always the same. For watch lovers some products are more exciting than others and for some consumers it takes more time for them to understand the products. So probably the biggest challenge I face is how to be ready for that. How can we be ready for the success and how can we try to figure out what is going to be the next success?
What can you tell us about your planned direction for the brand?
It’s actually to reinforce the current strengths of Ulysse Nardin. We are a watchmaker with a lot of history and expertise and we are very genuine and authentic. Our method of manufacturing is disruptive, so we are making things differently. We are also innovative and we are still inspired by the sea and what’s happening today in the world. I think what’s important to me is to acknowledge that watch collectors or watch lovers aren’t only buying watches. When a customer buys a watch, to some extent, they have to do a trade up between a watch or buying another product. So our benchmark is to create the excitement regardless of the product.
How do you think your background in technology has helped you at a brand like Ulysse Nardin?
I’m actually not the only one who has a background in technology within the company. Yes, there are a lot of experts internally including some engineers that are very strong in terms of movement, materials and design but there is also a very wide knowledge in terms of technology. For me, having that background probably makes me feel at ease and closely linked to the innovation within the company.
What would you like to achieve with the brand in the near future?
For Ulysse Nardin to remain an exclusive brand, but I want to make sure it’s not only for people in the know, which is the case at the moment. We have to widen the level of awareness amongst a larger crowd, even if they aren’t buying a watch, we want them to understand what the brand stands for. We will do this in a number of ways. I am very happy with the new boutique in Dubai Mall but we don’t want to go too wide with store openings, instead we will raise awareness through our communication and our products and the way they explain what we do.
Of course, perhaps because of your background there has been much talk of the possibility of a ‘smart watch’ since you joined – are there any plans in the pipeline for this?
No because I believe in added value. What’s the added value in bringing a smart watch to our business? To be honest the best smart watch in the market is made by Apple. And to only buy a movement from somewhere else and put it into a case with our logo on it, that’s not what we are all about. What we are about is authenticity and our own innovation. I do understand that some brands are trying to make that move, but I don’t think it’s for us. It doesn’t exclude us from taking some initiatives and looking at some other new technologies.
Who is the Ulysse Nardin customer of 2019?
It depends. Usually it’s a male or female who is educated when it comes to watches and someone who is looking for a different experience and not wanting a mass product. When he or she wears the product they are saying something very clear about who they are. They are everything but a follower. It requires a certain level of education about watches to come to our brand. Having said that, with the Freak X for example, it was very interesting to see the excitement around the product and the number of new customers it attracted. They were and still are excited by the design as much as by the movement because it is so unique.
When you are working with a brand that has such a rich heritage how do you ensure that you honour that but also appeal to the modern day customer?
We do that by not compromising on the quality of our product and by remaining true to our values of quality, design, watch expertise, being our own manufacturer and being innovative. That’s actually a good point – if innovation is part of the heritage it makes things easier. The Freak for example is already 18 years old. We created a new generation of movement and widened the product availability on that line but it’s not like we made something completely new. The only thing we want to be doing more of is explaining the story better. At the moment we are only scratching the surface, there is so much more we could be saying about the brand and its very rich history. We are also making sure our Maison is being renovated and we are inviting even more people to come and visit our factory.
You’ve just opened this new store in Dubai – can we expect to see more of you in the region?
Yes maybe but I don’t want us to become overexposed. I really believe quality should prevail over quantity. We have a fantastic boutique with a stunning design and it’s great. Maybe we could have another one or two in the region in the future, but that’s it.
Are there any new trends in watchmaking that are particularly exciting to you?
It’s a very interesting time for watchmaking. Everything is changing and the customer experience is growing, which is great. Everyone has to be innovative, whether you are a retailer or a watch brand. I think there is a reward for brands that tell a very clear story.
With so many luxury watch brands what do you think makes Ulysse Nardin stand out?
We very often ask ourselves ‘what would the world miss if Ulysse Nardin did not exist?’ And actually there is a certain sense of freedom with the brand that allows our customers to express themselves. I use the world freedom because it encapsulates the notion of our heritage and innovation and a way to express things differently. We believe we have freedom to make watches in the way we want and I think that’s really important. It’s interesting to secure excitement but it’s also important to secure value of time.
How important is storytelling in watchmaking today?
Super important. But for me storytelling is about the genuine, authentic story.
What are your thoughts regarding online selling of watches – do customers still want the in-store experience?
Yes online selling will come, but customers absolutely still want in-store experience. Everyone is talking about omnichannel, and that’s why we have to create an experience. If you look at the store front of our new boutique in Dubai you’ll notice how big the door is, it needs to be welcoming. There was a time when you could be luxurious and welcoming or you could be luxurious and unwelcoming but I think now it’s important to be very welcoming.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
I’m a very optimistic person and my role is to be optimistic and pragmatic at the same time and balance the two. So I think my professional motto is really about development. Self-development, helping others to develop and developing our business. Questioning how we grow, how we change things, how we do things that haven’t been done and how we look at the world in a way where we’re being creative and thinking out of the box.
What’s your personal motto?
It’s actually a quote from a poem by Rudyard Kipling; “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.” It’s from a poem called “If”. If you think about it, you could have some success that doesn’t say much about what you’ve done, and you could have failures that actually you’ve done your best and you learn from them.
What is a book you’ve read recently that inspired you?
Black Swan by American Lebanese author Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
How would you describe Ulysse Nardin in one word?