Celebrating 20 Years Of Ulysse Nardin’s Marine Line
Sandwiched between the introduction of the Perpetual Ludwig in 1996 – a perpetual calendar conceived by Ludwig Oechslin able to set and adjust the many displays by the crown both forward and backward – and the Freak, that game-changing wristwatch launched at Baselworld 2001 – Ulysse Nardin found time to create the Marine line for watch lovers looking for a sturdy, accurate, “everyday” timepiece.
The first of the Marine line arrived in 1996 in tribute to the 150th anniversary of the brand founded in 1846, and it was very simply christened with the words “Marine Chronometer 1846.” Outfitted with ETA Caliber 2892 and an official C.O.S.C. certificate, the look of the timepiece would still now be instantly recognizable to a fan of Ulysse Nardin thanks to the unusual fluting on the case band of the 38.5 mm case that came in stainless steel and yellow gold.
The enamel dial design notably including the red numerals “1846” also became a signature look at the Le Locle-based brand – one that was definitively rooted in the brand’s clear association with water. Founding his company 170 years ago, Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin made his reputation by manufacturing marine chronometers, instruments essential to seafarers of old as navigation successes truly depended on the precision of these timepieces.
The Marine Chronometer 1846’s dial was in fact a miniaturized replica of a marine chronometer dial.
Mixing demanding technology with elegant design has always been a favorite consumer cocktail, and this is probably one of the biggest reasons that the Marine line became so popular. As previous head of technology Pierre Gygax said to me back in 2007, “At Ulysse Nardin, we do not like the term ‘traditional watchmaking.’ Even if we have a long tradition of making watches, it does not mean we make them as in the past.”
Case in point
In 2003, Ulysse Nardin created a chronograph with annual calendar within its marine theme – one that could very practically be worn in the water up to 100 meters (330 feet). While today, this doesn’t sound like such a big feat, I can assure you at the time it was a very big deal.
And not only that, the 18-karat pink gold Marine-themed watch simply called “Annual Calendar Chronograph” also featured Oechslin’s ingeniously designed annual calendar complication that need only be adjusted once a year at the end of February in addition to a chronograph. At the height of the large date trend, its black dial, strikingly offset by a pink gold case and pushers, featured a double-digit large date at 12 o’clock and a smaller month window at 4:30.
The Annual Calendar Chronograph could be purchased individually on a rubber strap with a pink gold deployant clasp or as part of the exclusive Discovery Set limited to 25 pieces, created to honor the discovery of America. This featured three C.O.S.C.-certified special edition pink gold watches from the Marine line: Marine Chronometer 1846 (symbolizing Christopher Columbus’s ship, the Nina), Marine Diver Chronometer 1846 (the Pinta), and the above-mentioned Annual Calendar Chronograph (the Santa Maria).
The “large” era
The Maxi Marine Chronometer arrived in 2007, a powerful watch whose case came in at 43 mm. Up to this point, Ulysse Nardin had offered the Maxi Marine Chronometer 41 mm, and a diver’s version in a 42.7 mm case.
This new version of the Maxi Marine Chronometer managed to be both timeless and contemporary at the same time. The fluted case (best seen from the side of the watch) was now available in pink gold or stainless steel and with a black dial or Ulysse Nardin’s own special blue color emulating the waves of the open seas.
Both dial versions are characterized by prominent Roman numerals and smaller minute markers inlaid with luminous substance for excellent legibility. The dial balances out with the power reserve subdial on top to show the wearer how much energy the automatic movement still has; across from it a subsidiary seconds dial frames the date window on the bottom.
This dial, despite its modern luminosity and great color schemes, was definitely still reminiscent of the marine chronometer – a handy reminder that this watch was a modern C.O.S.C.-certified chronometer.
The Blue Seal Maxi Marine Chronograph limited edition of 2008 emphasized Ulysse Nardin’s all-important corporate color, blue, which symbolizes one of the most important elements of the company’s historical inspiration: water.
The Blue Seal Maxi Marine Chronograph was a rugged, all-weather stopwatch for the wrist that looks as good as it functions thanks to a beautiful design that includes Ulysse Nardin’s trademark azure hue on both the wave-patterned dial and the rubber strap. A screw-locked crown and chronograph buttons ensured 200 meters of water-resistance.
The stationery components of the Blue Seal’s automatic movement have also been treated with a stainless blue titanium-based alloy to continue the theme all the way to the mechanics of the timepiece. Where necessary, these metal parts have also been reworked to accommodate the blue coating, which is one micron thick and lends the components tremendous hardness they would otherwise not have.
This spectacular movement is visible through the sapphire crystal display back. The Blue Seal was limited to 1,846 pieces in stainless steel to commemorate the company’s founding year. The colorful timepiece was also available in 18-karat pink gold in an edition of 999 pieces.
Monaco Boat Show and television show
Ulysse Nardin exhibited for the first time at the Monaco Boat Show in 2009. To mark this event, the brand made two important introductions: the first was the highly anticipated Moonstruck, a watch containing an astronomical complication that allows it to display not only the motion of the sun and the moon around the earth, but also the tides and their trends at any given geographic location (see Moonstruck Again: How Ulysse Nardin Never Ceases To Amaze).
The second was a watch made especially for the brand’s debut as an exhibitor at the world’s highest profile boat exhibition: the limited edition Monaco YS Maxi Marine Diver.
The excitement and glamour of the exhibition situated in the extended harbor of the rocky port on the Côte d’Azur is wonderfully captured in the almost all-black look of the timepiece. This begins with the black dial boasting a wave pattern simulating the movement of the seas (perhaps even the waves of the Mediterranean itself?), offset by red gold elements around the subsidiary seconds and on the partially luminescent hands.
Two red hands, one on the subsidiary seconds dial and one for the power reserve located just across from it, offset the black look to draw the eye to the prestigious logo of the principality of Monaco also situated within the subsidiary seconds dial at 6 o’clock.
The 42.7 mm case of this limited edition was crafted in stainless steel and coated in DLC (diamond-like carbon) to lend it a harder and more scratch-resistant surface as well as give it a wonderfully trendy black look. The markers on the dial and the partially skeletonized hands are coated with grey luminous substance to give them an understated “stealth” look and make them instantly legible at the same time since they glow in the dark after being loaded with natural or artificial light.
The bezel is strikingly robust, even in a visual sense, reinforced with 18-karat gold elements forming a dive scale, a luminous reference marker, and a waved pattern etched into the blackened stainless steel.
The look is completed by the rubber strap secured by an exclusive black ceramic folding clasp and ceramic elements on the rubber strap itself, complementing the extreme robustness of the case.
Beautifully showcased by the exhibition case back, the automatic movement is topped off by a black rotor as it winds the mechanism using the kinetic motion of the wearer as he or she simply goes through a regular day.
The very well received Monaco YS Maxi Marine Diver by Ulysse Nardin, water-resistant to a full 200 meters, was limited to 100 pieces.
Another very popular Marine model is the 2013 Maxi Marine Diver Black Sea limited edition in honor of Game of Thrones called The Night’s Watch (see it in Obsessed With ‘Game Of Thrones’? There’s A Watch For You).
Just before Baselworld 2012, Ulysse Nardin introduced the world’s press to its new in-house movement – one dedicated to what was to become the new standard at the Le Locle brand: Caliber 118, the first full manufacture movement from Ulysse Nardin.
“This marks a new era for Ulysse Nardin,” CEO Patrik Hoffmann said at the time, referencing the fact that this new caliber, whose development began under late owner Rolf Schnyder, can be produced in an industrial way, meaning in the thousands of pieces per year.
This was new for Ulysse Nardin, who in 2012 was only making about 25 percent of the movements used in its approximate 25,000 watches per year to that point. Naturally, this was a point of pride with the company, which is justifiably considered one of the biggest innovators in modern watchmaking.
All of Caliber UN-118, including the escapement, is manufactured in Ulysse Nardin’s La Chaux-de-Fonds facility. The escapement comprises a silicon hairspring, DIAMonSIL pallet lever and escape wheel, and an in-house inertia-regulated balance wheel. To manufacture it, the brand set up a semi-automated assembly allowing the manufacture to be quickly accomplished with great precision.
The extremely attractive automatic movement boasts 60 hours of power reserve, subsidiary direct seconds, and a traditional date window at 6 o’clock, which can be set both forward and backward. The movement is certified by the C.O.S.C., and the entire watch it is housed in comes with Ulysse Nardin’s own in-house certification.
Destined to become the new base caliber for Ulysse Nardin it was introduced in the 45 mm limited edition Marine Chronometer Manufacture complete with a grand feu enamel dial made by Ulysse Nardin’s subsidiary dial maker Donzé Cadrans and limited to just 350 pieces. It was also available in an unlimited titanium-and-gold version as well as a titanium-and-steel variation.
America’s Cup with Artemis Racing
At Baselworld 2015, Ulysse Nardin announced something quite exciting: its very first sponsorship. This partnership with one of the challengers of the 35th America’s Cup makes total sense on every level: the brand’s relationship to water and forward-thinking technology are two excellent joint examples. See Ulysse Nardin’s First Sponsorship: Artemis Racing, Iain Percy, And The America’s Cup for more information on the partnership.
A special edition watch to commemorate the historic tie was announced later in 2015 during a challenger race event in Bermuda: the Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver Artemis Racing. Limited to just 250 pieces, this stainless steel edition of the Marine Diver was especially attractive in the detailing, which includes the fluted case band typical of the line, little stamped sailboats that glisten on the blue dial when the watch is moved in the light, and the sporty rubber strap with steel reinforcements.
The blue-and-yellow styling of the watch symbolizes the fact that the Artemis team is Swedish. For more photos of this beautiful watch in its natural marine habitat, see Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver Artemis Racing Watch Race Winner In Bermuda.
Twenty years in 2016
In celebration of 20 years of its Marine line, Ulysse Nardin introduced a few special watches at Baselworld 2016.
The first was one of the most spectacular watches of the entire fair: the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon. This 44 mm white gold timepiece takes the “marine” theme and runs with it in a wholly unexpected way: situated on the dial styled to look like the sun-soaked teak deck of a sailboat is a retrograde minute display that is shown less by a conventional hand and more by a “boom” made of blued aluminum.
See more about this incredible timepiece in Boom Times! Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon.
The novelty of the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon somewhat overshadowed the other celebratory piece of Baselworld 2016, the Marine Chrono Annual Calendar.
This timepiece harks back to the Annual Calendar Chronograph of 2003 with one major difference: instead of the ETA base that Ulysse Nardin previously used to power the Marine line, the new 43 mm version of this classic is outfitted with a variation of the manufacture movement introduced in 2012’s Marine Chronometer Manufacture fitted with the wonderful annual calendar module conceived by Ludwig Oechslin.
Needless to say, this timepiece embodies much of Ulysse Nardin’s character: the ingenuity of simple yet complicated mechanics, the ambition to achieve the in-house movement, the relationship to the marine chronometer and water, clear and legible design, and the company’s ever-present spirit.
While it remains the “everyday” line at Ulysse Nardin, it is by no means ordinary. Even before the very successful Artemis edition, the Marine line had already made up one-third of the brand’s sales. “This is worth celebrating,” Hoffmann said to me at Baselworld 2016. And I agree.
For more information, please visit www.ulysse-nardin.com.
Quick Facts Marine Chrono Annual Calendar
Case: stainless steel or red gold, 43 mm, water-resistant to 100 meters
Dial: blue or eggshell color
Movement: automatic Ulysse Nardin Caliber UN-153 with silicon escapement and balance spring
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; backward- and forward-setting annual calendar with date and month, chronograph
Price: $11,900 / €11,900 / 11,900 Swiss francs in stainless steel; $33,000 / €33,000 / 33,000 Swiss francs in red gold