Minutes&Seconds

Ulysse Nardin takes leap into dive watches

Diver X Cape Horn ($13,700, left) and Diver X Nemo Point ($12,300, right).
Diver X Cape Horn ($13,700, left) and Diver X Nemo Point ($12,300, right).PHOTOS: ULYSSE NARDIN
Diver X Antarctica.
Diver X Antarctica.PHOTOS: ULYSSE NARDIN
Lady Diver Great White ($11,000).
Lady Diver Great White ($11,000).PHOTOS: ULYSSE NARDIN

Patrick Pruniaux is a strategic man.

The former First Lieutenant in France's 11th Airborne Brigade has been steering Ulysse Nardin down bold new paths since taking over as head honcho of the luxury watchmaker more than two years ago.

His buzzwords? Range, accessibility, solid styling and strong value propositions.

He started with the brand's iconic Freak - a crownless mechanical juggernaut and the first to use silicon components - and expanded the collection to include the Freak Out (a more affordable version), the Freak X (the simplest and cheapest iteration, with a crown) and the Freak NeXt (the most sophisticated range).

The move has paid dividends.

"For example, since we launched the Freak X, sales of the Freak have actually increased. Why? Because it is creating excitement around the Freak and because the differences between the two are quite distinct," said the 47-year-old, who was part of the Special Projects team that launched the Apple Watch.

The Frenchman, who spent a decade at Tag Heuer, is turning his attention to Ulysse Nardin's Diver collections. Founded more than 170 years ago and well-known for its marine chronometers, the watchmaker - part of French luxury conglomerate Kering, which also owns Balenciaga and Gucci - has just released a new range of dive watches. These are the Diver X Cape Horn, Diver X Nemo Point, Diver X Antarctica and Lady Diver.

The first two timepieces celebrate the sailors who compete in the Vendee Globe, which takes place once every four years. First held in 1989, the open ocean event is considered to be the most gruelling and challenging yacht race in the world because competitors have to complete it without any stops or assistance.

Next year, Ulysse Nardin will, for the first time, be the official timekeeper for the round-the-world race that takes participants through several formidable places, including Point Nemo, the most remote location on Earth.

The Diver X Antarctica and the Lady Diver, meanwhile, pay homage to Ulysse Nardin's latest ambassadors: polar explorer and environmental activist Sebastian Copeland and free-diving champion Alessia Zecchini. They are the latest recruits to the brand's Team Of Ulysses, comprising explorers and free-spirited water souls.

 
 

At a glittering shindig held at the Kering headquarters in Paris last month, Mr Pruniaux, 47, introduced the new watches and ambassadors and also formally announced its partnership with the Vendee Globe.

"Our message is simple. Our clients are active people who love sports more as an experience than a competition. It's about exploring, discovering, experiencing and pushing boundaries," he said.

That is why Copeland and Zecchini were chosen as ambassadors, he added.

Copeland - who has traversed more than 8,000km over the coldest regions in the past decade and lost sections of his toes - takes haunting photos of the places he has visited to raise awareness of climate change.

Zecchini is an Italian free diver dubbed "the deepest woman in the world". Ulysse Nardin's first female ambassador, the multiple world champion set a new women's world record two months ago in the Free Immersion discipline with a 100m dive in Curacao.

The way Mr Pruniaux sees it, his work at Ulysse Nardin is cut out for him. "My job is to amplify and accelerate; it is to make sure our values are being shared in a clearer and louder way."

 
 

His competition, he says, is not other watch brands. "I'm competing against a trip to the Maldives, options you're considering for your car and other types of excitement.

"We need to create that strong sense of excitement to make you want that Freak X or Diver X badly. You could live without it, but it's going to be so much better with it. And, by the way, it's a watch."


Into the deep 

DIVER X NEMO POINT AND DIVER X CAPE HORN

These two watches boast a distinctive X across their dial and a concave rubberised bezel. The 44mm cases are fashioned from titanium and covered with a domed sapphire crystal. Powered by the self-winding CaliberUN-118 with a 60-hour power reserve, the timepieces are water-resistant to 300m.

The Diver X Nemo Point ($12,300) has a rubber bracelet with red and blue stitching, as well as the route of the Vendee Globe and the coordinates of Nemo Point stamped on the back.

The Diver X Cape Horn ($13,700), meanwhile, has saffron orange stitching as a nod to the Spice Route. The caseback is stamped with the route of the Vendee Globe as well as the GPS coordinates of Cape Horn. It is the official watch for the 2020-2021 edition - the 30th - of the race.

Limited to 300 pieces each.

DIVER X ANTARCTICA

Ulysse Nardin has roped in acclaimed polar explorer, photographer, writer and environmental activist Sebastian Copeland as the ambassador for this watch.

Powered by the UN-118 movement, the watch is designed to recall the Antarctica.

The crown, horns and caseback are made from titanium. The white rubber strap with the titanium buckle and the blue accents on the dial evoke images of icebergs floating in the sea.

The back is stamped with the Vendee Globe route and the coordinates of the Antarctic Continent: 90 degrees latitude with no longitude necessary for a landmass located at the tip of the Earth.

Limited to 300 pieces, with each retailing for $12,300.

LADY DIVER

This is Ulysse Nardin's first new line of women's dive watches in 12 years. Sporty and versatile, the 39mm watch comes in four versions, with domed sapphire glass and concave unidirectional bezel and a 40-diamond bezel option. Housing the UN-816 movement, they are all water-resistant to 300m.

The most striking is the Lady Diver Great White ($11,000), promoted by free-diving world champion Alessia Zecchini.

Limited to 300 pieces, this model boasts a grey dial with 11 diamond hour markers and an integrated rubber strap reminiscent of mermaid scales.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2019, with the headline 'Ulysse Nardin takes leap into dive watches '. Print Edition | Subscribe