Many years ago, Patrick Pruniaux worked in the traditional (albeit, affordable) watchmaking world. He then left to pursue a career with Apple, helping launch the first Apple Watch in 2014. Now, he has rejoined the luxury watchmaking world as the new global CEO of Ulysse Nardin. While he took the helm just a few months ago, Pruniaux has a lot of plans in store for this niche luxury watch brand—especially in the American market. Recently in Geneva, Pruniaux sat down for an exclusive interview with Robb Report to discuss his transition back to tradition and his strategies moving forward.
Does it feel odd to move from Apple and smart watches back to traditional watchmaking?
It is very exciting because in the end, the values of Ulysse Nardin, in terms of sporty watches, being able to react quickly, and over-delivering in terms of quality, is very similar to Apple. When I think of Ulysse Nardin, I think of a niche brand with a mystique around it. Like Apple, Ulysse Nardin is a brand for people in the know. It is also a brand with a free mindset, and with the ability to act quickly and turn out really incredible, creative watches. I love that. In just a few short months, what I have experienced here is above my expectations, and every day I learn more about our values and abilities. I have never been as happy in my professional life as I am now.
What do you see as the product strengths of Ulysse Nardin, and what are your plans for the American market specifically?
The brand has a great history, and we are building top-quality watches that reflect that history and that demonstrate our pioneering spirit. Also, because we make our own watches, we can really offer great value. We know what it costs to create our tourbillon, for instance, so we can offer it at a proper price. Our price may seem aggressive, but it is fair, and I think this is the way we need to look at pricing of our products; we need to offer value for the price—at all levels.
We also need to find a great way to connect our past to today, to make our history modern and relevant, and to find stories that connect with today’s active lifestyles. I think sometimes we are a bit stiff in the watch industry, and we pretend to be cool, but we are not. I want to bring a different approach. I think we should be professional but have fun and express ourselves in a way that communicates easy-going luxury to the consumer. They should be having fun wearing our watches.
Lastly, we may need to restructure our product offering a bit in America by listening to what the customer is telling us that he likes. Our company is small and innovative and we can deliver newness. I can’t tell you the number of times we say, ‘what if?’ since I have been here, and people actually say, ‘oh yeah, let’s try it,’ and come back with drawings and ideas. I love that. We can provide what our customers want; we just have to listen.
Do you think there are similarities between high-tech Apple and horologically advanced Ulysse Nardin?
I think that if you look at the cultures and values of the brands, there are similarities. The desire to innovate and always push the boundaries from a technical point of view is one important factor.
Another important factor is that 80 percent of a Ulysse Nardin watch is about what’s happening inside… the technology, the quality, and the experience of using it. The same is true of Apple. When I joined Apple in California, a janitor was wearing a black tee shirt that had the Apple logo on it and the words, ‘Focus and Simplify.’ It was the key message there. Recently, when I talked to Ludwig Oechslin—the man behind so many of our innovative, complicated watches—he said to me, “watchmaking simplicity is complexity.” So, yes, there are many parallels.