Ulysse Nardin is a visionary company. Such a declaration might seem overstated, especially when dealing with their longstanding, flagship model, the Marine Chronometer; however, remember Ulysse Nardin is the company who gave us the Freak, a genre-defying watch that was ahead of its time.
Under the aegis of the late Rolf Schnyder, the company partnered with Ludwig Oechslin of now Ochs & Junior to realize the Freak in 2001. The visionary contribution of the Freak was not only its forward design, but, for our purposes here, it was the first watch to use a silicon escapement, followed by the Freak DIAMonSIL in 2007, which used a proprietary material called DIAMonSIL and silicon balance spring (see updated coverage here). When the winds of Swatch’s ETA moratorium began to blow, Mr. Schnyder decided Ulysse Nardin needed its own in-house caliber. At Baselworld 2012, Current CEO Patrick Hoffman oversaw the introduction of the automatic caliber UN-118, the company’s first base caliber, to the public for their limited edition Marine Chronometer Manufacture with enamel dial. For a company with a nautical legacy, it seems only fitting that the Marine Chronometer Manufacture becomes a mainstay for 2013. Call it a vision realized.
Marine Chronometer 2013
During the second half of the 20th century, Ulysse Nardin made ships’ marine chronometers for a burgeoning merchant navy, and true to those world-renowned instruments, the Maxi Marine Chronometer became the company’s bestselling watch. With the Marine Chronometer Manufacture’s 2012 introduction, the company heralded a new chapter of independence.
For 2013, the Marine Chronometer Manufacture slims down to 43mm from its debut 45mm and loses the enamel dial to become a production model. The 18 K gold or stainless steel case has a fluted bezel and a protected screw-down crown with a rubber covered edge to ease turning. The water resistance is 100 meters. The watch offers three choices of strap attached to its solid lugs: an alligator strap, a rubber strap with folding buckle, or an 18 K gold or stainless steel bracelet.
The dial, available in either silver, blue or black, and comes with Arabic or Roman numerals. It features a power reserve indicator at 12 o’clock and a small seconds with date at 6 o’clock. The semi-skeletonized hands have luminescent tips to match the luminescent batons on the sloped chapter ring. A familiar red 1846, the date of the company’s founding, perches atop the date window. All is visible through a front anti-reflective sapphire crystal, and the see-through caseback also has a sapphire crystal. Given the prevailing Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer DNA, this watch is instantly recognizable, leaving one to wonder how forward-thinking could it be? The real story is the caliber UN-118.
The automatic caliber UN-118 is entirely “in-house”. It has the Ulysse Nardin Certificate, which is based on the COSC test of the movement, but the company goes further and exceeds expectations for a true chronometer by also checking the quality and craftsmanship of the watch as a whole. Beating at 4 Hz, the movement provides a convenient 60 hours of power reserve and operates hours, minutes and a direct-drive small seconds. The date can be adjusted either forward or backward, which is extremely useful!!
Generous decoration of circular Côtes de Genève, pèrlage and diamond angling embellishes the movement. UN-118 has a variable inertia balance adjusted by four in-set screws on the balance wheel instead of the more common smooth balance wheel adjusted by a regulator. There are a total of 248 components (50 jewels). The movement is an evolution of the Freak’s use of silicon and DIAMonSIL as well as the Calibre 66/67 Sonata, their first in-house conception, and Anniversary Calibre 160. The UN-118 is a mature perfection of technological innovation and avant-garde materials. The three salient features of the in-house movement are: DIAMonSIL escapement, patented variable inertia balance wheel and patented silicon hairspring.
Ulysse Nardin achieved the Calibre UN-118 in conjunction with Sigatec, a company they later purchased. The movement is the first of a family of in-house movements using the groundbreaking material, DIAMonSIL, for the escapement. The name is an amalgamation of diamond and silicon, and the material is a fabricated diamond, grown on a silicon base, giving the parts diamond hardness and silicon lightness with the added benefit of being lubrication free. The escapement wheel and lever are both constructed from this nanotechnology. Sigatec is touted as the only company in the world capable of producing such high-precision components both in silicon and DIAMonSIL.
Taking a time honored model like Ulysse Nardin’s Marine Chronometer and outfitting it with the Calibre UN-118 to offer a modernized Marine Chronometer Manufacture is similar to the origins of the marine chronometer genre via John Harrison circa 1759. John Harrison’s H4 marine chronometer, which solved the problem of longitudinal navigation, miniaturized his previous models, used jewels to reduce friction and could withstand temperature changes; in other words, it was a technological marvel in its day. The same can be said of Ulysse Nardin’s Marine Chronometer Manufacture, and said with pride.