Trading the Apple Watch for one of the oldest watch manufacturers, Cupertino sunshine for the icy mists of Le Locle, at end August this year Patrick Pruniaux took over from Patrick Hoffmann at the helm of Ulysse Nardin. Drafted in from Apple, Pruniaux is no stranger to luxury nor to traditional watchmaking, having spent a number of years as Vice President for Global Sales & Retail at TAG Heuer and serving on the brand’s executive board. While his arrival suggested possible changes in store for Ulysse Nardin, which is part of Kering Group, the new CEO looks to be steering the same course as his predecessor – for the time being at least, given his announcement that the brand will be “stepping up innovation”. Sporting white trainers, a throwback to California cool, and not in the least fazed by non-stop, back-to-back interviews, Patrick Pruniaux is keeping interest high before next year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) – which he promises will be about “modernity and innovation” – with the unveiling of three new watches, each one “deliberately focused on the historical and traditional aspect of Ulysse Nardin”.
Coming after the Marine Torpilleur, launched a few months earlier, the Marine Torpilleur Military revisits the iconic design of pocket chronometers, a favourite piece of kit for ship’s captains in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Noticeably modernised with its 44mm case in sand-blasted steel, it runs on an in-house movement with a silicon anchor escapement and comes with COSC certification. There are two versions, each limited to 300 pieces. The first combines an eggshell white dial with a tan leather strap, while the second plays on the attractive contrast of a black dial, orange Arabic numerals and luminescent hands.
The second new style to set the ball rolling on 2018’s trends is another example of continuity. The Marine Tourbillon Blue Grand Feu offers a masterful demonstration of Ulysse Nardin’s expertise in both the mechanics and the aesthetics of watchmaking. Behind the scenes: an automatic movement that benefits from the innovative properties of silicon. Front and centre: a majestic flying tourbillon. Equally spectacular is the superb Grand Feu blue enamel dial, the work of Donzé Cadrans (a company acquired by Ulysse Nardin in 2012 and a specialist in this delicate and complex art). It would be hard to fault this 43mm piece in steel, which is justifiably proud of its marine origins. Water-resistant to 100 metres, it is mounted on an alligator strap.
The third new watch revealed by Patrick Pruniaux carries on the theme of heritage and tradition by shining a spotlight on the magnificent work done at Donzé Cadrans. The dial of the Classico Manufacture Grand Feu is swathed in the most extraordinarily profound, almost opaque, black enamel. More than any other enamel colour, black will show even the slightest imperfection or the tiniest error. Between each firing, the artisan adroitly smooths the enamel surface. The dial is then polished to a high sheen before the final stage, which is to apply the Roman numerals. Inside the 40mm steel case of the Classico Manufacture Grand Feu beats the in-house UN-320 calibre, complete with the silicon balance spring and anchor escapement that have secured Ulysse Nardin its place on the roll-call of innovative watch brands.
After the visionary Rolf Schnyder took over the firm in 1983, rapidly joined by Ludwig Oeschlin, inventor of the revered Trilogy of Time – Astrolabium Galileo Galilei, Tellurium Johannes Kepler and Planetarium Copernicus – Ulysse Nardin imposed its own way of thinking. A niche brand, described by Patrick Pruniaux as “against the grain”, it was already respected as an innovator when in 2014 it became part of the Kering portfolio. Says the new CEO, “the team which Patrick Hoffmann led these past years has done a fantastic job of refocusing collections. It’s all there: the industrial resources, the R&D, the staff, the history, the values. Ulysse Nardin has amazing potential but its values aren’t that well-known. My job will be to make them known, be more assertive, perhaps, and at the same time move on from the codes used by luxury today”.
Just hours before taking the stage at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève to collect the Sports Watch prize for the Marine Regatta, Patrick Pruniaux was upbeat. “Ulysse Nardin will show its most innovative face at the next SIHH with some very exciting, extremely modern products. I’m here to speed up innovation!”. A sailing and kitesurf enthusiast, Pruniaux will be aiming for fair winds and following seas at the helm of Ulysse Nardin.