"Attracting a new audience for Haute Horlogerie"

Appointed Chief Executive Officer of Ulysse Nardin in 2017, Patrick Pruniaux took over as the head of Girard-Perregaux, Kering’s other Manufacture, in August 2018. On the occasion of the SIHH exhibition, he talks about his ambition of encouraging the sector to take a more audacious and enthusiastic approach to the market.

Patrick Pruniaux
Directeur Général d’Ulysse Nardin et Girard-Perregaux

What are the prospects for Haute Horlogerie in 2019?

Haute Horlogerie has fully recovered from a sectorial crisis in 2015-16 and has returned to a performance level close to that of the other Luxury markets. The transformation of the industry is accelerating. We’re seeing a certain amount of rationalization among the various players in distribution, along with investment in the customer experience at the point of sale. Changes are also underway in the area of online distribution, where there are huge potential opportunities. While e-commerce currently has only an anecdotal share of watchmaking sales, it is helping to create a broader audience of luxury watchmaking enthusiasts. Soon, 100% of the customer experience will start online. Finally, over the last three years, we have witnessed a real generational change in the leadership of many leading watchmaking companies – which has helped to bring fresh dynamism to the sector.

And in terms of customers?

Here, we are seeing new behaviors. Of course, the traditional reasons for purchasing are still there; people are looking for long-lasting acquisitions that will keep their value over time – watches that their children could inherit in 20 or 30 years’ time… But expectations have changed, particularly among new, younger customers, which is reflected in changing tastes. Before, enthusiasts were looking for traditional aesthetics – watches that had a classic, refined, more sober style. This was particularly true in China. Today, tastes have become more modern, and the trend is for products that often have a sporty design and that, above all, are more expressive and tell a genuine (brand) story. In short, people want watches that give them the chance to express their personality, in the same way as a premium quality pair of sneakers or a luxury car. It’s a great opportunity for our sector. You can have a timeless watch and an extreme level of quality – and still express yourself. I’m convinced you can experience the same emotion when buying a luxury watch as buying designer clothes or leather goods, for example. Buying a watch needs to be a less intimidating process… and one that is carried out more frequently!

At Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux, how do you reconcile tradition with emotion?

We have to position ourselves as the continuity of a rich heritage. Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin each have a history going back more than 170 years. That tradition needs to be respected, particularly when it comes to the quality of the materials and the production process. However, both Manufactures also need to remain innovative in the design of their products, along with the customer experience and the brand narrative that they offer. New aesthetics need to be invented to arouse people’s interest – as demonstrated by Gucci, which has taken this approach and enjoyed the success that we all know. It’s a good example to follow… Freak X, which Ulysse Nardin is presenting at SIHH, is a good illustration of such an approach. In 2019, the brand will extend the Freak range with some daring, highly contemporary designs, with the aim of attracting new audiences to watchmaking – and millennials in particular. As for Girard-Perregaux, the Laureato Absolute reflects the same thinking, and the same desire to provide a more affirmative aesthetic. Nevertheless, I’m sure that both products are watches that our predecessors in both Houses would be proud of.

Ulysse Nardin at SIHH 2019

What do you expect from SIHH 2019?

The exhibition enables us to present the ideas we will be developing over the course of 2019, and the narratives that are ingrained in the histories of our Houses. Girard-Perregaux has focused its communications on the dichotomy between earth and heaven, while Ulysse Nardin is exploring the notion of “Disorder”, or rather, the notion of tension within the disparate elements of the brand.

The new products this year are an opportunity to show how the use of space and the stories that each House is telling can be brought together to make a lasting impression, create a common sense of enthusiasm, and to convince people. The aim is to create surprise and excitement among our partners, such as the specialist press. Ulysse Nardin is absolutely taking this approach in its use of the space at SIHH, with a shark cage suspended from the ceiling and an exhibition of works by Manara, the master of erotic art, with whom the Manufacture has reached an exclusive partnership agreement. It’s another way of demonstrating the House’s modernity and freedom in choice of tone.

Ulysse Nardin’s teaser for SIHH 2019