For the first time ever, Ulysse Nardin was part of the 2017 edition of SIHH. We met Patrik Hoffmann, CEO of the brand, to learn more about the innovations and the history of the brand inspired by the movement of the sea.
What made you decide to move to SIHH instead of Basel? We have been in Basel for fifty years and it was quite a decision to take. I would put it in two words: exclusivity and quality. It’s a move from a fair to a salon. Last year we introduced a new communication concept and this move goes in line with the new communication concept as well. It’s a step further into communication and marketing.
How is this first SIHH going so far? So far, so good. (laughs).
How would you assess the last twenty years of watchmaking? The last twenty years at Ulysse Nardin are marked by the Marine Chronometer, which we launched 20 years ago and it is the DNA of Ulysse Nardin. One hundred years ago we used to be one of the main suppliers of the navies, and what we do today has a lot of that DNA related to those technical chronometers. It’s also the renaissance of the mechanical watch which happened the last 20 years. Don’t forget that things changed to produce highly complicated timepieces, to put as many complications into one timepiece as you could and we saw the last seven or eight years a change going back to the real, core, values.
What marked you mostly of these changes during the last twenty years? The world is evolving, change is inevitable. A timepiece processed today is no longer a timepiece that tells time. There’s an emotional part, a passion that goes into it. It’s a renaissance of the profession, of people who learn watchmaking, who are trained as watchmakers. I think the last twenty years were good, the trend we’ve seen the last seven years is to go back to the basics, to go back to the true values.
There’s also the renaissance of the Métiers d’Art, what role did Ulysse Nardin play in this renaissance? More than twenty years ago, we were one of the brands reviving the enameling, five years ago we decided to preserve that Métier d’Art in terms of enameling by acquiring Donzé Cadrans. We see the importance of Donzé Cadrans and their enameling work: Grand Feu, cloisonné, champlevé… We made a point to make a statement at the SIHH by introducing more than half of our novelties with different enameling techniques and with the design and creation out of Donzé Cadrans.
Speaking of innovations, you are a fully vertically integrated manufacture, this helps a lot with concept watches like Innovision 1 and Innovision 2. How is it going to evolve? I foresee and I hope that to a certain extent we are going to repeat what we did with the Innovision 1 where we had ten innovations out of which we executed eight. I hope that similar situation will occur with Innovision 2. I know that some of those innovations that we are showing we will have in our timepieces very soon. The vertical integration helps us in the industrialization. We have certain products at a very competitive price, with a complete in-house movement and Grand Feu and enamel dials.
The marine world is in the DNA of Ulysse Nardin, we saw during the fair other brands going into the marine especially the America’s cup. What’s the added value of being a sponsor of the America’s cup? I think the America’s cup is a platform. There is no brand owning the sea like Ulysse Nardin. What attracts in the America’s cup is the innovation as well. I visited the base of the Artemis Racing Team in San Francisco two years ago and I saw how they work with new light materials. We use silicium which is very light and they use carbon fiber which is, too, very light, very hard, very robust. It’s a similar approach. For me it’s a world of innovation, just like Ulysse Nardin is a world of innovation.
In the communication of Ulysse Nardin we don’t see the split as in different brands between tradition and innovation. It’s more a fusion because we are the first brand having the courage to introduce silicium into the timepieces. That’s fusion of old tradition with the future. It’s always fascinating to be able to use the latest technology and materials and have a watchmaker doing the work in the old traditional way. If we have a new material and it improves the performance of a timepiece, it’s a benefit to the end consumer. Once we have a benefit to the end consumer we should pass it on.
What are your wishes for the next twenty years? I wish we could continue the path of innovation. We have the innovative timepiece Innovision 2 and I hope for the next five, six, maybe ten years, we can make use of those innovations in our future timepieces.
Would these innovations work also with the ones from Innovision 1? Yes. The first one is based on silicium. In the second one, some of it is based on silicium but we also used new materials like coated sapphire, glass… I don’t know yet exactly what it is going to bring, I can only hope. But that’s part of innovation and research.
If you could give an advice to the young generation, what would you tell them? Passion. Work has a lot to do with passion and courage. To do something like Innovision 2 needs a big investment… One has to have passion, vision and courage.
There’s a five years guarantee on innovision 2. Yes, it has to do with courage but we really believe in what we’re doing, so do our technicians. We really believe in the silicium material because on this material we give a guarantee of ten years.
The woman is also important for Ulysse Nardin. What made you believe that women are also looking for mechanical movements? The obstacle we had so far was the size because women used to wear small sizes and that was an obstacle for mechanical timepieces. Today ladies wear larger timepieces and this opened up the world of ladies watches for us.
A message to our readers? Ulysse Nardin is a company with a true history. We communicate on the sea. It’s a true message and not something we invented. The marine is what we did 150 years ago and belongs to us. Conducted in Geneva by MARIA NADIM