Boom Times! Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon
There is no doubt that Baselworld 2016 was more about classic watchmaking than the past years where we had gotten used to seeing big, creative, monstrously expensive timepieces that stand out from the “crowd” and become publicity-generating talking pieces for brands.
While Ulysse Nardin generally doesn’t consciously go for this type of buzz-attracting showpiece, the Le Locle-based brand often ends up producing at least one of them every year. I do feel that these pieces are organically inspired at Ulysse Nardin and fit well in the brand’s collection, appealing to its loyal clientele.
This year was no different in that respect, and because it was such a quiet fair in terms of “big pieces,” the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon generated way more buzz than I would have expected. And the good news is that the buzz was incredibly positive, which could be seen as a bit surprising given the very playful nature of this timepiece.
One reason is perhaps that critics and observers understand that marine-inspired timepieces are at the core of Ulysse Nardin’s collection, and the reason for this is not hard to trace.
Eponymous namesake Ulysse Nardin was a mere 23 years of age in 1846 when he began making his own chronometers and complex pocket watches. The marine chronometer became his specialty, and a legendary one at that.
When quartz was introduced in the 1970s, classic marine chronometers were replaced by electronically driven devices. However, with the general re-emergence of luxury mechanical wristwatches in the modern era, Ulysse Nardin has built upon this rich marine heritage.
And lest we forget, Ulysse Nardin also embarked upon its very first sponsorship in 2015 – with the America’s Cup contender, Artemis Racing. For me, this partnership makes extreme sense from every angle (see Understanding The America’s Cup Fascination With Time).
The Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon is not associated with the Artemis sponsorship but rather with the playful nature of collectors interested in Ulysse Nardin. However there are two new 2016 collection timepieces dedicated to Artemis, which we will review in due course.
Bring on the boom
In sailing, the boom is the pole attached to the base of the mast pointing toward the stern that provides control of the angle and shape of the sail. The main job of the boom is to keep the sail’s bottom (called the foot) flatter when the angle of the sail is off-center with respect to the boat to maximize power from the wind.
The great fun about the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon is the motion of the boom across the dial, which along the way manages to point to the current minute.
The boom is pulled along its course by three very strong nano wires, each thinner than a human hair (precise measurement: 0.0357 mm) made of an ultra-strong high-tech fiber called polyethylene Dyneema. These nano wires wind and unwind around “winches” located at 5 and 7 o’clock on the dial.
Made of the same material used in the rigging of modern racing yachts and stronger than steel, the “sheets” work to pull the minute boom in a similar way to the way the boom is controlled on a racing yacht (though slower). Because it’s a technical piece of watchmaking, the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon also utilizes a tensioning hairspring and two lock pins.
As the minute display is retrograde, on reaching “60” the boom gets pulled back to the start by a purpose-built mechanism that slows the leap down to about three seconds. You can watch the boom’s motion on the front of the watch or the mechanism at work on the back through the sapphire crystal display back.
This boom display system is patented and exclusive to Ulysse Nardin.
Technical in other ways
With all of that action taking place on the dial, it’s easy to gloss over a couple other noteworthy technical features.
One is the double digit jump hour located at 12 o’clock, located just below the base for the boom hand. We know that the timekeeping is not the main event on this dial, but it’s certainly a big bonus that the hour is so legible.
And, most conveniently, the hour can be easily and quickly moved forward or backward by pushing the button on the case at 2 o’clock, just above the protected crown.
The double-digit hour uses two concentric disks, and the considerable power needed to provide energy to both of these unusual display modes is stored by two spring barrels. Despite all of the energy used for the indications, there is still enough left over for a solid two days’ worth of power reserve.
The first barrel is devoted to the movement itself, while the second powers the two unique displays. They are obviously connected, which you can see when you turn the watch over: the base plate above the spring barrels, connecting gear, and other gear train wheels is skeletonized to allow a view of them at work.
The one-minute tourbillon with its traditional materials and screw balance is visible through the cutaway at 6 o’clock.
Despite its complications, the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon is water-resistant to a full 100 meters. The screw-in crown with blue rubber molding visually accentuates that styling.
This styling begins with the wood marquetry positioned to resemble the sun-soaked teak of a boat’s deck. The boom, crafted in blued aluminum, sweeps along an opaque arc of blue spinel that represents water. All the other minute dial details – like the nano wire discussed above – and nautical symbols combine to provide a distinctly marine feel to this complicated piece of horology.
The nautical theme goes right down to the two international maritime signal flags on either side of the little anchor above the digital hours: they spell out (as every sailor knows) “U” “N.”
Yep, I could totally see this on my wrist as I cruise the Bermuda harbor in search of the right spot to watch the America’s Cup from. What about you?
For more information, please visit www.ulysse-nardin.com.
Case: 44 mm, white gold
Dial: wood marquetry with blue spinel in center of dial
Movement: manually wound Caliber UN-630 with two spring barrels, one-minute tourbillon, and unique boom display
Functions: double-digit jump hours, retrograde minutes (shown by the “boom”); boom display
Limitation: 18 pieces
Price: 280,000 Swiss francs
Also published on Medium.