Watches and Wonders 2021 was a large-scale digital event. As usual, Ulysse Nardin shone with spectacular and high technological pieces. For me, the highlight was the Blast Hourstriker that represents perfectly the today’s vision and capabilities of the brand. We reached Patrick Pruniaux, Chief Executive Officer of Ulysse Nardin for a few words.
A watch enthusiast since his teens, Patrick began his career with Diageo in London – eventually moving to Africa and then Chicago. He joined LVMH in Miami in 2000 and rose to become Regional Sales Director for the Wines & Spirits business for Latin America.
After gaining an MBA at HEC Paris and the London Business School, Patrick – also a graduate of Stanford Business School – decided to combine his passion for premium watches and sports by becoming International Export Director for Tag Heuer. He held different positions within Tag Heuer and he served as Vice-President Global Sales & Retail from 2010 to 2014, focusing on retail growth, channel optimization and consumer experience & innovation. Patrick was also a member of the LVMH Retail Committee and had a responsibility to coordinate sales strategy between LVMH Watch & Jewelry brands.
In 2014, Patrick was hired by Apple, in Cupertino, to prepare the launch of the Apple Watch as a member of the Special Projects team. He was then promoted to the position of Managing Director for UK & Ireland in 2015, and was also a member of the Apple EMEA Executive Committee. During his tenure at Apple UK & Ireland, he led the local launches of several iconic iPhone, iPad and Mac products with the retail, the education and enterprise channels as well as Telco operators.
As passionate about the outdoors and wilderness sports as he is about sailing, kite surfing and free diving, Patrick is married and lives in Switzerland. He is the father of a little boy.
Patrick Pruniaux – the interview
You are taking care of two very important horological maisons, Girard Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin. Both of them have very distinct and particular notes and styles. How do you manage to keep both brand evolving without overlap in heritage, evolution and end products?
Both companies tell very different brand stories. On one hand, at Girard-Perregaux, you’ll have the 1966 or Cat’s Eye model which are both very much classical watches, whereas at Ulysse Nardin you will have Marine and the Torpilleur at the same price point and refer to the marine heritage of the company.
For example, at UN, you will have the Diver, which I call a sport manufacture. In the watch industry, there is probably only one other brand that has a sports manufacture watch. At GP, you will have more sports chic with the Laureato. When it comes to the high horology segment, there are the classics like the Three Bridges at GP and a more disruptive manufacture timepiece with the Freak or Blast Executive at UN. They both cater to different customer needs and experiences.
To avoid overlapping, I am regularly applying the brakes to the work of the research and innovation teams because they have such a high number of innovations in the pipeline and they innovate with such speed – and I love it. I’m the first one to encourage them on one hand, and on the other hand to say to them: ‘Hold on, let’s digest things first before moving forward.’
When you think of it, at Ulysse Nardin we’re probably the only watch manufacture today to launch so many new movements each year. We launch between two to five new movements annually – new movements that were started from scratch and which we manufacture ourselves. We promise our end consumers at Ulysse Nardin a limited number of movements. If you want large volumes, you’ll have to look to some of the other brands. We’re not in that business.
Since the Kering Group has acquired Ulysse Nardin, what are the most important changes that the brand has had to implement? Is the process finalised, or we will continue to see changes in the future?
Kering Group is really respectful of each brand’s identity, heritage and expertise. Being part of the Kering group also stimulates our creativity as we learn and get inspired by all brands, from all different sectors including fashion. Since the Kering Group is promoting sustainable industry practices, we are very concerned with conservation issues and it is a natural choice to be responsible and eco-friendly. This is and will be one of our main focus points for the future.
My personal impression is that Ulysse Nardin strives to become a self-sufficient brand, a “true” manufacture and a maison that focuses on evolution through circular economy, care for environment but also innovation. Can you tell us more about the goals of the brand (having in mind innovation but also ecology)?
Regarding the ecological aspect, a watch, by definition, is the most sustainable luxury product: we manufacture 90% of our timepieces in our Manufacture, the rest come from within a radius of 30km. A mechanical movement has no expiration date. We are naturally sustainable. But Ulysse Nardin promises much more for our planet:
• By supporting our “Ulysses”, explorers, navigators and divers for science, we are committed to a better knowledge of the ocean and aim for a positive impact.
• By tapping into what already exists and finding a new outlet for abandoned fishing nets and other plastic waste, we are fighting plastic ocean pollution.
• By devoting our efforts to finding sustainable materials in our Sustainable Innovation Lab, we are further reducing our footprint of tomorrow.
Coming back to the W&W’s novelty, the Blast Hourstriker, are striking watches having a strong comeback in the Ulysse Nardin portfolio? Can we expect more of these high technical but also romantic pieces?
The Blast is the dramatic evolution of a timepiece that already existed, the Executive Tourbillon, and will become as famous as the Freak over time. The Blast Hourstriker is the horological, pumped-up avatar of the collection. It is the hero, the favorite of the collection. We will keep on developing high horology timepieces in the future.
Devialet is a strong, fully innovative, young maison. Besides seeing some similarities between ultra-modern materials and a very original approach to old concepts (sound competence versus time measuring) what led to the collaboration? Especial since it is not the first…
It’s more a friendship than a partnership. I happen to know the team that set up Devialet. I know the three founders, in particular the former CEO and head of design Emmanuel Nardin, who I met even before I joined Ulysse Nardin.
He told me that his ancestors came from the Swiss mountains from the Ulysse Nardin family. So, when I joined the company I said to Emmanuel, ‘We should build a watch together. You’re a designer, you love watches and what you’ve done with Devialet is fantastic.’ So we started researching. Emmanuel has a lot of experience in improving the sound and we started working with the sound engineers. That’s how we came up with the Hourstriker Phantom then shortly thereafter, with the Blast Hourstriker.
Can you tell us a bit more about the UN-Devialet collaboration?
Our main goal was to invent an extremely powerful striking watch. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, the story was written in advance: Emmanuel Nardin, one of the founders of Devialet who co-developed this Hourstriker Phantom model, happens to be a descendant of the Ulysse Nardin family. You couldn’t make that up!
You have extensive experience in Silicon Valley. We can also observe your very daring approach at Ulysse Nardin towards new materials and technologies. Are these two aspects somehow related? My feeling is that Ulysse Nardin, thanks to your previous experience, is expanding its relative classic and conservative universe towards new public. How do you see the future for Ulysse Nardin?
Yes, you are right, these are companies that are relentlessly looking for innovation and new ways to do things. The silicium, for example, has been a very strong innovation and today the mastery we have behind the NeXt watch, which is the evolutionary extension of the Freak, is a great example of innovation and research internally.
At Ulysse Nardin, we will continue to innovate and surprise our consumers, whether in product design, technology or materials. We are also planning to launch amazing and innovative timepieces next year, so stay tuned!
Thank you Patrick for taking the time for us!