Patrick Pruniaux took over as the CEO of Ulysse Nardin last year. His appointment created quite a stir last year, mainly because he moved to the brand from tech giant Apple, where he helped launch the first Apple watch. His remit now is to take Ulysse Nardin’s storied past and push it square into the future and make it relevant to today’s consumer. Here are the excerpts from our chat with Pruniaux during his recent Dubai visit.

So how would you sum up Ulysse Nardin’s SIHH outing this year?

This was my first SIHH as CEO. I was very pleased with our result – especially when it comes to our relationships with our clients and the media. We had massive attendance at our booth and the novelties were well-received by everyone. I think the team did a really good job. We had a real talking point with the launch of the new Freak. This year, we launched the Freak Vision with an automatic movement and to celebrate this, we displayed it with some pieces of art from Damien Hirst [Eds note: The exhibits included works like Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable].

The Freak Vision was a major release for the brand this year

This was a successful move, it helped the art world understand the purpose of the watch and the purpose of the company, which is a mix of our long heritage and our tendency to do things a little differently. The Freak epitomizes this philosophy. We had a separate section in our booth for our erotic watches and they were also received very well.

What did you learn from working on the launch of a product like the Apple Watch?

My Apple experience may help me sometimes step back from a pure watchmaker perspective and help facilitate, with the rest of the teams, a fresh view on things. Just to give you an example, having worked at Apple taught me you could work on a watch with a different perspective not just a new iteration of a product that already exists. That’s what were are trying to do at Ulysse Nardin. When I arrived at Apple before the launch of the Apple Watch, I was told “We’re going to make a personal object and, by the way, it is going to be worn on the wrist so we may call it a watch”.

The Executive Skeleton Hyperspace in progress

As a team, we manufacture outstanding watch leveraging our more than 170 years of experience but at the same time we innovate just like we were starting from a blank page. By doing so, we are actually true to the very values of the founding fathers of this company as this spirit already existed as well at Ulysse Nardin in a different manner. This way of thinking is probably the trademark of the brands that are true innovators… and Ulysse Nardin has historically been one of them. That’s why I am glad and honored to lead this brand.

So what is the brand’s focus area this year?

It’s important for people to understand what we do - our heritage and the twist we bring to watchmaking. We need to communicate how contemporary we are as a brand and the momentum we have now. From a product point of view, there are two things we will focus on. First of all, the Freak – it’s been around for 17 years. It’s an important product for us and it says a lot about who we are. I was digging through our archives and we found some early pictures of the Freak. There is a sense of crazy innovation about this watch. 

Tell us a bit about your Middle East only edition – the Anchor Tourbillon Falcon – which was just limited to 8 pieces and costing close to $90,000. Will we see more Middle East editions?

The Falcon Tourbillon is an ode to the UAE

It was warmly welcomed. There is a growing appreciation for fine watchmaking in the region and a watch like the Anchor Tourbillon is an example of that. It is a good example of the skills we have at our manufacture. We wanted to create a timepiece that pays tribute to the region’s heritage. There is a strong affinity to the sea in the Middle East and Ulysee Nardin’s history is linked to the sea thanks to our marine chronometers.  The response has been encouraging, so who knows, we may have more in the future.

How do you plan to expand Ulysse Nardin’s product line?

We have to make sure our offer is consistent and we are aiming for best-sellers. As we say in Le Locle: we owe it to our client to “under-promise and over-deliver”. We have simplified and reorganized our product offer around five collections, five pillars. On one side, the Freak and the Executive, where we put all our pioneering developments and crazy innovations, such as silicium technology or the new grinder rewinding system in the Freak Vision for instance.

The Marine Torpilleur Military has been a success for the brand

On the other side, the Classic, the Marine and the Diver, which are a more elegant or sport chic offer, heritage and marine-themed, with refined enamel–dials or Automatons with Grandes Sonneries movements, for instance. We are fortunate to have several pillars that can fuel our growth, from the Marine & Torpilleur models (including its Tourbillon) all the way up to Freak or some haute horology timepieces. Each pillar and watches benefit from the same quality and some distinct design codes. To strengthen the brand, we are also coming out soon with a new brand platform, with an audacious new twist.

This is an abridged version of the interview that was published in our Summer 2018 print magazine.