When it comes to Ulysse Nardin, it’s hard not also to think about innovative, avant-garde design. With a steady focus on the use of uncommon materials, novel mechanics, and artistic thinking, the brand in its modern history has made a name for itself with collections like the Freak, and so many individual watches like the Marine Mega Yacht and suggestive Classic Voyeur Minute Repeater, among so many others. This is not to say the brand doesn’t also tread in classic watch design from time to time, which they certainly do. In fact, much of the Marine, Diver, and even aptly named Classico collections do work in-step with very traditional styles and materials. But for these classic looks, it is undoubtedly Ulysse Nardin’s experimental work that catches the eyes of most luxury-inclined consumers.
Now, the brand is unveiling its latest experimental work in the industry, with three new timepieces that hold inventive thinking centrally from design to execution. Of these, we have the new table clock UFO, which started with a question posed by Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin, “What [would] a marine chronometer designed in 2196 be like?” After this, we come to the brand’s two wristwatch novelties, the first being the Blast Hourstriker which follows up on the original Blast unveiled by the brand last summer, and brings the brand’s signature sonorous complication to the unorthodox construction. And lastly, the brand is unveiling the new Diver X Skeleton, a new hybrid watch of the Diver X and Skeleton X design first unveiled in 2019, and in effect, bringing an uncommon skeletonized look to a 200-meter water resistant timepiece.
Turning first to the very uncommon Ulysse Nardin UFO, we come to an incredibly complex table clock displaying three independent time-zones and carrying a full year’s worth of power reserve via six manually wound barrels. The skeletonized aluminum creation is encapsulated via a 3mm-thick ovoid blown glass bell created by Romain Montero, a 26-year-old, Swiss-based artisan glassblower. Its total size from aluminum base to rounded glass top measures 263mm tall (or about 10 in.) and 159mm in diameter (6.25 in.). If the watch looks like something produced by MB&F rather than Ulysse Nardin, that’s because the creation was developed in close collaboration with renowned clockmaker Maison L’Epée, a brand which has been manufacturing traditional clocks since 1839 and is best known for their work with MB&F and bringing CEO Max Busser’s ideas to mechanical life. While dubbed the “UFO,” the piece of horological art takes its inspiration from rethinking marine chronometers rather than something interstellar. “Whereas [traditional] marine chronometers were housed in wooden boxes and set on gimbles to counteract the effect of the ship’s constant sway, [the UFO] reverses this … [making] waves when it is nudged gently.” In technical terms, the almost-16 lb. (7.2kg) creation rests upon a rounded bottom, swinging up to 60° from its axis without losing balance, with the tungsten weighted center of mass such that the clock avoids swinging too fast or tipping, and by extension, damaging the clock or affecting its timekeeping abilities.
Now turning to the first of the brand’s creations for the wrist, we find the Blast Hourstriker, which as mentioned follows up on the original 2020 Blast, a time-only avant-garde design. The obvious update for the model is in its use of Ulysse Nardin’s signature “Hourstriker” complication which we last saw in 2019 with the Hourstriker Phantom. The complication notably differs from a traditional minute repeater in that it only chimes hours and half hours, rather than smaller increments of time. Like the original Blast, the Hourstriker uses a large rose-gold 5N and black DLC titanium case, measuring 45mm by 16mm, complete with sharp faceting, meticulously brushed finished edges, and an overall very sporty appeal for a 30m water resistant watch. On its dial, the skeletonized look of the alternating rose gold, DLC, and metal components provide a particularly mechanical aesthetic, the style integrated with a six o’clock flying tourbillon and small on/off indicator for the Hourstiker complication. Speaking more to the chiming mechanism, Ulysse Nardin developed the UN-621 caliber specifically for the timepiece, with it serving as the brand’s first in-house automatic striking manufacture movement to be powered by a flying tourbillon. Like previous Hourstrikers, the Ulysse Nardin Blast features a Devialet amplification system developed by a team of engineers from Ulysse Nardin and the namesake French audio technology company Devialet. The system is essentially a super-thin metal membrane which amplifies the acoustic waves from the watch gong of the Hourstriker which, when combined with a torsion lever, “acts as the membrane of an electromagnetic enclosure, or more precisely, as the membrane of a phonograph head, the ancestor of the vinyl record deck.” In practical terms, it allows the sound to be louder, clearer, and more pleasant to the ear while using less overall power from the mechanical reserve.
The final release as part of Ulysse Nardin’s experimental group of 2021 novelties is the new Diver X Skeleton, an innovative hybrid watch celebrating the brand’s 175th birthday, being first founded in 1846, and limited to 175 editions.
At its core, the Diver X Skeleton is, as its name indicates, a skeletonized dive watch, living within a supremely uncommon category of watch both for the technical difficulty of producing a highly water resistant and durable sapphire-heavy timepiece, but also for the practical viability and consumer interest in a watch that reduces visibility on a category of watch renowned for just that. Practical and technical concerns aside, the model is a unique sporty wearer, experimenting with the very centerpiece of what it means for a watch to be a diver.
The large timepiece measures 44mm by 15.5mm, cased with large sapphire windows on its front and back, as well as blue PVD Carbonium, a super durable and lightweight carbon-based material which the brand originally used on its FREAK X. As a nod towards the growing awareness of the carbon impact watches and the larger fashion world are having, Ulysse Nardin mentioned Carbonium’s 40% lower environmental impact than other carbon-based materials, a historically energy-intensive material to create and shape.
On the dial of the watch, transparency reins with the redesigned UN-371 movement on display and the model’s namesake blue “X” serving as a center point for the watch’s large lume-filled hands, each pointing to matching indices on the outer edge of the plane. Like previous X-series watches by the brand, the Diver X Skeleton features a large barrel towards the 12 o’clock position, which in combination with the movement’s slowed 21,600 vph frequency helps provide the model with a higher 96-hour or 4-day power reserve.
Altogether, the Ulysse Nardin Diver X Skeleton presents a seamless hybrid of design schemes produced by Ulysse Nardin in recent years, bringing various elements from across the brand’s collection into a well-executed timepiece. In this regard, and with a grain of salt for its viability as a practical dive watch, the watch effectively meets its purpose as a hardy commemorative timepiece to the innovative, marine-focused legacy of the Ulysse Nardin brand.