Ulysse Nardin unveils a new version of its Marine Torpilleur to coincide with the annual Monaco Yacht Show (MYS). Renowned as the most prestigious superyacht show (to give you an idea of the kind of crowd it attracts the MYS offers a helicopter shuttle service), Ulysse Nardin will sail into Port Hercules for the event with a limited-edition Marine Torpilleur model. Capitalising on this high-profile event and the luxury-loving crowd it attracts, Ulysse Nardin showcases its latest Marine Torpilleur Monaco Yacht Show Limited Edition. Essentially the same case and chronometer-certified movement as the Torpilleur models introduced in 2017, the novelty here is the Grand Feu enamel dial and inscriptions relating to the MYS.
A torpilleur or torpedo boat was a small, fast ship introduced in the late 19th-century used to transport and deploy torpedoes against battleships. Equipped with the latest technology of the day, the speed and manoeuvrability of the torpilleurs posed a real threat to larger, heavily armed and cumbersome battleships – what in today’s context would be known as a fast attack craft (FAC). When Ulysse Nardin revisited its Marine Torpilleur in 2017 the idea was to produce a slimmer and lighter version of its iconic Marine watches with a lighter price to attract a new generation of watch buyers.
Given UN’s strong ties to the sea (by the 1870s UN provided more than 50 navies and international shipping companies with precision marine deck chronometers), the brand’s reputation for state-of-the-art technology (precursor of silicium escapements) and its slimmer, less bulky profile, you can understand how the Marine Torpilleur got its name.
In-house Grand Feu Dial
The distinguishing feature of this particular Torpilleur is the enamel dial with inscriptions relating to the MYS. Ulysse Nardin is one of the few manufactures to make its own dials. Determined to get as much of the watchmaking process done in-house, Ulysse Nardin bought Donzé Cadrans in 2011, a family-run company specialising in enamel dials. Donzé Cadrans is one of the few remaining enamel dial specialists and no amount of contemporary technology can replace the talent of its artisans who are all trained in the workshop.
The beauty of an enamel dial is its depth of colour coupled with its resilience to the ravages of time. It’s hard to describe in words, but if you have ever visited a watchmaking museum and seen a dial painted over 200 years ago in enamel, you will agree that the colours retain their intensity as if they had been painted yesterday. Grand Feu enamel is one of the most difficult enamelling techniques to master but offers the highest durability ensuring that the colours won’t fade over time. What’s more, the high content of minerals in the material also makes the dial impervious to UV rays.
Enamelling is a fickle art and during the firing process a lot of things can go wrong. The Grand Feu technique is executed entirely by hand, from start to finish. A copper base is dusted with enamel – white and grey for the Marine Torpilleur Monaco – and fired at a temperature of approximately 800° C. During the firing process, the enamel liquefies and bonds to the metal surface. However, the metal can warp, the surface can crack and air or gas bubbles can emerge and blister the surface. Not even the most talented enameller can predict the final outcome and rejection rates are high. Having secured a flawless dial, the indices and inscriptions are placed on the dial using dyes composed of enamel powder and popped in the kiln for another round of firing. To ensure the new layer of enamel fuses to the same level as the surface of the dial, it is smoothed down and flattened by a piece of carbon.
Taking a piece of black carbon to a freshly baked white dial requires extraordinary skill to make sure the carbon doesn’t leave marks on the enamel. Given the organic nature of the entire process, the dial’s diameter has to be adjusted to fit the case. The two sub-dials also have to be cut out from the blank enamel disc and then chamfered by hand before the grey coloured enamel power reserve and small seconds discs with red and blue inscriptions can be tin-soldered to the white dial.
Classic marine chronometer layout
The stainless steel case, which benefits from the 2017 facelift, has a 42mm diameter and a fixed, thin fluted bezel and a thin flange framing the dial. Compared to previous models, the profile of the watch is thinner and the lugs are lighter and shorter to help the watch sit comfortably on the wrist. The steel case features contrasting polished and brushed surfaces, the crown is screwed-down and the case is water-resistant to 50m.
The layout of the elements on the dial harks back to the layout of traditional marine chronometers, similar to the ones made by Ulysse Nardin’s in the 19th century. Like the navigational timepieces of yesteryear, the classic dial features bold, elongated Roman numerals (blue) with a railroad chapter ring for the minutes. The sub-dial below the 12 o’clock numeral displays the power-reserve indicator and is balanced vertically with a larger small seconds dial at six o’clock with an additional aperture for the date. Both enamel sub-dials are light grey and feature red markings for the Bas/Haut indication on the power reserve and the numbers 09.19 and inscription Monaco Yacht Show in honour of the date of the 2019 MYS. Going one step further, the numbers 25, 26, 27 and 28 appearing in the date window are red and commemorate the dates of the 2019 MYS.
The refined pear-shaped hands are silver in colour to match the case and in spite of their classic lume-free presence, can be picked out quite well against the white enamel background. I love the way the minutes hand extends all the way out to the markings on the railroad chapter ring. The small seconds hand is blued-steel.
Turning the watch over reveals the in-house calibre UN-118, an automatic movement with COSC-chronometer certification and a power reserve of 60 hours. The rotor, which is, as you might have guessed, shaped like an anchor (actually, if you look closely you will count 4 anchors) and has a curious yet pleasant finish as though somebody had scratched it by hand with a sharp-ended tool. The bridges are decorated with circular Geneva stripes and you might spot the small blue engraving that reads Ulysse Nardin Certified. This refers to the additional chronometry test devised by Ulysse Nardin which the watch has undergone. The chronometric criteria are more stringent than COSC (-2 to +6 seconds a day for UN versus -4 to +6 seconds a day for COSC).
The automatic UN-118 is entirely designed and manufactured in-house and integrates the latest technology developed by the brand. Its anchor escapement is manufactured with Sigatec (a Ulysse Nardin joint venture with Mimotec) with DIAMonSIL high-precision components (escape wheel and lever). DIAMonSIL is silicon covered with synthetic diamond, a technology that allows components to be shaped specifically for avant-garde concepts. Among other advantages, it is lubrication-free and extends durability significantly. The oscillator is held under a full balance bridge and it features a variable inertia balance wheel adjustable with 4 screws and a silicon hairspring.
AVAILABILITY AND PRICE
The Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Monaco Yacht Show (ref. 1183-310LE/E0-MON) is a limited edition of 100 watches and will retail for EUR 9,500. More information at ulysse-nardin.com.