Ulysse Nardin is not renowned for its low-key, conventional watches. A precursor in the use of silicium (silicon) and fond of extravagant, highly technical – often futuristic – displays, Ulysse Nardin sticks to its guns and revisits its spectacular Executive Free Wheel with new dials made from aventurine, osmium, Carbonium gold and straw marquetry – yes, you heard correctly, straw marquetry!
The Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel appeared in 2018. Staging most of the movement’s components on the dial UN went one step further to create the illusion of free-floating components. The unorthodox arrangement gives every miniature part a starring role in the spectacle contained under the domed sapphire glass that extends to the sides.
The tourbillon and the 7-day power reserve indicator at 4 o’clock appear to float in thin air and live in complete autonomy from the rest of the components. You can clearly see the use of UN’s groundbreaking silicium technology on the balance with its distinctive purple and blue parts. The openworked gear grain, the large barrel at 12 o’clock and the hands function in a gravity-defying environment sealed by the prominent glass cover. The former versions of the 44mm Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel came with two choices of case material and dial: in 18ct rose gold with a black dial made from slate and an 18k white gold model with an aerated honeycomb grid.
Dramatic stage settings
Unlike the 2018 editions, the four new Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel models are limited to 18 pieces each (a plaque on the side of the case indicates the limited-edition number/18). The 44mm case structure is identical to last year’s watches, as in the arrangement of the components on the dial, but boy oh boy, do these dials add pizzazz to the show.
The light blue sparkle and gritty texture of osmium, the world’s heaviest metal but also one of the rarest, most dense and stable elements, decorates the dial and barrel cover of this 18k white gold model. The diamond-like crystals of osmium (atomic number 76 and a trace element found in the platinum group) add a celestial out-of-space feel to the dial of this particular model.
I know that Hermès has used straw marquetry to decorate its dials, but seeing a technique once practised by nuns in the 17th-century in this futuristic concept is most unusual. The funny thing though is that it works. Dyed black, tiny bits of shiny straw are artistically arranged on the cover of the barrel and behind the floating elements on the dial to great effect. In addition to the touch of natural beauty that it imparts to this highly technical timepiece, the lightweight qualities of straw mean there is no issue of pressure on the barrel or dial.
The deep blue sparkly surface of aventurine stone, a form of translucent quartz, evokes a star-studded night sky. Thanks to the natural phenomenon of aventurescence, the stone glitters naturally when light hits its metallic inclusions.
The mottled grey, black and gold dial and barrel cover of the Carbonium Gold looks almost like an animal’s hide. Carbonium Gold is the result of fusing carbon filaments and gold particles with a thermosetting matrix. The result is a unique gold-veined, marble-like texture.
Conceived and manufactured in-house, Calibre UN-176 boasts 7 days of power reserve. It also relies on technology developed by UN, including silicium – remember that UN was the first brand to commercialise a watch with a silicium escapement, with the 2001 Freak (you can see the latest iteration of the Freak here, one of the six finalists in the Mechanical Exception category for the upcoming GPHG 2019 awards). Here, the balance wheel, the escape wheel, the hairspring and the pallet fork are crafted in this innovative material – as you can see from the purple/blue colour of these elements.
Availability and Price
All four limited-edition watches come with blue or black alligator leather straps and folding clasps. Each version is limited to 18 watches and the prices are as follows: Osmium EUR 102,000; Straw Marquetry EUR 99,000; Aventurine EUR 99,000; and Carbonium Gold EUR 99,000. More details at www.ulysse-nardin.com.