Q&A: Ulysse Nardin’s new CEO, Patrick Pruniaux has all the reasons to “Freak Out”

Updated on September 4 2018

Less than a year after taking the helm at one of Swiss watchmaking’s most disruptive and coolest brands, Patrick Pruniaux is already causing tidal waves of excitement in the industry. After an extensive career at Diageo, LVMH and Tag Heuer, Pruniaux was hired by Apple, in Cupertino, to prepare the launch of the Apple Watch as a member of the Special Projects team in 2014. After its incredible success, he was then promoted to the position of Managing Director for UK & Ireland in 2015, and was also a member of Apple EMEA Executive Committee. During his tenure at Apple UK and Ireland, he led the local launches of several iconic iPhone, iPad and Mac products.

Returning back to his passion for luxury watches, Pruniaux was made CEO of Ulysse Nardin, joining the Kering Group in 2017. With his arrival came a number of changes, including the exciting introduction of the new Freak Out watches. We sat down with the industry’s latest game-changer to discuss the new launch as well his refreshing perspectives on the future of luxury watchmaking.

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Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin

What was the motivation behind the Freak line?
Freak embodies the values of Ulysse Nardin — outstanding watchmaking, great design and very distinctive to anything else you will see in the market. Yet it is a watch that is wearable every day unlike some haute horology timepieces, wherein luxury sacrifices on readability and comfort. The Freak Out watch, for instance, is a mechanical watch. It has to be rewound but the new innovative power reserve is an absolute killer so you won’t have to worry about the wind as often as other watches. You have the characteristic of a luxury timepiece with the convenience of everyday wear. The Freak also encapsulates the value of the brand, especially in terms of expert innovations.  Freak is only 17 years old but has evolved so much since its birth. The last model of Freak Vision is a revolution compared to the one before. It’s a product that will continue to evolve constantly into the future.

Why are you focused on expanding the Freak line as opposed to others in Ulysse Nardin?
That is one of the first things I decided to do when I joined the company. Focusing on Freak serves a purpose that goes beyond the product itself but for the brand image in general. The name is strong and the story behind it is strong. What you will see in the next 18 months is the Freak becoming far more than just one iteration every couple of years. So this year we launched the Freak Out as well as the Freak Vision. With the Freak Out we wanted a product for a larger market that could not initially tap into the price point of our previous products. We wanted more accessibility to our products for watch enthusiasts.

As the new CEO, what is the direction you want to take the brand in?
The direction has always been there in the company. When I arrived at the company, I felt very blessed as it was like coming across a treasure chest. I discovered a level of talent that was unbelievable. The people were super passionate and extremely knowledgeable. I wanted to respect the brand DNA of being innovative and daring in what we do, so my role is more about defining priorities. My first priority is communicating better. We are not the first thing you think of when you talk about luxury watches. So what we have to do is get better at explaining more of our heritage, our story and what we have accomplished I the industry already. This is why I want to evolve our existing lines as opposed to introducing new collections we don’t need.

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Freak Out, Full Black

How has your time in the tech industry affected your approach and perspective coming back to luxury watches?
The world has changed quite significantly in the last four years. I left the watch industry in 2013/2014 and it has evolved tremendously whilst I was at Apple. Since then, they have become more demanding. The consumers, themselves, are changing too.  They want to be excited and seek a genuine level of desirability with a brand and what it represents that goes further than just their products. There is now a new group of consumers in the market with a ‘youthful preference’. In the past, very often what happened was that people who were 30 years old wanted what 45-year-olds wanted. That was the measure of desirability. Today it is the other way around. Older generations are inspired by the trends of younger people and the products that they have.

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Freak Vision SSHH 2018

At Ulysse Nardin, we don’t want to be stealing other customers who would choose between our product and someone else’s. We want to create a desirability that stands on its own, one that transcends just watches but for the brand itself.

Today’s consumers cannot be categorised as people who want to specifically buy a watch. They, instead, increasingly look at an overall tradeoff with their spending. For example, our entrance price watch is USD 7,000. What can you get for that money as a trade-off? It may be the extra options you can purchase on your German car. It may be two or three MacBook Pros. It’s the cost of a trip to the Maldives for you and your girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s almost the price of a very, very good bicycle. So the desire we have to create must fall in line or supersede the trade-off those consumers are willing to make.

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Freak Out

What differences would you like to see or make in the industry as a whole?
We need to create that sense of aspiration. The luxury watch industry has a bit of a reputation of being closed off and elitist. Swiss brands are bound by a lot of traditions and rules but we are slowly changing that. A lot of people might not walk into a luxury store because they feel intimidated. They are made to feel out of place or uncomfortable. What we find is they actually have the spending power. They are just made to feel like they don’t. Those are the sort of people we have to be communicating better with.

How would you then describe Ulysse Nardin to people who have never come across it before?
Ulysse Nardin is a disruptive watch manufacturer that has been innovating timepieces since 1841. The Ulysse Nardin man is someone who is interested in the quality and legacy of watchmaking — someone who wears a watch, not just to show off for other people’s recognition but wears it for himself.