Prix Gaïa 2001 – Rolf Schnyder. Entrepreneurship category
He was recognized for his role as an entrepreneur at one of the leading watchmaking brands to which he has, using his skills, brought back its rightful historical importance, mainly by putting together a team of technical designers and exceptional artisans.
- Creation of a new type of Ulysse Nardin wristwatches.
- Development of astronomical watches - the Galileo Galilei astrolabe, the Planetarium Copernicus wristwatch and the Tellurium Johannes Kepler.
- Creation of complex mechanisms: the GMT +/- watch and the GMT+/- Perpetual.
Fresh from a business training, Rolf Schnyder joined Diethlem, a company that represented Swiss watchmaking companies in Thailand. After a few years, he left Thailand and went to Malaysia where he founded his own company, Precima.
In 1982, Rolf Schnyder heard that Ulysse Nardin was for sale and decided to buy it. The prestigious brand had not managed to survive the major quartz-related watchmaking crisis of the 1970s. Given a new lease of life, the brand took a fresh start that Schnyder set about to develop by focusing on innovation and development.
His first decision was to design a new kind of mechanical wristwatch that had never been seen on the market before. He introduced the idea of designing an astrolabe in the size of a wristwatch. And to develop his watches, he partnered with Ludwig Oechslin. In 1985, the year when Schnyder turned 50, they signaled the end of their research activities with the release of the Galileo Galilei astrolabe, a watch that paved the way for Ulysse Nardin into the Guinness World Records book. Three years later, they were back with the Planetarium Copernicus wristwatch and in 1992, the Tellurium Johannes Kepler rounded off the trilogy.
Schnyder was a trailblazer. However, he was well aware that his technical prowess should not be exclusively expressed in complicated mechanisms and that they should also supply useful indications in everyday life.
And so, in 1994, he introduced the GMT +/-, a watch that displayed two time zones on the dial. Five years later, to celebrate the new millennium, Ulysse Nardin issued the GMT +/- Perpetual that featured two patents in the same watch, and which were exclusively reserved for the brand.
Together with these main pieces, Schnyder also developed special models such as the Triple Jack, a minute repeater and in 2001, the Freak. The latter's movement components rotated and moved in a completely transparent display. It was also a karussel-tourbillon without any hands, dial or crown, and featured a new escapement with an astonishingly simple double wheel, which did not require any lubricant.
Schnyder lived in Kuala Lumpur but daily checked in with the Ulysse Nardin offices in Le Locle and frequently visited Switzerland.