5 In-House Calibers From Ulysse Nardin
It seemed like one of the best-kept secrets of Baselworld 2013. Perhaps the newness of the refurbished fair itself overshadowed the news of Ulysse Nardin’s five new in-house calibers; perhaps it was simply the overwhelming novelty of the Stranger timepiece that stole the show. Either way, this brand continued its quiet climb into the circle of major players with a whopping 11 new watches at the world’s largest watch fair, about half of which boast in-house movements outfitted with the brand’s pioneering silicon escapement technology.
The Stranger: Caliber UN-690
“It’s a marvelous product with an in-house movement containing a music box complication,” said COO Pierre Gygax at the low-key launch of the timepiece, which plays Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night. “The caliber also has a very interesting additional element that changes the function between time setting, date setting [which can be set both forward and backward –ed] and winding. You don’t have to pull the crown into three positions, but rather press a button, which is very convenient.” It goes without saying that the Stranger is a world first.
For more in-depth information on The Stranger, see Music Boxes And Heartfelt Causes: Ulysse Nardin Stranger.
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-690 with silicon balance spring and escapement, plays the first 16 seconds of “Strangers in the Night” at top of every hour and on demand by pressing a button; function selection via button in crown
Case: 45 mm pink gold
Limitation: 99 pieces
Skeleton Manufacture: Caliber UN-170
As Ulysse Nardin does, it has pushed yet another traditional technique into the modern age, streamlining appearance, making it modern, yet clearly alluding to the tradition behind it. With its plates and bridges especially designed to be milled by state-of-the-art, computer-controlled machinery promising precision to the millimeter, this brand-new movement allows the airy look of skeletonization.
Contemporary zeitgeist is clearly communicated with the absence of the engraving usually accompanying skeletonization, and hand-finishing such as precision-beveled edges and satin-finished sunray polishing ensure mechanical beauty. Considering this, I was most surprised to learn that the shape of the bridges was inspired by a Ulysse Nardin pocket watch movement from 1922; this modern incarnation prominently places two serially operating spring barrels guaranteeing 170 hours of precise timekeeping underneath them at 12 o’clock.
Justifiably, the designers opted to dispense with a dial, leaving the unique movement to do the visual talking underneath the sapphire crystal. The watch’s monochrome look is pleasantly interrupted by blued steel hands and screws, gold-plated wheels (platinum version only), crimson-colored ruby jewel bearings and, of course, one of Ulysse Nardin’s signature elements in the modern era: the silicon balance spring, lever and escape wheel, all making their fascinating revolutions within the confines of a flying tourbillon positioned at 6 o’clock.
Movement: manually wound caliber UN-170 with one-minute tourbillon and silicon balance spring and escapement
Case: 44 mm pink gold or platinum
Limitation: 99 pieces in each metal
Freak Cruiser: Caliber UN-205
The Freak’s story, which began in 2001, has been well documented, and every year or two a new version of this “mechanical laboratory for the wrist” is introduced that progresses the development of this game-changing timepiece. The latest version is called the Freak Cruiser, and its aesthetic redesign now thematically fits the brand’s water theme to include wave-style fluting on the bezel and a new bridge shaped like an anchor that doubles as a minute pointer.
The technology of the visible movement has also been tweaked: the minute hand continues to function as the gear train, culminating in the silicon balance spring and Dual Ulysse escapement, and finally the karussel-style tourbillon that actually defies categorization.
What is different is that this is now a completely flying structure as it no longer relies on a center pin connected to the sapphire crystal to support it. As before, the time is set by the front rotating bezel, while the mainspring (which encircles the movement) is wound by the back rotating bezel, both of which are thus an integral part of the movement structure. One full revolution of the bezel is equivalent to 12 hours of power reserve.
Movement: manually wound Caliber UN-205 with “karussel tourbillon” with silicon balance spring and Dual Ulysse escapement
Case: 45 mm pink or white gold
Jade: Caliber UN-310
Ulysse Nardin has certainly introduced ladies’ watches into the collection before – with varying degrees of success. With the brand-new Jade model, however, I think the brand has finally found its collection evergreen. One reason I think this is because of its caliber: a brand-new, automatic movement, purpose-built just for this watch, and not a shrunk-down version of anything else. Its technology, though, is based on the brand’s manufacture in-house movement, which has taken twelve years and investments totaling around 80 million Swiss francs to finally be fully industrialized. It also includes the convenient crown function selection familiar from the Stranger, which I described above.
Personally, the movement appeals to me far more than the rather aesthetic visuals that combine mother-of-pearl with the sparkle of snow-set diamonds and – here’s the part I like best – a splash of colored gemstone, which can also be jade (hence the name). I happen to really like colored stones, but there are many women who do not, and for them there is a variation featuring solely diamond sparkle and ceramic on the lugs in place of the jade.
How this particular watch came to be is also interesting. Chai Schnyder, deceased owner Rolf Schnyder’s widow and now chairwoman of the brand, requested a movement like this 11 years ago; one that wouldn’t destroy one’s manicure when attempting to use the crown.
Though I am aware reasoning like this sounds funny to a man, to a woman this is a very practical reason for developing a movement and/or a crown. Rolf apparently also thought so. For Chai, it was certainly an emotional and significant milestone to see it finally ready this year.
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-310 with silicon escapement and date settable forward and backward; a button at 4 o’clock allows crown function selection (no messy fingernail cracks from pulling out the crown: yay!): winding, date setting, time setting
Case: 36 x 39 mm (slightly oval) pink or white gold; choice of up to 413 diamonds (1.7 ct) and colored gemstones such as jade
Dial: mother-of-pearl with diamonds
Of chronographs and manufactures
Caliber UN-118, introduced in 2011, bears the legacy of Rolf Schnyder’s dream of Ulysse Nardin becoming a manufacture: it is a true in-house, industrialized, C.O.S.C.-certified chronometer mechanism containing the brand’s own DIAMonSIL pallet lever and escape wheel, silicon hairspring, and an in-house, inertia-regulated balance wheel. This movement marked a new era for the brand at its official introduction in 2012. As of 2013, it is also being used in the entire Maxi Marine line, one of the brand’s bestselling timepieces, thereby fulfilling its intended purpose as a base movement.
Naturally, Ulysse Nardin now needed to attend to the in-house chronograph, likely the most popular complication in mechanical watchmaking. “It is a big challenge to conceive a new chronograph and to industrialize it, certainly 20 to 30 percent more demanding than a simple three-handed caliber,” Gygax explains. “Our way to reunite the Perpetual and the chronograph – the twin brothers – is a very good and efficient solution.”
What Gygax is referring to is the interesting history behind the popular Perpetual Ludwig model, a genial concept by the inimitable Dr. Ludwig Oechslin featuring one easy-to-use crown for setting the complicated calendar both backward and forward. This development was in need of a suitable base movement, and thus in the early 1990s, Ulysse Nardin teamed up with Ebel (who was using the El Primero Caliber 400 for its chronograph and desired to replace it with a proprietary caliber), so from 1993 through 1996 the two companies jointly developed a new automatic base movement: Ebel for its chronograph (Caliber 137) and Ulysse Nardin for its perpetual calendar (Caliber UN-32), with Nouvelle Lémania producing it.
“History turned a page and the twin brothers found each other, now both happy UN manufacture calibers,” Gygax explains. What this means is that two years ago Ebel decided to no longer produce its chronograph and sold the rights to the development to Ulysse Nardin, who now owns both. “Improvements brought by UN to the movement for its Perpetual [such as the use of new materials –ed] have also been adapted into the chronograph, which now carries the designation Caliber UN-150,” says Gygax. “The UN-150 is now fully UN!”
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-150 with silicon escapement
Case: 43 mm pink gold or stainless steel
Dial: genuine grand feu enamel handcrafted by Ulysse Nardin’s subsidiary dial maker Donzé Cadrans
Limitation: 150 pieces with enamel dial
In the video above, CEO Patrick Hoffmann explains the five calibers for TheWatchesTV at Baselworld.
For more more information on these timepieces and others, please visit www.ulysse-nardin.com.