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Talking the Freak and the Future with Ulysse Nardin’s Managing Director Matthieu Haverlan

Talking the Freak and the Future with Ulysse Nardin’s Managing Director Matthieu Haverlan

3. May 2024

At the start of this year, Ulysse Nardin saw a change in its management. In February, the brand appointed Matthieu Haverlan as its new Managing Director. Having previously established a career with Hamilton and Jaeger-LeCoultre and been part of Ulysse Nardin as Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Growth Officer for more than seven years, Haverlan is not new to the industry and has strong visions for the brand. We had the opportunity to meet him at the brand’s Watches and Wonders booth and talk about the Swiss watchmaker’s newest addition to its most exclusive collection, the brand’s development, and its future.

What are you wearing today?

I am wearing my Freak One. It is the Freak that won the GPHG ‘Iconic’ category in Geneva last year. You know we have the Freak X and the Freak S with the most complicated movement in the Freak collection, and the Freak One which is in the middle range of the Freak collection. It is a tribute to the origin of the very first Freak that was launched in 2001. It has become my daily wear since we won that award.

If you could only pick three timepieces from all of Ulysse Nardin’s collection, which ones do you personally regard as the most important pieces of the brand?

Two watches are highly important for me in my Ulysse Nardin collection. One is my Diver 44 mm titanium – the blue version – because I do a lot of sports, and it is my sports companion. Whether I run, swim, play tennis or do a workout, I always have the Diver 44 with me when I am not working. I also own a Freak X in rose gold, which is very versatile. I like to wear it on any occasion as it is very comfortable.

This year at the fair we are launching the Freak S Nomad. With the most complicated movement we have ever created and launched as the first version of the Freak S back in 2022, it is at the top of the Freak collection. It is an automatic watch with two hearts, two separate escapements, whose frequency is averaged by the smallest differential ever created. It is powered by the patented automatic system called ‘Grinder’ which is the most effective winding system in the industry.

What is the benefit of having two escapements?

The benefit is definitely the accuracy. If you look at the watch at first glance, you have a drawn spaceship – but we do not want it to be too gimmicky. So, on top of that we know that there is a demand for having two escapements, for having more precise watches. F.P.Journe did it with the Résonance and Armin Strom as well. However, those watches have a manual winding, and we wanted to see if we could do it with an automatic winding system because this type of movement requires a lot of energy. We managed to archive this thanks to the Grinder technology which was patented as part of a concept watch called InnoVision 2 in 2017 which has a different function than a regular rotor. Moreover, it provides the movement with twice the amount of power than a regular rotor.

Which of Ulysse Nardin’s pieces do you see for strongly dedicated collectors?

The Freak is an absolute must-have – whether it is one of the very first, vintage Freaks, or some of the latest creations like the Freak S Nomad that we are launching at the fair this year. Especially this one in particular because it has a baseplate as the movement, so the hour disc, that sports an in-house, handmade guilloche pattern. We call it point de diamant in French as the shape that you have on the plate looks like the edge of a diamond. It is very specific, absolutely beautiful. I think the way the watch reflects the light, the way the colour of the hour disc and the movement contrast, is alluring. So, you have a beautiful combination of high-tech with one of the most ancestral Métiers d’Art. I think until you have a Freak in your collection, your collection is not complete.

How many pieces of the Freak collection are you approximately planning on producing per year?

We produce less than 10,000 watches for the whole collection – the Marine, the Diver, the Blast … What I can tell you is that the Freak is the most exclusive collection by far. We have no intention of increasing the production. We prefer to draw the equity, the awareness, the desirability of the company as opposed to really grow revenue. You know we are independent, we own the business, we have a long-term view and therefore generating more revenue tomorrow is not the main driver.

Let us talk about innovation. We are living in a very fast paced, technologically advanced world. How do you use innovation to make your watches relevant and desirable for customers?

You know the cars are becoming electric, there is technology in everything, and there no longer is a really mechanical aspect to it – except to watches. Looking ahead, I think watches definitely have a long life because of their micro-mechanics with their beauty and perceived high value. What I can say is that we have never had so many customers willing to visit us, also in our manufacture Switzerland, where we produce all of the watches’ components in-house. Thus, I definitely see a strong foundation for the watch-making industry because the watch is probably the only object that remains mechanical.

What is Ulysse Nardin’s biggest goal for 2024?

One of the most effective PR campaigns we have ever had was when we announced we were becoming independent which was less than two years ago. We had new customers coming to our doors because of the fact that we were becoming independent. Being independent means focusing on brand equity, taking risks, innovating, being creative. Furthermore, consumers expect independent watchmaking to be more approachable. As a company and especially as the client-facing Ulysse Nardin teams, we are therefore much more approachable for the consumer – whether it is through events, one-on-one interaction, or social media. We are also leveraging Watches and Wonders week. You can see that our booth has a pretty much fully open design compared to the other ones and people are really welcome to discover our world. So, one of the major changes is definitely being a much more approachable brand for collectors.

If we look at the industry today it has not been an easy year in comparison to 2021/22. Which qualities of your brand are key to making 2024 a successful year?

As much as we did not benefit too much from the hype, I believe that we are not suffering that much this year because our products are really different. When you buy a Freak, it is not because you do not want to buy something else. It is because it does not look like anything else. Therefore, having a distinctive design, a unique proposition, is definitely a strong benefit. For instance, we see that this year we have never had such a high demand for the Freak than this year even though I believe there is so much around it that we could create. So, I am very confident for the months and the years that are to come.

Where do you see Ulysse Nardin in 10 years?

You know it is still a matter of revenue. For me, being successful in ten years would mean that I would attend collectors’ dinners where I see a majority of Freaks on the wrist. Even though it is our most exclusive collection, and we are going to stick with a low production on an annual basis, I want to see more Freaks on the wrists of people who really like watches. I think it is also a differentiating point that you see at Ulysse Nardin compared to others: we are watch collectors ourselves. We do collect watches, we love watches. You know a few months ago I bought a pre-owned Patek Philippe reference 5960. So, I love Ulysse Nardin, I love other watch brands and that is also a differentiating point. We run a brand, but we love watches first and foremost.