'Freak is ahead of its time', says Ulysse Nardin MD
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‘The Freak is ahead of its time’, says Ulysse Nardin MD Matthieu Haverlan

‘The Freak is ahead of its time’, says Ulysse Nardin MD Matthieu Haverlan

Matthieu Haverlan, the new managing director of Ulysse Nardin, shares how the brand is redefining contemporary watchmaking with its unusual timepieces

Neesha Salian
Ulysse Nardin MD Matthieu Haverlan

Ulysse Nardin is known for both intricate watchmaking techniques and a unique, sometimes unconventional, design style. The brand is one of the first to embrace new materials and technology in its watches. Here, we speak to Matthieu Haverlan from Ulysse Nardin, on his new role within the company as managing director, the brand’s focus on customer service and how the Swiss manufacture continues to push the boundaries in watchmaking with the iconic Freak and its iterations.

You were the chief growth officer for Ulysse Nardin and have now stepped into the role of managing director. Tell us how you’ve grown the brand and what is your strategy going forward.

I’ve about 14 years of experience in the watch industry, starting from the ground up and developing a deep passion for mechanical watches, particularly in the realm of haute horology. Seven years ago, I was headhunted by the Kering Group to join Ulysse Nardin.

When I first arrived, there were significant challenges. The brand wasn’t performing as it could have been – we had a lot of inventory and relied heavily on Eastern Europe. We also faced issues linked to distribution and lacked a cohesive marketing strategy. Over the past seven years, Ulysse Nardin has undergone substantial transformations. We’ve revamped our product collection, overhauled our marketing efforts and refined our brand message to resonate more clearly with our audience. We’ve also made strategic changes to our distribution, focusing on quality over quantity.

Now, as I lead the brand’s sales, marketing, communication and product development efforts, I’m excited about the new era we’re entering. With Ulysse Nardin now privately owned by management after the acquisition from Kering, it’s an exhilarating adventure. We’re poised for growth and innovation, and I’m honoured to be at the forefront of driving the brand forward.

What sets Ulysse Nardin apart from other haute horology brands?

Firstly, we pride ourselves on being independently owned by our management team, a rarity in the watchmaking world. This independence allows us the freedom to chart our course and prioritise our values without external influence.

Secondly, our commitment to vertical integration sets us apart. With nearly all components manufactured in-house, including intricate parts like escapement components, we maintain strict quality control and ensure that every detail meets our exacting standards. Furthermore, our rich heritage spanning 180 years (by 2026) speaks to our longevity and expertise in the field.

Despite this history, we continue to push boundaries and innovate, earning numerous awards and accolades for our groundbreaking designs and technological advancements. Our commitment to creativity is exemplified by our recent introduction of novel materials and techniques, such as silicon marquetry, showcasing our relentless pursuit of innovation.

Tell us about the brand’s presence in the region.

Regarding the Middle East, particularly the UAE, I see immense potential that remains largely untapped. In the UAE, our boutiques in Dubai Mall and Yas Mall (in Abu Dhabi) are doing well and are complemented by a dedicated and capable team. However, most of our sales still come from international visitors rather than local consumers.

My priority is to not just boost revenue, but also increase awareness and engagement within the local community.

In partnership with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, we have long-term plans to achieve this goal. Additionally, we recently exited the Saudi Arabian market but plan to reopen in 2025, recognising its importance for our future growth. Similarly, we’re reopening in Qatar with the support of our trusted partners.

I’m optimistic about expanding our reach and impact throughout the Middle East. With strategic efforts to enhance local awareness and sales, there is tremendous potential for growth in this dynamic region.

Tell us about the Freak and why it’s considered the company’s hero product.

Since its introduction in 2001, the Freak has redefined conventional notions of timepieces with its revolutionary design and advanced technology. What sets the Freak apart is its remarkable complexity and intricacy.

It doesn’t feature ‘traditional’ elements: no hands, dials or even a crown, with the entire movement indicating the time as it turns within the case.

Moreover, the use of silicon in its components, particularly in the escapement, has propelled advancements in reliability and precision. Each of its variations from the first to others such as the Diavolo, Diamonsil, One, S, X and One Ops (showcased at the recent Dubai Watch Week) are iconic.

With Freak One winning the prestigious award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2023, it has solidified the watch’s status as an icon of 21st-century watchmaking.

As for its popularity and demand, we’ve witnessed a notable shift in recent years. While Asia was traditionally a stronghold for the Freak, we’ve observed a surge in interest from collectors in the US and the Middle East, including the UAE.

This global appeal speaks to the universal recognition and admiration for the Freak collection.

What demographic does the brand appeal to?

It’s been fascinating to observe the evolving preferences of our clientele over the years.

Traditionally, our core customer base has comprised mainly men, typically around the age of 45 to 50, who appreciate the timeless elegance and craftsmanship of our timepieces.

However, in recent years, we’ve experienced a significant influx of younger consumers, some as young as 18 or 20, who are drawn to our brand for its contemporary appeal and innovative designs. Particularly in regions such as Asia, where the average age of our consumer base is around 30 to 32 years old, we’ve seen a growing interest in our watches among the younger demographic.

The Freak collection, in particular, has emerged as a gateway for many younger fans to enter the world of Ulysse Nardin.

Freak watches by Ulysse nardin

What are some key trends in the watch industry?

Buyers and collectors are becoming increasingly discerning, placing greater emphasis on factors such as design, technical innovation, and retention value.

Another noteworthy trend is the growing emphasis on wearability and comfort. We’ve observed a preference for smaller, more ergonomic designs that feel comfortable on the wrist.

Furthermore, the market dynamics are shifting towards more direct engagement between brands and consumers.

Collectors, especially the younger audience, seek authentic and transparent interactions with brands, fostering a sense of trust and connection.

Tell us about the brand’s focus on customer engagement.

When it comes to customer engagement and interaction, we believe in fostering direct connections with our clientele across various platforms. Social media has proven to be a valuable avenue for engagement, where we actively respond to comments and interact with our audience on platforms like Instagram and YouTube.

Additionally, we facilitate one-on-one meetings between clients and our representatives in multi-brand store environments, offering personalised experiences and consultations.

We also participate in all the important watch shows around the world, where we get to meet our customers and partners. The feedback we receive from such interactions is invaluable, as it offers insights into the preferences and expectations of our diverse clientele.

Moreover, we understand the significance of educating our customers about our brand heritage and craftsmanship. Many are surprised to learn about our rich history dating back to 1846 and our dedication to innovation. This understanding often leads to a deeper appreciation for our brand and its values.

How is the brand incorporating sustainability into its collections?

Sustainability is a core pillar of Ulysse Nardin’s ethos, deeply rooted in our heritage and commitment to preserving our oceans. Our focus on sustainability extends across various aspects of our operations, from product design to internal practices.

Sustainability is a key focus across our product range, extending to our watch straps.

First and foremost, we prioritise sustainable materials and innovative manufacturing processes in our product development. For instance, our diving collection showcases our dedication to ocean conservation, with watches like the Diver Net incorporating a high percentage of sustainable materials.

Ulysse Nardin uses advanced materials such as carbonium, upcycled from retired aircraft wings, and recycled steel in our timepieces.

Our partnership with a French startup enables us to craft watch straps entirely from recycled fishing nets, further reducing our environmental footprint. Beyond product innovation, we actively engage in meaningful partnerships and initiatives to champion ocean preservation.

What is Ulysse Nardin focusing on for the future?

Last year was one of strategic growth and continued innovation for Ulysse Nardin. While specific sales figures are proprietary, we are pleased with the trajectory of our brand and look forward to building upon our successes in the future.

In a year where the watch industry faced significant headwinds, particularly in key markets such as the US and China, Ulysse Nardin managed to achieve positive results. Innovation remains at the forefront of our agenda.

We are committed to pushing the boundaries of horology, particularly in the area of silicon escapements and the use of new materials for both movements and watch components.

Secondly, enhancing our consumer-centric approach is paramount. Thirdly, while we continue to focus on our iconic Freak collection, we are also mindful of nurturing other collections such as the Blast, Marine and Diver.

By creating space for these collections to thrive alongside the Freak, Ulysse Nardin is ensuring a diverse and comprehensive offering that caters to varying preferences and tastes within our discerning customer base.

Lastly, our long-term vision involves prioritising brand equity over short-term revenue generation. As an independent and fully autonomous brand, we have the freedom to invest in initiatives that bolster our brand image and reputation.

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