Ulysse Nardin Blast: Highly Volatile Explosive
by Martin Green
Managing a watch brand is challenging (especially now) because of the often unpredictable and volatile business of sales and finding new clients. And, paradoxically, it can be even harder when the brand has a century-plus history.
Hard and essential choices must be made: does the brand continue what has always been done for decades, which may please an ever-decreasing number of patrons, or does it sail off the map to uncharted territories and risk upsetting existing clients but also attract new business?
For Ulysse Nardin, a brand with a rich history of nautical watches, which direction to sail has never been a hard question because it has always sailed in new directions. As a result, the brand has developed many technical breakthroughs and world firsts, along the way building eclectic collections of watches. The latest addition, the Blast, introduced during Geneva Watch Days, fits right in.
With the Blast, Ulysse Nardin has once again done what it does best: put a well-constructed movement into a cleverly designed case and offer it a fairly moderate price.
A case of inspiration
What makes the angular case of the Blast so compelling to me is the shape of the lugs. The different angles with various well-executed finishes reflect light from all angles, capturing not only its owner’s, but also other people’s, attention. It is also what sets this watch apart even from other Ulysse Nardin models.
I am usually not a huge fan of brands getting creative with lugs, but Ulysse Nardin executed the case and lugs so well that I could not help but fall in love with the watch.
The case also nicely sets the stage for the dial. The Blast is the first skeleton watch in Ulysse Nardin’s Executive collection to forgo Roman numerals. I thought that this was a good decision as it gives the dial a cleaner design.
The X shape comes clearly to life through all the bridges. In particular, I appreciate that all the aspects of this skeletonized piece serve a purpose in keeping the movement together. When form and function come together in such a way, beauty follows. This doesn’t only go for the front: the back is equally stunning to behold.
With a diameter of 45 mm is the Blast quite large, but here the lugs work their magic as they bring the strap very close to the wrist. As a result, the transition between the case and the strap is nearly seamless so that the Blast can be worn with comfort even on smaller wrists. Some credit also goes to the folding clasp, which features a similar design as the case and is easy to use but is also not too bulky.
Ulysse Nardin Caliber UN-172: a treat of a silicon-rich movement
You don’t have to tell Ulysse Nardin much about making fine movements as the brand has a lot of experience in this field. Caliber UN-172 is the brand’s very first automatic skeleton movement with a tourbillon. It is powered by a platinum micro rotor placed front and center at 12 o’clock.
This not only balances the design but also gives the watch an additional animated component on the dial, making it even more interesting to look at. There is a particular charm in movements powered by a micro rotor as they remain somewhat of a niche.
Ulysse Nardin is one of the godfathers of silicon technology, releasing the silicon-escapement fitted Freak in back in 2001. So it’s no surprise that Caliber UN-172 features a good amount of this high-tech, non-magnetic, material: the balance spring, escape wheel, and anchor are all made of silicon, recognizable by their light shade of blue. As the movement beats at a slow 2.5 Hz (18,000 vph), it is not very power-hungry, either, enabling a generous three-day power reserve.
Materials make a difference in perception
Ulysse Nardin offers the Blast in five different case versions, each of which has great impact on the look of the watch. In most watches, ceramic cases provide an edgy feel that (in my view) often makes them look better than their metal-encased siblings.
However, with the Blast I feel the opposite. The black ceramic version is simply too black, which hides the edges of the case. The case seems to flow a bit more in the white ceramic version due to the lack of distinctly contrasting finishes on the various planes, making the different angles look less sharp than they do on the titanium and pink gold versions.
As a result, the white ceramic version of the Blast falls a bit flat for me, while the black version doesn’t take advantage of the case shape’s full potential. This makes the titanium and pink gold editions the best balanced, unless you have an oligarch’s budget and can afford the fifth version featuring incredible diamond setting. The sparkles may be too much of a good thing for many, but their setting is so brilliant (pun intended) that this variation is worthy of an article of its own.
Mesmerizing and summarizing
Among all the watches that I saw during Geneva Watch Days, the Blast struck me (pun also intended).
It is a well-designed, well-executed concept that complements the existing Ulysse Nardin collection. Not only is the shape of the case attractive, wearing comfort has been maximized, and I like the attention to small details like the well-designed folding clasp.
The only thing that I kept thinking was, “Did it need to be a tourbillon?” While I have absolutely no objection to its addition, I wonder what would have happened had Ulysse Nardin released it with a more regular escapement? Might the brand then have a more mainstream bestseller on its hands, a stunning entry point for people to enter the universe of Ulysse Nardin?
But that “What if . . .?” brings me back to a final nautical analogy: we have a saying in the Netherlands that roughly translates as: the sailors who think that they know best are usually the ones standing on the dock, meaning that it’s easy to be an armchair coach.
For more information, please visit www.ulysse-nardin.com/usa_en/blast.
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Blast
Case: 45 mm, titanium, white or black ceramic, pink gold, or white gold fully set with diamonds
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-172 with one-minute tourbillon and platinum micro rotor, silicon escape wheel, anchor and balance spring, 18,000 vph/2.5Hz, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: €44,000 (titanium); €46,000 (ceramic); €54,000 (pink gold); €400,000 (Diamond Blast)
Remark: 5-year warranty