Ultimate Cars, Watches & Hi Fi S03 ep16 : Patrik Hoffmann, Ulysse Nardin Watches, [Switzerland]
Interview with Patrik Hoffmann
Swiss Watch Manufacturer Ulysse Nardin was founded in 1846. Ulysse Nardin has been dedicated to excellence for over 165 years in manufacturing mechanical watches. Among the most reliable ever made, Ulysse Nardin's marine chronometers are still sought by collectors around the world. Ulysse Nardin continues to be in the forefront of watchmaking technology by pioneering new materials in manufacturing high precision movement components and most innovative timepieces.
UlysseNardin: We do a lot of things different than others and we are able to do so because we are
still an independent company.
UlysseNardin: It was founded in 1846 a French man who came to S… his name was Ulysse Nardin
it always was in the family, the Nardin family at some stage you know the 70’s came, the crisis
came then Rolf Schneider he bought the company at that time the company was really small it was
only two people left you know it was the crisis.
UlysseNardin: When I was an accountant in a watch company when I was 22 years old and since
then I’m in the watch biz and the fascination is the product and why watches, I think it’s the
combination of mechanics and fashion. 13 years ago and I used to live and work for Ulysse Nardin
in the United States and then I’m back in Switzerland.
UlysseNardin: Well he needed somebody to run the subsidiary in the United States and that’s how
it all came about and then unfortunately the circumstances of last year when Rolf Schneider passed
away the succession plan was planned.
UlysseNardin: He really had guts you know he had good people around him, he had the feel for it,
he was a real entrepreneur but at the end of the day I think the real element that she brought in he
UlysseNardin: He was moving out of Switzerland, he was 20 years old and he moved to Asia and
always stayed and lived in Asia that’s really where he felt home and then he was actually the first
Swiss person outside Switzerland producing parts for the Swiss watch industry, has nothing to do
with Ulysse now but at that time it was something else but then in 1982 when he found Ulysse
Nardin and … and he thought that would be a company I could do something, a good brand name
and then that’s how it started.
UlysseNardin: We don’t wear a watch anymore to read time, I think it’s now an expression of
lifestyle, it’s an expression of culture, if you want to have accurate time you have the dashboard in
the car, the computer and then the cell phone, you don’t need a watch anymore.
UlysseNardin: We were able to remain independent because we were innovational. Do you know
the freaky stuff we could do because we were independent because we could think outside the box.
To call a watch freak I think if you would have belonged to a group the group wouldn’t have
allowed us to call it freak so prestigious the freak.
UlysseNardin: The concept was we’ve opened up a watch from the top, it was a concept with
really … we had at that time also an escapement in the background but the escapement was
already ready but we never put it in a watch, it was a duel directors … but Rolf always said if you
don’t see what’s happening like in a tourbillon watch for example, people don’t want to buy it. So
it was somehow a combination, we came with the concept of the freak opening up the watch and
then Rolf said now let’s combine that escapement with the freak because then people can really
see and appreciate it, so it was almost I would call it double whammy you know because the first
time a watch was opened in that way a way of different kind of showing time on the one side and
on the other side it was the first time that … was used.
UlysseNardin: When we came out with the freak at the beginning yeah the freak didn’t really
work, we had a problem with the escapement, did a lot of research we found that the weight of the
beads were too heavy so we had to find a material which was very light on the one side but very
hard, and then we made a lot of research with the … a lot of other people in the watch industry
they laughed at us because they thought it will never work.
UlysseNardin: Our technical director, Pierre Kidons I always refer to him as Mr … because he
really was the person that pushed it and Rolf believed in it through him and Rolf had the guts to
say okay I’m going to finance it.
UlysseNardin: You can also call it silicon we decided not to call it silicon because of all these
reasons so we said no, we’re going to call it sili… it’s silicon.
UlysseNardin: You grow the parts on … and you get pieces out of those … the advantage of it, it’s
light but very hard and what we found out and we did the research but that was not the plan at the
beginning, a nice side effect for us which was a fantastic feature is it doesn’t need oiling.
UlysseNardin: Ten years ago we introduce it in freak, the watch industry said okay obviously it
works but in small quantities. We are introducing this year movement where we are going to
produce 3,000 pieces a year next year it would 8-10,000 of that calibre and they will all house s…
parts. So today s… is a material which can be used in big quantities and in an industrialised way
and for the hairspring.
UlysseNardin: We did even the research about 2006, 2007 we produced a hairspring out of
diamond and it works fantastic, it’s one of the best hairsprings to use but it’s a test, it’s a prototype
because it’s very expensive.
UlysseNardin: So we actually have now the next step, the next development which his s… and we
grow a diamond coating around s… that even makes the surface harder it makes it less porous so
it’s again we see certain advantages for bigger quantities with that material.
UlysseNardin: I wouldn’t call us the high tech guys, I would call us actually innovators. We are a
niche brand, so if you want to remain a niche brand you have to be different, you have to have
certain things which set you apart, you can communicate in a different way, you can have some
marketing concepts in a different way but at the end of the day it’s the product that counts.
UlysseNardin: Research and development, our laboratory there are about 17 people so there is a lot
of brain in there and a lot of experience and we let the people think outside the box, and of course
for many of our products we have Ru… Oxley, he has a doctorate in philosophy and mathematics,
he became a watchmaker by training and a master watchmaker only at the second stage in life,
he’s a genius he can think three dimensions, he can come up with new concepts and nobody else
could but he does it in a way to make things not more complicated. So if you would go to him and
say please come up with the most complicated watch, he wouldn’t do it, he would say I’ll come up
with something complicated but I’ll make it easy. Easy to read and easy to produce and easy to
UlysseNardin: If you look at our freak we have no dial any more the movement itself is actually
the dial and it shows the time, there’s no crown, but the trend also is to less full packed
complications there was an era of 25 years ago I would say it was the go for all the watchmakers to
pack as many complications into one watch, if they all worked I’m not sure in some cases, but we
never really went into that craziness today I think it’s again back to the simple modifications, the
UlysseNardin: I had the opportunity for the last 2 years before Rolf Schneider passed away
whenever I was in Switzerland I stayed at his house together with him and we would have
breakfast on a Sunday morning together in our pyjamas and I tell you the craziest ideas and the
developments of the markets happened in our pyjamas on a Sunday morning. It was like an
energizer man you know they did the advertising he was wound up and he would go forever he
would, he would never stand still, I mean from the morning when he got up to the evening when he
went to bed, his brain was non-stop working.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Patrik Hoffmann, Ulysse Nardin Watches, Switzerland