Ulysse Nardin Blast watch

PARIS — Swiss watch labels Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux will be shedding 100 jobs by the end the month, around a quarter of employees, as the Kering-owned labels scale down production in a bid to secure their long-term survival.

While the brands enjoy “healthy momentum” with retailers and watch fans, the watch industry has been “dealt a blow” by the coronavirus crisis, and effects are likely to continue over the next several years, predicted Patrick Pruniaux, chief executive officer of both labels, in a statement.

The labels merged resources a year ago, in a process that entailed a “major manufacturing investment,” but the pandemic-induced downturn — and the watch sector’s “timid” recovery — has prompted the need to downsize, according to the watchmakers.

The brands said they plan to preserve research and development activities, the haute horlogerie workshops, the enamel dial manufacturing, the apprentice program and after-sales services as well as production of a number of elements including escapements, gear trains and balances — with the aim of maintaining the ability to innovate.

The Swiss watch industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, with exports down 32.4 percent between January and July, compared to the same period last year, with steep drops in exports to some of its largest markets, like Hong Kong, the U.S. and Japan, according to statistics from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux were among a small group of labels that banded together to meet with the press, clients and retailers in various spots around Geneva last month, holding one of only a few events of the industry this year. Traditional fairs Watches & Wonders Geneva went online earlier this year while Baselworld was cancelled and the show ended altogether.

Pruniaux, who introduced Ulysse Nardin’s new Blast watch, a skeleton model with an automatic tourbillon, has said he is convinced that Swiss watchmaking will maintain its relevance, particularly in the high range — watches in the lower range, under 1,000 euros or even more, are notably suffering from competition from the Apple Watch.

Pruniaux, a former Apple executive, took the helm of Ulysse Nardin in 2018, and Girard-Perregaux a year later. 

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