Ulysse Nardin was born on 22 January 1823 in Le Locle, Switzerland. After an initial training from his father Léonard-Frédéric, he worked as an apprentice under William DuBois. At the age of 23, Ulysse founded his own company in 1846, and his first watches were sold in South America by means of the intermediary Lucien Dubois, in Paris. The company did well, winning prizes for its marine and pocket chronometers, and making a variety of complicated watches, including minute repeaters. In 1865 it moved to its current location, 3 rue du Jardin, Le Locle. Ulysse died in 1876 at the age of 53, and his son Paul-David took over the business.
It’s not clear when exactly the company acquired its anchor logo, but there’s no doubt that they quickly became famous for their links to the world of seafaring. At that time, marine chronometers had to be precise, because they were essential to navigation and ensuring the safety of the ship and its crew. Ulysse Nardin became supplier to both Russian and Japanese admiralties in the early 20th century, and at the Naval Observatory, Washington D.C., Ulysse Nardin chronometers took the first seven places in a precision competition, just one of a long series of successes in such events. By 1975, Ulysse Nardin had obtained 747 first prizes in the categories of deck watches, pocket chronometers and wristwatches.
But, in the 1970s crisis years caused by the arrival of quartz watches, the brand, still managed by the fifth generation of the Nardin family, was slipping into obscurity. At the factory building dating back to 1864, there was just one full-time watchmaker working, with another part-time specialist.
In 1983, Rolf W. Schnyder purchased the company with the objective of restoring it to success by means of exceptional mechanical watches. Particularly important over the following years was the collaboration with watchmaker Ludwig Oechslin, whose studies on antique astronomical clocks led to some highly complicated wristwatches in the Trilogy of Time collection. Some of the brand’s most important products, such as the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei which earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most complex watch ever made, and Freak, a revolutionary 7-day tourbillon carousel, were devised by Oechslin. In 1989, Ulyssse Nardin worked with Christophe Claret to create the first repeating wristwatch with automatons. Together, Schnyder and Oechslin engineered the brand’s return to commercial success, and explored new areas of research, such as the use of silicon in movements.
Schnyder’s conviction that he could succeed in the improbable task of relaunching a high-end mechanical watch brand has an interesting origin. He had travelled and worked in many countries of the world, and said. “In China and India, quartz watches were not successful. That is because watch repairmen would open the casebacks and, for them, it was like looking into the back of a radio. In these cultures, the mechanical watch had residual value. Any competent repairman could open a watch up and service or fix it. They could see where the energy came from, they could identify with the mechanical movement. When I saw that these cultures adamantly refused at that time to embrace quartz watches, I knew that one day mechanical watches would come back.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Rolf Schnyder died in April 2011, after having assured the brand its independence over the almost 30 years of his leadership. Ms. Chai Schnyder, Rolf’s wife, became president of the Board of Directors, and Patrik Hoffmann became CEO. In 2014, Ulysse Nardin was purchased by the Kering Group, joining the brands Girard-Perregaux, Jeanrichard and Gucci Watches. This marked the end of Ulysse Nardin’s cherished independence, but gave the brand the security on which to continue its policy of innovation. The acquisition also shows that Kering is moving ahead in its ambition to become a major player in global luxury alongside LVMH, Richemont and Swatch.
On 17 August 2017, the Kering group announced that Patrick Pruniaux will be the new CEO of Ulysse Nardin as from 28 August 2017. Patrik P. Hoffmann apparently decided to leave: he “is looking to move in a new direction for personal reasons,” say the company in their press release). Patrick Pruniaux’s objective at Ulysse Nardin will be “to accelerate the international expansion of the Swiss luxury watchmaking brand.”
Ulysse Nardin SA
3, Rue du Jardin
CH-2400 Le Locle, Switzerland
Tel. +41 (0)32 930 74 00
Patrick Pruniaux, CEO (from 28 August 2017)