Behind the exceptional brand of Ulysse Nardin is Rolf W. Schnyder, a Swiss with over 50 years of experience in various aspects of watch production. Thanks to this one man's passion to revive a once successful brand, Ulysse Nardin continues to produce heirlool for future generations.
Rolf Schnyder, one of the greats in high horology, guided Ulysse Nardin as owner and president for nearly 30 years, passed away in April 2011.
Early Life and Career
In 1958 while in his early twenties, Rolf traveled to Asia when he landed a job as director of the timepiece division of a Swiss trading company – beginning an odyssey into the world of watchmaking that would span the next 25 years. In 1968 he founded the first Swiss factory in the Far East to produce watch parts in Thailand. He later built a dial factory in Kuala Lumpur that also produced other precision watch components for the Swiss watch industry. With the realization that his enduring passion lie with Ulysse Nardin, he later divested himself of all other outside manufacturing interests to devote all of his energy to Ulysse Nardin.
The Rebirth of Ulysse Nardin
Founded in 1846, the company had been managed by five generations of the Nardin family. By 1983, with the business failing as a result of the Quartz crisis, Rolf learned that Ulysse Nardin was for sale and immediately set about acquiring the business. Schnyder’s comeback strategy was simple – manufacture a product that would return Ulysse Nardin to its pre-eminent position in the world of mechanical watchmaking.
A wall clock Astrolabium in Jorg Spöring’s workshop in Lucerne caught Schnyder’s attention, and provided the inspiration for the creation of a wrist-watch Astrolabium. He then consulted Dr. Ludwig Oechslin - scientist, historian, inventor and master watchmaker all in one. With the help of Dr. Oechslin, Ulysse Nardin was propelled back into the horological hall of fame with the revolutionary Astrolabium Galileo Galilei.
Followed by the Planetarium Copernicus and the Tellurium Johannes Kepler; the complex trilogy measuring time in terms of astronomy had the added fame of being honored with coveted entries in The Guinness book of Records.
Under Schnyder’s guidance, Ulysse Nardin has continued to amaze the horological world with unparalleled technical innovations. Extraordinary technical timepieces including the GMT Perpetual Calendar, The Freak, The Genghis Khan and the Sonata have all been recognized with prizes for Technical Innovation
“The Freak is poetry in mechanical watch making” says Schnyder of his baby which won the prestigious Watch of the Year Innovation Prize 2002. Successive years saw the Genghis Khan being awarded Watch of the Year 2003 and the Sonata in 2004. In 2006, Ulysse Nardin launched the first in-house conceived and executed self-winding base caliber UN-160 and continues to make inroads into the development of more phenomenal use of different materials for watch making.
The one thing that sets Ulysse Nardin apart from other brands is that the company is at the forefront of innovation. In 2007, with Ulysse Nardin’s revolutionary InnoVision concept watch showcasing the integration of 10 new technological innovations into mechanical watch making, it is no wonder that the company has become one of the world's most innovative luxury watch companies. The use of silicium in the manufacture of movement parts has expanded beyond the Freak into the newly released Sonata Silicium.
The bold, innovative use of new materials and new technologies continues to be the driving force that impels Rolf and his team of master craftsmen to new heights in the art and science of mechanical watchmaking.
Family and Personal life
Schnyder often shuttles between Switzerland and Malaysia. When he is not overseeing business in Le Locle, he is either at his home in Kuala Lumpur or visiting subsidiaries and retailers around the world. Schnyder shares a beautiful sprawling tropical home with Sarawakian wife Chai, and they are the proud parents of three teenaged children.
In recognition of his contributions to watchmaking, Schnyder was awarded the “Spirit of Enterprise” Gaia Award in 2003 by the Musee International d’Horlogerie for his entrepreneurial achievements and commitments. This award was followed by the bestowment of the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve: Asian Edition in Singapore this year for his continued contributions towards watch making technology and innovations.