A Watch Brand With A Heart: How Ulysse Nardin Built A UNited Collector Community
Interviewing Ulysse Nardin’s top collectors to get an inside look at Club UN.
How many times has this happened to you? You walk into your favorite retailer, purchase a watch, size it, get a small lesson on the basics of use, and then walk out. For the days and weeks that follow the purchase, you’ll wear that watch more than any others in your collection, but after a while, the love affair wanes, and the watch finds more and more time inside your watch box.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. For any self-respecting watch collector, this exercise is repeated a dozen times or more throughout your journey as a collector. Have you ever thought about the role the watch brand itself plays in this process? When was the last time a brand called you up and offered to take you to dinner, share a nice glass of Burgundy, or even invite you over to their house for a game of pool? Chances are, these types of interactions are rarer than hen’s teeth.
Enter Club UN
My introduction to this club began quite innocently. I was on assignment for Watchonista in Annapolis, Maryland, for the annual Patriot Awards Gala (read HERE). This was also my first time meeting Ulysse Nardin’s President of the Americas François-Xavier (FX) Hotier. What struck me the most about this French executive was his humility, passion, and, most of all, heart. By the end of the night, I found myself wearing a Marine Torpilleur Military ‘Semper Fortis’ edition. To this day, the watch hasn’t left my side.
When speaking with FX about how this bond with collectors formed, he explained quite simply, “You know, I love to say - it's become a tradition since arriving [at Ulysse Nardin USA]. When we see someone with a Ulysse Nardin on the wrist, or when meeting somebody who just bought a Ulysse Nardin, we say, "Welcome to the club." When you see the volume [of watches] we produce - compared to the big brands - we are a club.”
Any club worth joining should have some desirable benefits. When I asked FX what the benefits of Club UN are, he replied, “We build a personal connection to our collectors and enthusiasts—often inviting our customers to exclusive events. But it's not about trying to sell a watch. We've built a community of friends of the brand that interact and engage with each other on every occasion. Ulysse Nardin is not the first watch people will buy, but we will be there when people want something different.”
To understand Club UN a bit better, I was introduced to some of the brand’s top collectors and friends in the United States.
As the Managing Director of One More Wave, Kyle Buckett has been a friend of the brand for some time. Last summer, Ulysse Nardin and Buckett officially launched their partnership with the Ulysse Nardin Diver Deep Dive “One More Wave” edition (read HERE). For those unfamiliar with One More Wave, the San Diego based non-profit organization was founded with one central mission, to create custom surfboards for wounded or disabled veterans.
I asked Buckett how he became a member of Club UN, and it turns out he was referred by another club member, “One of my best friends and a business mentor of mine - Kaizad Hansotia, the Founder and CEO of Gurkha cigar company, and a good friend of Kamal Hotchandani, the CEO of Haute-Living. One day, François-Xavier happened to be at Hansotia’s office, and he was talking to him about his appreciation for the military. Kaizad was like, "Hey, let me connect you with my friend, Kyle Buckett, he's a Navy Seal." So Kaizad called and put me on speaker, and he's like, "You got to meet this guy, FX."
And I'm like, "Kaizad, who's FX? I'm so lost right now."
And he's like, "No, you guys are going to make a watch together!"
And make a watch they did! The result was the Diver Deep Dive “One More Wave” limited edition. A 46mm DLC coated titanium piece limited to just 100 pieces. Water-resistant to 1000m, the all-black Diver Deep Dive "One More Wave" edition pays tribute to the Navy Seals and helps to finance One More Wave’s production of surfboards. You can read more about the watch HERE.
One More Wave, in conjunction with Ulysse Nardin, raised over $100,000 for the One More Wave Foundation during a dinner with its friends and collectors. Incredibly, Club UN has gone on to help raise almost 20% of the charity's $500,000 operating budget.
Lastly, when I asked Buckett what his perception of Club UN was, he replied, “I would say, the one cool thing is how global the community is. I was able to witness that community in several cities this past year. It really is an international crowd and community that I got to be a part of. Within that community, it was cool to see and witness and be a part of how much each aficionado was a brand ambassador. Whether they had one timepiece, or they had 15 or 20, there was that shared sense of ownership and community within the Ulysse Nardin brand.”
I was introduced to Dennis at a Haute Living event in Florida. Within minutes, it was clear that Dennis was a lover of the good life. From exotic Supercars to even more exotic Ulysse Nardin Voyeur timepieces, Dennis has amassed an impressive collection of both. We ended up speaking for over an hour about everything from Formula 1 (Dennis raced competitively for years) to baseball (my Yankees fandom didn’t sit well with the Red Sox fan).
My opinion of Ulysse Nardin? I mean, it's a really, really first-class company.
When I asked Dennis how he came to join Club UN, he mused, “I like certain watches, and I only like them because they appeal to me personally. I don't make investments in watches. I buy them because I love them. I've never sold a watch. I saw a picture of this Ulysse Nardin [erotic] watch, which Trident (St. Thomas based retailer Trident Jewels & Time) told me was very hard to get. About six months later, he calls me and goes, "I got a surprise for you. Go over to the Ulysse Nardin headquarters in Boca Raton." So, I went over, and they had this unbelievable presentation in their offices.”
As a member of the Make A Wish Foundations board, Dennis is quite active within Miami’s charity scene. He explained how Ulysse Nardin’s charity efforts set the brand apart, “One of my favorite things to collect is skeleton watches. I probably have more skeleton watches than anybody. At least a third of my collection is skeleton watches. And [Ulysse Nardin] has come out with an amazing skeleton watch that is painted red, white, and blue, like a flag. And they only made 50 of them. The Executive Tourbillon Stars & Stripes, Limited Edition USA, launched on July 4th. This was one of the watches [Ulysse Nardin] donated to the Make A Wish auction. I can't tell you how much [Ulysse Nardin] gives back into the community as a company.”
Since their fateful meeting last year, FX and Dennis have gone on to form a friendship that transcends the world of watches. From first-class dinners in Miami's hotspots to weekend drives down the Florida coastline, the two share a bond that wholly encompasses the spirit of Club UN.
Dennis went further, “François-Xavier is probably one of the nicest guys to meet, and we've become close friends. François-Xavier is just a great representation of a brand President building relationships with people in a community. Ulysse Nardin goes out of its way to make that customer experience so much better.”
"My opinion of Ulysse Nardin? I mean, it's a really, really first-class company.”
Not to be confused with the author, Josh represents the new generation of collectors coming to Ulysse Nardin. The Texas resident, with a penchant for skiing, discovered the brand via his local retailer (Zadok Jewelers), “I spend a lot of time perusing [Zadok’s] display cases - and they have quite the vast selection – but, to be honest, I have always frequented the Ulysse Nardin area. As you walk in there are a lot of choices, but I automatically gravitate to that brand. “
It’s no coincidence that Josh represents the new millennial target market for the brand. He’s a fan of the brand’s FREAK X and Skeleton X timepieces, even taking the latter on a ski trip through the Colorado Rockies. Josh also owns a Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph that he cherishes for its nod to tradition.
Last summer, Josh had the opportunity to meet Ulysse Nardin’s Global CEO Patrick Pruniaux while in Texas. After speaking together, he was blown away at the level of access granted to him as a UN Club member. Josh also attested he was looking forward to the brand’s 2020 novelties and remarked just how special his Ulysse Nardin collection has become to him, “the brand speaks to me. It's really unique. It's easy to wear. And I find myself wearing Ulysse Nardin [timepieces] the majority of the time, and I get a great feeling every time I put them on my wrist.”
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, I wondered how these offline relationships would be affected by a virus that has caused many to re-prioritize what's important in life. As it turns out, more than ever, in these trying times, people want community. The shared passion of Ulysse Nardin certainly brings people from all levels of the collector community. And as we learned, a lot of times it's for the greater good.
I found a shared sense of passion for what sets Ulysse Nardin apart as a brand. A watchmaker that is continually reinventing itself, continuously looking to innovate and break new barriers. Forming relationships that go beyond a purchase, and can often lead to a collaboration for a greater cause.
It was refreshing to see the shared pride of ownership that many collectors of the brand feel. As an owner of a Marine Torpilleur Military ‘Semper Fortis', one of the brand's more traditional timepieces, I can attest to the virtues of Club UN. As an admirer of some of the brand's more disruptive FREAK and Milo Manara watches, I am constantly tempted to seek out my next UN. But knowing that whether it's my one watch or my fifth watch, Club UN has got my back.
(Photography by Watchonista)