Ulysse Nardin has an incredibly solid bond with the sea. The route it has negotiated through the watch world and its output say it all. The Le Locle Maison has also been involved in some of the world’s most prestigious sailing and nautical events from the America’s Cup to the Monaco Yacht Show. Now it has opened a new chapter in that story: Ulysse Nardin is the Official Timekeeper for the upcoming Vendée Globe, AKA the Everest of sailing. We hear more about the background to the decision in the exclusive interview with CEO Patrick Pruniaux.
After the America’s Cup, Ulysse Nardin once again goes out to sea, with the Vendée Globe. What are the values that you shares with sailing?
This partnership with the Vendée Globe is different. Our intentions go deeper than just “sailing”. It is all about the notion of “Exploration”. We are partners with this one-of-a-kind human odyssey, a true epic adventure : remember that it’s a solo race around the globe without any assistance. What matters is not your speed. It’s your direction and your mindset;, your mental strength. Of course it’s a competition. But our motivation in this partnership is not performance-oriented. It’s Ulysses-oriented. Ulysses conveys images and above all, the stories have permeated western culture. Ulysses is a character created over 2,000 years ago by Homer for his works: the Iliad, then the Odyssey. He is in a ship. He has the most incredible adventures at sea. The sirens’ song… the Cyclops… Ulysses is ingenious, cunning, extraordinarily clever. He thinks faster and above and beyond others. He is an adventurer. He knows how to wait, he knows how to persevere, he is courageous, he enjoys discovering and exploring. Those skippers lining up for the Vendée Globe embody the values of us all at Ulysse Nardin: courage, temerity, adventure and selflessness. They are “Ulysses” too. We are supporting a true independent sea voyage, not just a “sailing race”.
Sébastien Destremau, friend of the brand, will be among the participants. His boat is called Merci a name born from the idea of bringing an important message to the world?
The Idea of “Merci” occurred to Sébastien during the great, worldwide confinement earlier this year. Nature was blooming because the planet was slowing down. Merci – thank you in French – embodies a message of gratitude. Gratitude towards Mother Nature, of course but also, towards humanity and life. This is a very positive word that I bet Sébastien will remember during the hard times he will certainly face onboard. Crossing the ocean on the” Merci” sounds like poetry to me. It’s a beautiful message of thankfulness and respect.
Kering in 2019 decided to support The Explorer Projects. This year Ulysse Nardin has decided to strengthen the relationship with this important project. What are the reasons behind this choice?
As part of the Kering group, Ulysse Nardin has created an ambitious roadmap to reduce its environmental footprint by 2025. We have fully integrated this target in our corporate and business strategy. Protecting our planet is one of our top priorities and we will make every effort we can to support those who nobly endeavor to achieve the same goal. As the watchmaker of the ocean, we clearly want to focus on the United Nation’s SDG number 14, which is oriented around “life below water”: The goal is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. We think it’s better to focus on a specific problem and invest in solving it rather than dispersing and wasting our energy. We are also actively tracking the life cycle of our watches and their materials in order to understand how they might find their way into marine environments. We are looking into new materials, including recycled wastes from the ocean.
In terms of products the Vendée Globe has provided you with the inspiration to develop a specific collection of dedicated timepieces. What are the key features of these models?
The geographical coordinates of Nemo Point and Cape Horn, as well as the route of the Vendée Globe race, are stamped on the back of each DIVER X watch. Each watch –in limited editions of 300 only pieces each – has an “X” boldly stamped 6-12 in relief across the dial. They are equipped with the UN-118 movement that guarantees accuracy in any hemisphere at any time of the day or night. The fabric straps are made from cutting-edge technology and equipped with Velcro closures. Of course, the Vendée Globe is very inspiring in terms of product development. Cape Horn, one of the land points the Vendée Globe sailors must pass by on their voyage around the world, is one of the most treacherous routes. Nemo Point is a position in the South Pacific off of the coast of Chile, named after author Jules Verne’s seafaring captain, which is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Closer to the International Space Station than to solid land, Point Nemo is Located at 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W, the location in the ocean that is farthest from land, making it the most remote position on planet Earth.
For Ulysse Nardin innovation has always been the distinguishing element in the watchmaking panorama. Has the sea represented for a valid source of inspiration for the Maison?
While it is fashionable today to talk about innovation, for Ulysse Nardin it is a matter of culture and history. Ulysse Nardin himself – who founded the brand back in 1846 – was a trailblazer in the field of chronometry. Merchant and navy ships used his award-winning chronometers to precisely measure longitude relative to time. Another good example to illustrate our constant quest for innovation is that Ulysse Nardin was the world’s first watch manufacturer to perfect a silicium dual direct escapement, which became an emblematic feature of the FREAK series. Most luxury watchmakers went on to follow suit, using silicium for their escapements. I think we’re no cleverer than the watchmakers of the past, but we do have a better toolbox.