The business of watchmaking in the 21st century – exclusive interview Ulysse Nardin CEO, Patrick Hoffmann

CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed Mr Patrick Hoffmann, CEO of privately held Swiss watchmaker ULYSSE NARDIN

You started working for Ulysse Nardin 13 years ago, based in Florida and in charge with theU.S. market. How did you adapt to moving to Switzerland once you took over as CEO in 2011?

I always considered Switzerland my home country; therefore, I felt quite good about moving back. Well, after a second thought, I have to admit that I miss the good weather of Florida !

When recruiting your human resources, which are the elementary skills you seek and how do you make sure they adapt to working conditions in a rather secluded area such as La Chaux-de-Fonds, where your manufacture and offices are based?

A majority of our staff was trained and grew up in our area, in the Jura Mountains. We are in this region very lucky to have entertained closed relationship with engineer schools and training centers and of course watchmaking schools. Ulysse Nardin is itself a company with its own trainees  a very typical Swiss institution where young people start to learn a job in the manufacturing or administrative sections, while simultaneously following the theoretical studies at school. Ulysse Nardin has trainees in watchmaking sections as well as on the commercial side.

Which are the challenges your company would not be facing if it were part of a major group and which are the advantages of staying independent?

I have to turn your question around and answer on what are our benefits of being an independent manufacture: I feel that the greatest benefit is flexibility which allows us to react fast and to be more innovative. By not having to report to a big group with shareholders, we are not under pressure and likewise don’t have to put any pressure on our retailers, who we treat as our partners.

Last year you opened stores in Mongolia, Ghana, South Africa and Czech Republic and you have distributors in many emerging markets. How important is it for your company to create awareness for consumers who, in such markets would only buy a luxury watch because of its demonstrative purposes – to show off?

There are influential buyers all over the world and in many emerging markets. UN is not a mass product and in all those markets you mentioned above, we can find true connossiours who buy our watches because of its true value and not for demonstrative purposes only

You do not have mono-brand boutiques in Paris, Milan and London, which have been benefiting from strong sales of luxury goods thanks to travelers from Asia, South America etc? Do you have any plans?

Absolutely: Three weeks back we opened our first monobrand boutique in Switzerland – in Geneva and in about two months we will be opening a monobrand boutique in Paris.

How important is it for your company to open mono-brand boutique versus being part of multi-brand stores? How important is the actual shopping experience.

I suppose the image and shopping experience are the two main factors that monobrand boutiques have become increasingly important for luxury brands, not only watch brands. However, the concept of Ulysse Nardin builds on a strong partnership with independent retailers. The retailers are the backbone of our worldwide distribution and it is not our intention to change that format.

Watches are not a necessity nowadays. What are the features that customers are seeking when  buying a luxury watch?

A timepiece is no more a watch to show time. It is more than that and has become an icon and an expression of a lifestyle – a piece of art. Naturally, Hollywood’s A-list and executives are trendsetters, who understand the concept of showing time in form of an art and craftsmanship.

You have a generous collection of Ladies watches. Why do you think analysis predict that 2013 will be the year of women’s watches?

With the trend to bigger watches, the “playing ground” has changed and many more manufactures will be offering attractive ladies lines. In the case of Ulysse Nardin, we have something very special to present next week in Geneva: a new ladies line which is not only attractive with regards to look and fashion. The case houses an inhouse movement especially designed for ladies.

Would you consider diversification into other product categories as part of the lifestyle your consumers are enjoying?

We don’t feel necessarily that way. We still have a large audience and potential clientele who we can satisfy with our innovative products.

What is your company approach to innovation? The Swiss watch industry is regarded as somehow conservative when it comes to the assembly of a watch?

Due to our independence and our innovational spirit, we are able to produce watches that are different. I see our difference in our innovation and in our ability to think outside the box. The best example is our Freak collection. It was back in 2000 that Ulysse Nardin was the first watch to use silicium (silicon) in a mechanical movement. Today, silicium is being used by many reputable watch companies – a compliment to our technicians that believed into this new material.

What is your strategic approach to the internet and social media and what impact do they have on sales?

Like so many other luxury companies, we are still in the trial phase but we think positive and feel that the internet and social media will play a crucial part in our future, and that includes luxury as well.

Ulysse Nardin CEO Patrik P. Hoffman