While Ulysse Nardin’s timepieces don’t receive emails or track health data, they are, in their own way, highly innovative. At the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva this week, the brand intends to unveil watches with several new and patented features, like an escapement that improves a watch’s accuracy. Yet the brand remains a bit of an insiders’ secret, known mostly by watch aficionados and collectors. “If there’s one thing you can blame Ulysse Nardin for, it’s not making enough noise,” Mr. Pruniaux said.
Credit Clara Tuma for The New York Times
The challenge of increasing the company’s recognition is, for Mr. Pruniaux, part of his position’s appeal. “I’ve been following the brand since I started in the watch industry,” he said. “I’ve always thought there was a mystique around the brand. The fact that the brand was strong, but also a sort of hidden gem, I found interesting.”
And the watchmaker’s owners were interested in Mr. Pruniaux’s experience to help it succeed in a retail climate that’s increasingly internet based, with as much as 85 percent of all luxury purchases beginning online, according to Albert Bensoussan, chief executive of Kering’s luxury watches and jewelry division.
“We need someone today who understands how to take that into account,” Mr. Bensoussan said. “You need people who are really very much aware of the new world and the fact that customers start their shopping process by going online. You need someone who has been really deeply immersed into that to manage the future of luxury brands, including Ulysse Nardin.”
While Kering does not break out revenue by brand, its third quarter 2017 results, the most recent available, said jewelry and watch sales were up 15 percent year-on-year. It also noted “encouraging trends in watches,” including what it called progress at Ulysse Nardin, fueled by its new Marine Torpilleur model, in Western Europe and the Middle East.
Mr. Pruniaux has two decades of experience in sales, marketing and corporate management. Born in Paris and raised in the French Alps, he began his career working for the wine and spirits company Diageo. He held several positions at the company, initially working in several countries in Africa. He eventually joined the Wines & Spirits division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, overseeing sales and marketing of the brand’s Champagne and cognac brands in Latin America and the Caribbean. That led to a job at Tag Heuer, also owned by LVMH, in 2005, where he worked for nearly a decade in several positions and learned the intricacies of the watch business.
Credit Clara Tuma for The New York Times
“He is someone who is very humble, very keen to grow and very smart in the sense that to grow he needs first to ask questions, to listen to people,” said Jean-Christophe Babin, Mr. Pruniaux’s former boss at Tag Heuer and now chief executive of Bulgari.
Mr. Pruniaux joined Apple in 2014, first as part of a special projects team focusing on the watch’s marketing and sales, particularly subjects like consumer experience and partnerships. A year later he was promoted to management of all Apple’s operations in Britain and Ireland, based in London. These days he has homes in both Geneva and Le Locle; he lives with his wife, Nathalie Choudet-Pruniaux, a vice president of human resources at Ralph Lauren, and their son Alexandre who was born last month.
Athletic since childhood, Mr. Pruniaux spends his spare time skiing and running, along with participating in a wide range of other sports, from diving to krav maga, a fighting system initially developed for Israeli forces. Last month he took part in the Coupe de Noël, a 120-meter swimming race in Lake Geneva, where the water temperature was around 42 degrees Fahrenheit at the time.
His passion for athletics, he insists, is more about personal achievement than competition. “Actually, I’m not that competitive,” Mr. Pruniaux said. “Some people would say I am, but I’m not actually. I’m really competing with myself; in almost all the sports I do I’m more interested in my own performance, of what I’m capable of doing — that’s my only assessment.”
Mr. Pruniaux’s manner, while focused, is also casual, without any of the formality that might be expected from the chief executive of a traditional watch brand. “He’s part of a new generation of very factual, very straightforward, very transparent and very informal managers,” Mr. Babin said. “He’s quite emblematic of the new generation which probably over the next 10 years will take over control of most of these watchmaking brands.”
“Everything he stands for is change,” said Roger Ruegger, the editor in chief of WatchTime magazine. “He’s the new guy: He’s not part of the old horlogerie family. He brings in some outsiders’ perspective and the sex appeal of Silicon Valley.”