The Future of Ulysse Nardin According to CEO Patrick Pruniaux

Barely six months into the position as CEO of Ulysse Nardin, Patrick Pruniaux led the brand to the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) with the cutting-edge essence that defines Ulysse Nardin. Not only is Pruniaux’s attitude and presentation of the brand lively and exciting; the products and the exhibit space brought home two important facets of Ulysse Nardin: innovation and a daring spirit.

Granted, the Ulysse Nardin products unveiled at SIHH this year – from the Freak Vision to the Diver Deep Dive and more – were many years in the making. Pruniaux is not taking credit for the watches or technology (although he has already rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work on a new product). In fact, he gives credit to engineers, scientists, and craftsmen behind the brand: “The fearless and mindful guardians of tradition, navigating past, present, and future.”

Patrick Pruniaux was appointed CEO of Ulysse Nardin in August of 2017.

Above and beyond the product, though, Pruniaux can take credit for the bold and audacious display of enthusiasm at SIHH, the marketing materials, the exhibit space décor and the newly focused direction of the brand. But then, Pruniaux comes from a somewhat different world than traditional watchmaking.

Following a stint many years ago at TAG Heuer, he was most recently at Apple, where he helped launch the first Apple Watch. He brings with him a sense that it is imperative to take Ulysse Nardin’s past and manipulate it squarely into the future – making it relevant to today’s customers.

“While we are very traditional in terms of watchmaking, we are also very twisted and modern in terms of innovation and materials. It has always been inherent in Ulysse Nardin to push the boundaries from a technical point of view,” says Pruniaux. “My goal is to take our innovative side and demonstrate it in modern ways in terms of communications, with sports, travel, and emotions coming to the forefront. I want to bring our history out as experiences and narratives.”

“Being different is part of Ulysse Nardin’s DNA; we need to embrace that. We can have fun, still be professional, and express our easy-going luxury to consumers,” says Pruniaux. As such, he points to several different product lines this year that enables the brand to underscore Ulysse Nardin’s creativity and relevance.

The Diver Deep Dive Hammerhead Shark

“The sea has always been our universe, thanks to our marine chronometer roots,” says Pruniaux. “We hope to express that in new ways, maybe through exploration and sustainability.”

In fact, the dive collection is a strong focus this year, as well, with one spectacular new piece, the Diver Deep Dive, being unveiled. This focus translated to the Ulysse Nardin exhibit space, too. Take one step inside the space this year and you couldn’t help but be submerged in the story of underwater adventure. With an entire backdrop a screen of the ocean, complete with sharks swimming around, the exhibit space featured coral reef and seaweed sculptures by known provocateur and celebrity artist, Damien Hirst (with exhibitions such as “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”) and a ceiling that looked like the surface of the water. It was like being immersed in the oceans.

The caseback of the Diver Deep Dive Hammerhead Shark.

In this environ, Ulysse Nardin unveiled the Diver Deep Dive, a robust and functional watch that is water resistant to 1,000 meters and is chocked with all the features needed to weather the elements. Part of the brand’s Diver collection, the professional diving watch – created in a limited edition of just 300 pieces – is a true underwater instrument. Crafted in titanium with a removable titanium crown guard at 2:00, the watch is equipped with a helium release valve at 9:00. The rubber strap has an expandable feature to adjust to the diving suit during compression.

In typical Ulysse Nardin style, the dial of the watch is adorned with 15 hammerhead sharks – underscoring the depth and ability of the watch. There is a red hammerhead shark on the crown guard and one on the sub-seconds counter on the dial. Finally, the 18th hammerhead appears engraved on the caseback.

The 46 mm automatic Diver Deep Dive is powered by the UN-320 caliber, a manufacture movement with silicon spiral and anchor escapement. It offers hours, minutes, date, small seconds counter, and a unidirectional rotating titanium bezel. With so much power, you would think it packs a hefty retail price, but it actually will sell for $12,000.

“We make watches for watch lovers here; now we want to engage in conversations with the new watch lover in a contemporary way – with all of our pillars,” says Pruniaux.

The Freak Vision

Easily the highlight timepiece unveiled at the SIHH and expected to “Freak Out” collectors and watch lovers, is the Freak Vision. Endowed with two innovations and patents derived from the 2017 InnoVision 2 Concept watch (which had 10 patents and innovations), the Freak Vision is an exceptional watch in terms of craftsmanship, aesthetics, and technology.

The Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision

The first Freak watch was unveiled in 2001, when the brand was owned by Rolf Schnyder. The pioneering spirit of the watch took the world by storm. That watch represented the first time the brand had turned to silicon – a bold move for that era. Additionally, the construction incorporated an innovative flying carousel that rotated on its own axis and indicated the time.

Now, the master engineers, scientists, and craftsmen at Ulysse Nardin take that concept leaps and bounds forward with the new automatic Freak Vision. A veritable museum piece on the wrist, the Freak Vision represents Ulysse Nardin’s first attempt at an automatic Freak. While the time is still indicated via the baguette movement (i.e., the flying carousel rotating on its own axis), the architecture of the new Caliber UN-250, is dramatically different on the inside.

The caseback of the Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision.

To begin with, and as mentioned, the watch comprises two important patented innovations from the InnoVision 2 Concept timepiece. One of the main patented advantages to this watch is the incredible Grinder Automatic winding system that essentially changes – and improves – how energy is transmitted. Essentially the square oscillating rotor is linked to the frame via four arms and every single time the watch moves slightly, the flexible yet sturdy arms move the rotor in multiple directions, giving the automatic system a double boost of torque.

Another key feature is the silicon balance wheel with nickel mass elements that are welded together using a patented process. Silicon micro-blades are then put into place to increase accuracy. The result is one of the lightest weight and most stable balance wheels on the market.

A sketch of the Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision

One of the main patented features of this watch is the incredible Grinder Automatic winding system that essentially changes – and improves – how energy is transmitted. Essentially the square oscillating rotor is linked to the frame via four arms, and every single time the watch moves slightly, the flexible yet sturdy arms move the rotor in multiple directions, giving the automatic system a double boost of torque.

Naturally, the highly advanced Freak Vision automatic watch is also equipped with the patented Ulysse Nardin Anchor Escapement, entirely crafted in silicon and offering constant force. This Escapement, unveiled several years ago, is a flexible mechanism with a circular frame and pallet fork fixed in the center and supported by the blade springs. They offer a positive energy balance for the constant rate. The upper bridge of the watch is sculpted to resemble a boat’s hull.

Aesthetically, the Freak Vision Automatic is boldly transparent, thanks to the box-domed sapphire crystal. Even the 45-mm platinum case is not the older sibling Freak’s case, but rather is an entirely new one with rubber on the sides, sleek horns, and blued bezel. The watch carries a retail price of $95,000.

“The Freak is a daring product for us, part of our DNA that gets people talking,” says Pruniaux. “Now, taking it to a new level adds another story.”

This article appeared in the March/April issue of WatchTime magazine and is written by Roberta Naas of A Timely Perspective. You can purchase the rest of the issue here

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