Rolf Schnyder had years of revolutionising the Swiss watch industry by moving manufucture of key components from Europe to Asia before he stepped in as a 'white knight’investor to purchase Ulysse Nardin at the peak of the crisis in the mechanical watch industry caused by the widespread switch to quartz. In Ulysse Nardin, Schynder found a unique canvas on to which he and his team of experts regularly paint some of the most impressionistic watch concepts that the watch industry has ever seen. His revival of the mechanical watch industry through innovation and nonconformist thinking has inspired both other watch makers and Ulysse Nardin’s clients alike to think ’out of the box’.
DE I: Mr. Schnyder, do you believe in fate? What is fate for you?
I take things the way they come. I think that is fate. You can’t always wait for things to happen. Sometimes you have to shake the tree to make the apple fall.
DE I: What are your other principles?
I never want to have my back against the wall. I never borrow money from the bank. Many things come from the stomach especially the creative part which comes sometimes at night when the body is resting but the brain is still working. Very often the idea comes and I wake up and I don’t remember, so I always write down one or two words.
DE I: It’s so difficult to be an artist and you are an artist...
No. I’m not an artist. I am creative but I am not an artist. But I love art, I love paintings. From Russia I am very lucky I have Marc Chagall. It was the opening of the football world cup in Germany on a Friday evening in June and the stock market just dropped a lot. There was an auction in Christies, and when I saw my bank statement I saw I’d lost so much money that I decided I was going to put it into something I enjoy. That was why I bought my first Chagall. I was bidding over the phone because the football game was just starting and so not so many people were at the auction!
DE I: Where do you spend your free time? Do you have free time?
The day only has 24 hours. I like to be with my family and my kids. Life comes in two parts – your bachelor life and your married life. If you make the bachelor part short, the next part will be very long! My wife is fantastic. My kids are fantastic. That is why I rush home. Time is something you make. People tell me they don’t have time to do something, that’s in your mind. You decide how you want to spend your day, what your priorities are. I do for Chi-Kong – it’s partly mental, partly physical, like Tai Chi. It changed my life. Part of it’s quite strange.
DE I: What do you think about reincarnation?
I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone coming back to tell me how it works!
DE I: Why do you work?
I don’t work. For me it is not work. It’s my life. It’s my hobby. I couldn’t live without it. Then I would have to play golf every day!! For me it’s like a painting. When I bought Ulysse Nardin I had all these factories in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand making cases, bracelets, dials – it was like selling the paint, the frame, but I didn’t do the painting. With Ulysse Nardin, I can paint.
DE I: What is your favourite Ulysse watch?
They’re like children, you love them all. For travelling I like the Sonata, it has a romantic chime and you have the time zone changes. I use this because it has the technical side as well as the artistic side. Once in a while I wear the Freak. Freak is really the first impressionist watch in modern watch making. Before it was ‘how many functions you put in a watch’ and then the Freak came and they said ‘what does it do?’ and I said ‘Hours. And Minutes!’ and they say, ‘is it a chronometer?’ but nobody can check, it has no seconds. The Freak inspired everybody else to make open watches, it’s a matter of how you display time. I was the first one to open up the back of watch. At the beginning I had no sales people – I was travelling to find retailers and it was quite difficult because everything was in quartz, so when I went to the shops I noticed that people didn’t know anymore what was an automatic watch. So I decided to open up the back so I could easily explain.
DE I: What are you working on now?
When you say what are you working on…it’s like a pipeline. If you make a hole, it starts leaking so I never discuss what I’m working on.
© DE I / DESILLUSIONIST ¹15. "WHITE KNIGHT IN THE HISTORY OF TIME"