Rolf W. Schnyder, legendary timepiece maker, passes away

 The Freak Diavolo, another landmark piece, was rereleased last July in a limited edition version for Schnyder’s 75th birthday.

Rolf W. Schnyder, owner and president of Ulysse Nardin and true innovative mastermind, unexpectedly passed away on April 14, 2011 after being sick for a brief time.

The man behind the first astronomical wristwatches, Schnyder began earning his reputation for adventurous and brave entrepreneurship at a young age. Growing up in Switzerland, he had the beautiful country and its culture to learn from, but he wanted more. Schnyder was working for the Swiss Trading Company when, at age 22, he was sent to Bangkok to distribute Swiss timepieces.  Schnyder was inspired by the culture, and began his travels of the Far East.

Following his adventurous intuition, Schnyder traveled to different countries, drawing inspiration from the culture, nature and exoticism of each. Schnyder sold Swiss watches as he discovered these countries, learning the language and immersing himself in their cultures. He traveled through regions in the East that were previously unexplored by Europeans, such as Phuket, Laos, Vietnam, China, and Bali.

A bold entrepreneur, Schnyder opened the first Swiss timepiece factory in the Far East in 1968. In the following years, he opened other factories – a watch case factory in Manila and a dial factory in Kuala Lumpur.

After more years of exploration, Schnyder bought Ulysse Nardin when he learned it was for sale in 1983, pairing up with watchmaker Ludwig Oechslin. At a time when the watch industry in Switzerland was down, the two men worked together to create high-end timepieces that simply couldn’t be overlooked.

The timepiece powerhouse soon took off, creating some of the most original watches in the world to this day. Schnyder revamped the brand, combining modern materials and new technology to create groundbreaking perfection. Milestone timepieces include the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei, the Tellurium Johannes Kepler and the Genghis Khan.

The Freak Diavolo, another landmark piece, was rereleased last July in a limited edition version for Schnyder’s 75th birthday. With only 75 in the world, the special timepiece is platinum and features Schnyder’s signature on the back. He chose this watch to celebrate because he considered the Freak to be an icon of the innovative reputation that Ulysse Nardin has earned and continues to live up to.

Ulysse Nardin has been recognized for its innovative design and unique pieces with more than 4,000 awards, including 18 gold medals.

Schnyder’s work has also been recognized many times. In 2003 he won the “Spirit of Enterprise” Gaia Award, and later he was presented with the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve: Asian Edition in Singapore.

A man who valued adventure, modernism and, of course, innovation, Schnyder will surely be missed amongst his watch-making colleagues and the world.