‘I’m either stubborn or consistent’: Patrick Pruniaux of Ulysse Nardin

Ulysse Nardin CEO, Patrick Pruniaux   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

2020 saw luxury watchmakers finally go online to boost sales. Some, like IWC Schaffhausen and Japanese watchmaker Grand Seiko, went a step further, working Augmented Reality into their storytelling or creating Spotify playlists and virtual boutiques.

Race of explorers
  • The Diver NET was one of the most unusual watches launched last year. Ulysse Nardin’s ultra luxe ocean plastic watch is a concept piece (and Pruniaux reportedly favours this one on the weekends). Powered by Caliber 118, the in-house movement behind many nautical-themed Ulysse Nardin watches, it was introduced at a virtual conference that included skippers from Vendee Globe 2020. Ulysse Nardin is the official timekeeper of the challenging yacht race that is currently underway, and involves dangerous conditions over 70 days, with freezing South Pacific water sluicing the decks.

Ulysse Nardin, the 175-year-old watch brand that still occupies its original headquarters in Le Locle, Switzerland, wasn’t lagging behind either. E-commerce was introduced in June, the futuristic Blast was launched in August, and, in November, their first watch constructed from recycled fishing nets, Diver NET, made headlines. As Patrick Pruniaux, chief executive of both Ulysse Nardin and another Kering-owned luxury watch brand, Girard-Perregaux, points out during a video call, exploration, innovation and sustainability were the key brand values highlighted for Ulysse Nardin in the pandemic year. Ditching his usual suit for what is now known as the Zoom sweater, the athletic Pruniaux, 48, begins by saying that a Ulysse Nardin timepiece is for people “who know who they are” and who they want to be. “It is a symbol of self-confidence more than a status symbol. It says something about me to me first,” he shares.

Behind the new order
  • When Pruniaux joined Kering from Apple, he introduced a newer order in the workforce at both Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux, introducing people from different backgrounds. “There are no silos at Apple. I’m trying to favour empowerment and autonomy at Ulysse Nardin,” Wired quoted him saying. “I am a big believer that we are much smarter all together than on our own. But first we have to fight ego, as it takes away a lot of the collective intelligence,” he tells me on Zoom. Also, it appears that guiding two watch companies through the pandemic wasn’t as nerve-racking as one would imagine. “What I noticed in 2020 is how good it is to have strong teams. What I had to check two years ago, I don’t have to do any longer. Everyone is raising the bar. That is a structural change,” the CEO confirms.

Like other luxury watch brand CEOs, Paris-born Pruniaux spent many hours last year sitting in front of cameras and screens, talking about his new timepieces. The Ulysse Nardin Blast collection at Geneva Watch Days, with its stealth aircraft inspiration and in-house produced UN-172 caliber, received a lot of airtime. Not only is it the brand’s first skeletonised automatic tourbillon movement, it makes good use of anti-magnetic silicon, a material Ulysse Nardin introduced almost two decades ago with the revolutionary Freak. Built with the brand’s trademark X-shaped framework, does the ‘shape within a shape within a shape’ (the double X inside a rectangle inside a circle) geometric detail make it one of 2020’s most memorable watches? “I don’t think the watch should be associated with the year,” Pruniaux is quick to correct. ‘‘The Blast is the dramatic evolution of a timepiece that existed, the Executive Tourbillon, and will come in with the same fame as Freak over time,” he adds.

From the Ulysse Nardin Blast collection

From the Ulysse Nardin Blast collection   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Pruniaux isn’t obsessed about decoding the millennial or Gen Z mindset. “That’s my personal feeling, but I don’t think the generation factor is the most important factor. The most important thing is who we are and how we identify ourselves, regardless of the age group,” he states. That being said, he is aware that sustainability and what is being done by his brands for the environment is keenly tracked by younger clients. One of Ulysse Nardin’s sustainability partnership stories from last year involved PhD students and scientists studying the ecosystem and migration habits of sharks. It was why their latest ‘face’ of the brand back in August was a female great white shark named Andromache.

Ulysse Nardin’s commitment to the marine circular economy is commendable and their connect with the sea heightens their visual storytelling. I wonder if they plan to amp up the retail experience with AR or VR.

India approach
  • Talking about pandemic-era marketing, Pruniaux says he is aware that there is a high level of education when it comes to horology in India. Addressing the interest here in bi-colour watches, he adds, “We have worked hard to come up with something for India that respects our DNA”. Ulysse Nardin is also “fine-tuning distribution in India with new partnerships with top retailers”.

“Not really, to be honest it doesn’t bring much to our client,” says Pruniaux. “We must make the most amazing products, be genuine. Maybe AR and VR are good, but I often see them as a substitute for a lack of content, rather than stress on what matters the most. We are everything but a gimmick brand so if it matters, we will do it.”

There is that other question he is unfailingly asked each year. After all, he was at Apple and involved in the introduction of their smart watch in 2015, before joining the French luxury conglomerate, Kering. Are you considering one, I venture. “No. I’m either stubborn or consistent, pick the one you want,” he chuckles. “For us it will bring very little and it would be confusing for our clients.”

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 9:18:38 AM |

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