Rolf Schnyder saw its immense value, and the potential it contained to express a new vision of watchmaking.
In the late 1950s, 28-year-old Rolf traveled to Asia, overseeing the timepiece division of a Swiss trading company. This marked the beginning of his lifelong passion and interest in watchmaking. By 1968 he had founded the first Swiss factory to produce watch parts in Thailand. Later, he built a dial factory in Kuala Lumpur, producing other precision components for the Swiss watchmaking industry.
When Rolf learned that the family watchmaking firm of Ulysse Nardin was for sale in 1983, he immediately set about acquiring the business. Five generations of the Nardin family had guided the company through the years, all the while producing the high-precision timepieces that had made its name in the 1800s. But threatened by the rise of the quartz watch in the 1970s, the company was vulnerable.
Schnyder's strategy was simple - manufacture wristwatches that both capitalized on the company's profound expertise and embraced innovative new ideas.
Casting about for ways to embody this new perspective, he chanced upon a wall-mounted astrolabe in watchmaker Jorg Spöring’s Lucerne workshop.
This was Schnyder's way forward: Ulysse Nardin would miniaturize the astrolabe, make it part of a new kind of mechanical watch. He enlisted the astrolabe's maker, Dr. Ludwig Oechslin. Historian, inventor and master watchmaker, Oechslin was the ideal - perhaps the only - man for the job. The Ulysse Nardin Astrolabium Galileo Galilei was born, and with one revolutionary watch, Ulysse Nardin reclaimed its pre-eminent position in the world of mechanical watchmaking.
Under Schnyder’s guidance, Ulysse Nardin continued to amaze the horological world with unparalleled technical innovations for almost three decades to come. Extraordinary technical timepieces including the GMT Perpetual Calendar, Freak, Genghis Khan and Sonata have all been recognized with prizes for technical innovation. “The Freak is poetry in mechanical watchmaking” said Schnyder of his baby, winner of the prestigious Watch of the Year Innovation Prize 2002. In 2006, Schnyder oversaw the launch of the first in-house conceived and executed self-winding base caliber UN-160.
His energy and farsightedness help ensure the continuing fortunes of Ulysse Nardin as one of the world's most innovative luxury watch companies. In recognition of these contributions to watchmaking, Schnyder was awarded the Spirit of Enterprise Gaia Award in 2003 by the Musée International d’Horlogerie. This award was followed by the Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed by the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve: Asian Edition in Singapore.
In recognition of his contributions to watchmaking, Schnyder was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve: Asian Edition in Singapore.
Rolf Schnyder, one of Haute Horlogerie's leading lights, owner and president of Ulysse Nardin for nearly 30 years, passed away in April 2011.