CEO Patrik P. Hoffmann discusses the Swiss watchmaker’s first standalone boutique in India, plans for the New Year and the collections one can expect to see here

What was the motivation to finally set up a mono-brand boutique in India?

We have been invested in the Indian market for a long time — for more than a decade, really. As a brand, we may have been ready to take that step 4-5 years ago, but now we have the right partner. That worked out only over the last 10-12 months.

The advantage of a standalone boutique is for the end consumer, who can go into a Ulysse Nardin store and be able to see the display that reflects the DNA of the brand. Also, with more space, you can showcase more of what the brand is about — not only in terms of products.

We are aware that our choice of Borivali to launch the first boutique is against the norm, but for a brand like Ulysse Nardin, we hope for this to become a destination where our customers go to experience the brand. The word to describe it would be ‘exclusivity’ — the boutique follows our worldwide theme and DNA of the marine world, and you will get a feel of this here too.

What collections can we hope to see at the boutique?

We have the luxury of offering more variety now, since we have a standalone store. Our regular timepieces occupy about 85 per cent of the store, while 15 per cent or so are exclusives to boutiques worldwide. In India, the Executive line is very important for us; it has somehow suited the taste of our customers here. We now also offer the Executive Skeleton Tourbillon, which has a very bold design and we hope it will do well in India. The bulk of our sales here are from two collections — the Marine and Dual Time lines.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon
Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon

Could you sum up the brand’s performance in 2016 and share what we can expect this year?

We have streamlined our collections thematically over the last two years. If you look at the product catalogues of 2015 and then 2016, there was an extreme change — an extreme cutting of models to really make communication and merchandising easier.

At SIHH this year, we will live by three keywords — marine, innovation and craftsmanship — which are the USPs of the brand. The marine theme stays important for us because we are sponsoring the America’s Cup, which takes place this year. In terms of innovation, we are going to showcase something we did only once so far in 2007, where we showed a prototype timepiece with 10 innovations in it. Eight of those 10 innovations are today found in our regular timepieces. Thirdly, in terms of craftsmanship, we are making full use of the Manufacture’s ability to create beautiful dials in enamel, jewellery and more.

What makes the association with the America’s Cup a perfect fit?

The association came two years ago, and it was kind of a dream for us because it was the right platform. Once we signed on, I went to San Francisco and was amazed to see 130 technicians and engineers working similarly to how we do, but on a different product. They have so much passion. You don’t really need the America’s Cup to navigate the seas; it’s because the passion is there. The same is the case with a timepiece — it is a work of art. Also, there are so many people behind a race that you never see, and it’s the same with the watch industry. They never get the glory, but they make it happen. So I saw that resemblance. It also helped us because we have a lot of employees, retailers, agents and subsidiaries who were able to associate with this event and it was good for the spirit and culture within the company.

Has the Ulysse Nardin customer profile changed over the years?

Yes, it has become younger over the years. When we go back 30 years to when the renaissance of the mechanical watches came, the buyers were mainly connoisseurs and collectors. Today, collectors are still important, but that doesn’t drive the brand. General people appreciate good art and design these days, and they come to us for watches that marry good design and inner life.

Is the Indian customer very different from his European or American counterpart?

I always use the term ‘same same but not the same’ to describe the markets. The Indian market is very sophisticated — similar to the rest of the Asian market, but not so similar to the US. Here, people are a lot more alert when it comes to the mechanics, design and details of watches than they are in the US. You have markets where the design is more important and then others where the inner life of the watch is more important. People here value both.