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Watch industry figures - Interview with Patrik Hoffmann

Watch industry figures Interview with Patrik Hoffmann

We met with the CEO of Ulysse Nardin to discuss the new brand identity and his outlook for the future.

What was the reason for refreshing the brand’s identity this year?
We set up a road map 2020, which included, among other things, a reduction in the number of models in the collection and a new way to set up our core pillars. With all this it became obvious that a new communication strategy had to be developed as well. It was overdue.

You will be at the SIHH next year. Is this a fringe benefit of the take-over by the Kering group?
No, it was not Kering’s decision, we were actually free to decide whether to move to the SIHH or not. But it’s great that we have the opportunity to move there along with Girard-Perregaux.

What are the benefits for you of being at the SIHH instead of Baselworld?
Baselworld has changed somewhat. I think the best way to describe it is that you have a salon environment at the SIHH and a “market” environment at Baselworld. This gives us a focus and we are only among 30 brands rather than a few hundred. But the exclusivity of the salon is also very important. I don’t think this will immediately translate into sales growth but in the long term the benefit will be there because it is an image boost as well. It’s a qualitative move for us.

Over a 12-month period from 2013-2014 you launched six new in-house calibres, which is a big achievement. Did you need to do that to lay the foundations for the new identity of the brand?
No, it was a coincidence and it just happened like that. We were working on a lot of movements at the time and it would be impossible to maintain this rhythm. We decided to become a manufacture in around 2003, so this is when we started the development work. In 2011 we launched the calibre 118, the Marine Chronometer, which is one of our most important movements in terms of production volumes. After that, more had to come, but it just happened that it all came over that twelve-month period.


Does that mean that you now have a solid range of in-house calibres for the next few years?
Yes, it means that we will have new movements coming out in a rhythm of one every year or two. It’s not necessary to come up with a complete new movement every year. I think that would be wrong. We may have a new calibre to show, but it’s not necessarily one of our objectives.

You have refocused the collection around six pillars. Can you explain the rationale behind this?
What we really did was streamline the collection. Between 2011 and 2015 we reduced the number of references by about half. And then over the past year we have once again cut them by half, so you can imagine how many different references we had in the collection before this. We are now where we would like to be in terms of our product catalogue and we have our collections planned up until 2020 with the right mix of current models, phase-outs and new introductions.

"It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time if you have too many references and too many different collections."

But cutting product references presumably does not mean cutting production volumes as well. Where will the growth come from?
It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time if you have too many references and too many different collections. If you cut the number of different models it gives you a number of advantages, not least in terms of logistics, the cost of production and even communication. If you want to have a clear identity for the brand then you need fewer references.

Ulysse Nardin allows its customers to register and authenticate timepieces via your website. That’s a great benefit for the customer, but what does it bring to the brand?
The main advantage is on the customer’s side. Only a few weeks ago we announced a new five-year warranty on our timepieces. Normally they only have a two-year warranty, but if the customer registers their watch then we increase this to five years. This is a huge advantage for the customer and it shows the confidence we have in our quality. We even give a warranty of ten years on all silicium components, because we now have a track record of 15 years in the use of silicium components.
It also allows us to communicate better with our customers. We know that we have a lot of repeat customers so we have a lot of brand loyalty and in today’s world you need to be close to your customer. We will work even more on this. This does not mean, however, that we wish to bypass the independent retailer. For us, the independent retailer is the clear pillar of our distribution network.


The Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon was one of the horological highlights of 2016. Can you explain how this unusual idea came about?
The inspiration from the marine world is clear, of course, and I think the Grand Deck is a typical Ulysse Nardin product because it is so different and so creative. Nobody expected anything like this at Baselworld. We worked on it with Christophe Claret and when we first saw the system of cables we immediately thought that it was something we could work with for winches. There was a lot of toing and froing between design and movement construction but it didn’t actually take us that long – only about three years to develop, largely thanks to our historically strong relationship with Christophe Claret and his team.

You are involved in the America’s Cup with Artemis Racing. How important is the partnership in terms of brand visibility but also in terms of sponsorship activation?
It’s a great platform. There are a lot of watch brands involved in the America’s Cup but there is no brand like Ulysse Nardin that has such a close relationship with the marine world. Artemis is owned by a Swedish businessman who lives in Geneva and it was only once we had signed the agreement that we found out that he owns a number of Ulysse Nardin watches.
It is the first time that Ulysse Nardin has had such a major sponsorship deal and it was important for me to show the staff here in Switzerland, as well as our retail partners worldwide, that we have this platform. It is a way of bringing everyone together beyond just promoting nice timepieces.

What is your outlook for 2017?
If I said that I foresee double-digit growth then I think everyone would laugh. The key for Ulysse Nardin is that we have made a lot of adjustments to our product range and communications this year but also in the organization worldwide. So we are ready to continue travelling through the storm and I think we are doing so in good health. We are also ready for when things pick up again but I don’t think you can put a year or a month on that. Ulysse Nardin has been without interruption for 170 years and, as you can imagine, it has already sailed through a lot of storms.
The theme of SIHH 2017 for us is marine and innovation and you will see that clearly.

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