Ulysse Nardin's Diver X Antarctica watch

PARIS — Drawing on its nautical past and angling for appeal with a sporty audience, Ulysse Nardin is launching three new diver watches and partnering with arctic explorer and photographer Sebastian Copeland, free diver Alessia Zecchini and the Vendée Globe sailing race.

“The market is going toward more sporty products — that’s true overall,” said Patrick Pruniaux, chief executive officer of the Kering-owned label.

The launch is not a change in direction, he added, noting it was a natural continuation of the brand’s emphasis on diving watches.

“I wanted a product that’s extremely comfortable to wear,” he said, noting he was after an ergonomic and easily readable design. Most are made of titanium, keeping them lightweight.

While the market may be flush with diving watches, Ulysse Nardin’s offer fits in a smaller niche of those made in the “manufacture” tradition with watch pieces mostly designed, built and assembled in-house, often with intricate finishing on the parts like engraving.

He noted he hopes that by combining the basic functions of a diving watch with the added-value of a manufacture, the timepieces will resonate with consumers looking for something less mainstream, or “an alternative to what I would call mass luxury products,” Pruniaux said.

“It’s a very interesting segment,” the executive added.

Asked about the label’s relationship with the brand ambassadors — who join a lineup of others including free diving underwater photographer Fred Buyle, professional kiteboarder Alex Caizergues and snowboarding champion Mathieu Crépel — he said, “We take our time and little by little, build a relationship, we want to understand them.” Buyle, for example, wears his watch every day, according to Pruniaux.

“This is what I need — an in-depth conversation about product,” he added.

With higher-end watches, consumers to know more about the products and will more carefully scrutinize the authenticity of the timepieces, he suggested.

“There should be a purpose for every collection,” he said.

Limited distribution and innovation are also key to the brand’s strategy, he added, citing the Freak and Freak X models, with no dial or hands, which he described as sharing a vision of contemporary watchmaking with consumers.

The titanium Diver x Antarctica diver watch carries a white, rubber strap with touches of turquoise, meant to evoke the dramatic images of icebergs shot by Copeland, an explorer who has crossed the South Pole’s icy continent.

The Lady diver is a nod to Zecchini, a free-diving champion known for setting records. It comes a dozen years after the label made its first diving watch for women. It comes in mother-of-pearl, dark blue or a black matte steel, has diamonds and an engraving of a female diver on the case back.

Prices range from under 7,900 Swiss Francs, or around $7,968, to 14,900 Swiss francs for a limited-edition black and rose gold version.

The Diver x Cape Horn and Nemo Point timepieces carry references to the Vendée Globe race, and are made with black titanium and carbon, or with a blue, rubberized bezel, and carrying Velcro straps.

Pruniaux said he is mindful that there is an alignment between the products and how the brand communicates about them.

“I would describe it more as a tone of speech…which is sometimes a little bit audacious, maybe a bit daring — we try to do things differently but also be very consistent,” he said.

To be successful in the watchmaking industry, it is best to seek success beyond the sector, he added.

“Very often we think of the watch industry in isolation….We are competing with so many products, not only watches,” he said, noting the challenge is to make products attractive enough to win over a consumer considering another product or splashing out on something else for pleasure.

Describing the brand’s focus, he pointed to exploration and an environmental bent.

“Exploration would define us — a strong interest for sustainability and for protecting the environment, which is also a commitment we’re taking, and that is going to be a growing commitment and a tone of voice [that] is very clearly with an aspiration for freedom,” he added.

Ulysse Nardin is sold online through a handful of multibrand retailers including Farfetch and Mr Porter, but may sell something directly itself in the future, said the executive, adding he was currently more interested in how to drive business.

As for physical stores, in addition to a handful of high-end distributors, including Bucherer, Watches of Switzerland and the Hourglass, the watchmaker recently opened its own stores in Geneva, Shanghai and Beijing, and one operated by a third party in Dubai.

Asked about business, he said the brand has had “good momentum this year in a challenging environment,” noting the polarization of the industry, between successful and less successful labels.

“I feel our message does resonate somewhat,” he added.

“Everything is changing,” he said. “If there is one time when you cannot stand still, it’s now in the watch industry.”

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