Finding the right watch is a quest. When a watch fits one’s lifestyle like a hand to a glove, and not by some artificial marketing association, but the fit of real-world application, then a symbiosis ensues. What is the right watch for the boat owner? Be he the captain of a flying tower fishing boat, or an open air bow rider filled with eager skiers, or a sport cruiser complete with galley and overnight accommodations, or a true yacht for luxurious entertaining, or even the rarified air of the seafaring mega-yacht bound for the Monaco harbor in time for the Formula Race, the right watch is essential. A dive watch will do, but if form follows function, what is the right watch, other than a diver, for the captain of the ship? As summer beckons captains to the rivers, lakes and sea, Ulysse Nardin, a name synonymous with the pilot house, offers a watch that can move effortlessly from the swim deck to the yacht club, combining the essential elements of sport and dress while simultaneously benefiting from Ulysse Nardin’s DIAMonSIL technology and proven track record at a ship’s helm. Since we first reported on the 2013 Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer Manufacture, we have wanted to wear one. In this review, we put the watch through the paces and found it more than ship shape.
Ulysse Nardin’s interpretation of the Marine Chronometer has become a classic in its own right and is immediately recognizable as the flagship of the brand. You can play a game of finding the company logo, which is located on the end of the crown, strap badge, center of the clasp, and as part of an ornate rotor. Finally, the company name also appears on the dial and caseback edge, reminiscent of conspicuous branding from the 1980s. What is not immediately recognizable is the manufactured in-house movement. When paired with the rubber strap, much like the Southern Ocean, the watch is serious business and ready for rain, wind and some relentless big waves. From top-siders and teak decks to the yacht club dining room, this watch wears well in all maritime occasions.
The small seconds is a must for a watch daring to call itself a Marine Chronometer as the earliest models, used for navigation, were typified by a small seconds sub-dial, blued Breguet hands, and a large white main dial. The small seconds sub-dial here is of a good size that aids visibility.
The dial’s magnifying lens for the date is a handy feature. Also, the UN-118 movement has an automatic date corrector or quick set function, allowing for forwards or backwards setting of the date. Pairing a date complication with a Marine Chronometer, though missing from those early models, is a useful update and the company’s modernization of the genre has produced one of the watch’s main identifying features.
On the Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer Manufacture, the power reserve indicator sits symmetrically above the small seconds and below twelve o’clock. The watch has a vigorous power reserve of 60 hours, which the indicator measures in twelve hour segments. Full power is indicated in French with white letters “Haut” and in English with red letters “Up.” Below twelve hours of power, an increasing red graduated band warns of needed rewinding with the French “Bas” in white letters and English “Down” in red letters.
As previously mentioned, classic Marine Chronometers had blued Breguet hands. Although our model features modern skeletonized hands, we learned at Baselworld that going forward, the Manufacture models will only have Breguet hands. Not only do you get a top-tiered manufactured movement, but you also move closer to the genre’s tradition. Given that these skeletonized hands were our least favorite part of the watch, we enthusiastically applaud this change. Regardless, we wish the minute hand extended further to fit precisely beside the chapter ring instead of stopping short. The hour hand could also be longer.
Beneath the AR-coated sapphire crystal is a dial that is full without being too busy. Our model’s blue color enhanced the aquatic theme and provided a nice contrast to the shine of the hands and the applied numerals. Above the date window, a red 1846, the year of the company’s founding, is a familiar design feature. The angled chapter ring has batons above the numerals and railroad tracks between.
The rubber strap is a must for the boat owner, allowing for transitions from deck to water and back, but the 100 m water resistance means the watch is limited to going below the swim platform. Ulysse Nardin have reinvented the rubber strap for their Marine Chronometers giving the watch yet another element to distinguish it. Instead of a single loop of rubber with a clasp, the strap has a titanium badge, giving the strap two additional pivot points and an added measure of style. Though the strap is cut to measure for the wrist, the clasp has additional sizing adjustments for length. There are three sets of holes on the upper clasp sides with two for expansion and two sets on the lower clasp with one for expansion. Two pushers release the lower element, and the upper element is pulled free manually. When closing the clasp, the top element is secured first, then bottom, which feels slightly counter-intuitive. The three-element clasp along with the badge give the rubber strap an unmistakable Ulysse Nardin look.
The 43mm fluted case with its concave barrel is a combination of steel and titanium, which means the watch is incredibly light on the wrist and will not impede quick action on the deck. The left side of the case has an affixed badge with the watch number in an elegant script. The steel bezel, the heaviest part of the case, with its coin edged bezel avoids making the watch top-heavy. The caseback is fastened by six screws, and has a sapphire crystal for viewing the movement. Built into the titanium case are two crown guards, giving the screw-down crown a nest of protection. Should fingers be damp, the blue, no-slip, rubberized coating of the crown edge is a subtle, yet functional, clue of water being the watch’s habitat.
Self-winding calibre UN-118 has a patented escapement, oscillator, and hairspring. Ulysse Nardin’s initial partnership with and then purchase of Sigatec allowed them to perfect a DIAMonSIL escapement; DIAMonSIL is their proprietary diamond coated silicon material. When it came time to introduce this mechanical achievement, the company chose to introduce the movement in their Marine Chronometers. The late Rolf Schnyder in 2006 introduced a limited-number, in-house calibre 160, and current CEO Patrik Hoffmann in 2012 realized the dream by providing UN-118 as the first in-house, full production movement. We waxed eloquently about the technical marvels of this COSC certified movement in our previous article, so now we can speak about the movement’s appearance.
The rotor signals the care and attention that went into crafting the watch. It is beautiful! The rotor glides along its track cut into the bridges, aided in its travel by ball bearings. Two skeletonized anchors sit at either side of the blue logo badge at the center. The rotor moves easily, but its weight precludes unending spins. Circular Geneva stripes travel across the bridges, and the finish of the movement is meticulous. No self-respecting skipper would wear a watch whose attention to detail didn’t surpass his own.
Even if you don’t own or regularly charter a boat, yacht or ship, this is a great sport/dress combination watch. Maybe you buy the watch, and then buy the boat? Or if your family currently refers to you as “captain,” then this is the right watch. There are plenty of choices with the manufacture models for case, dial, and strap; you can find the one that is right for you, here. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer Manufacture reviewed here is priced at € 9.100-Eur.
The Verdict: Pro and Con
- Overall design
- Rubber Strap
- Rubber crown edge for damp, slippery fingers
- Screw down crown
- Date Magnifier Lens
- Light Weight, titanium/steel case
- Power Reserve Indicator
- Skeletonized hands depart from the Marine Chronometer aesthetic. Good news is that for all Manufacture models, Breguet hands will be the norm going forward.
- Minute hand stops short of the chapter ring – would like it to extend farther
- Prefer closing the bottom element, then the top element of the clasp, rather than vice versa