The new Chronometry Collection from Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur 42mm looks back to the brand’s history as it turns 175, and a lot of that history is bound up in ship’s chronometers. But UN has also grown and evolved in more recent years. The company was a real pioneer in the use of silicon, and its UN-118 movement, with silicon hairspring and escape wheel and anchor in Diamonsil, are testament to this more recent past. In 2011, Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur 42mm bought dialmaker Donzé Cadrans, bringing old-fashioned in-house enamel dial-making into its quiver, and making fine blue enamel dials like the one in this 175-piece limited edition possible.
What we have in this watch is a look that will be plenty familiar to those who know Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur 42mm. Modeled after ships’ chronometers, the display is large and legible, with the hours and minutes emanating from the central axis and the seconds occupying a large sub-dial at six o’clock with a window for the date toward the bottom. The indicator for displaying the power reserve (60 hours) is up at the 12 o’clock position to balance it out and provide a symmetrical look. It’s a classic, 42mm watch that bridges a sport and dressy look with plenty of maritime vibes, as we’ve come to expect from UN.
Donzé makes enamel dials of extremely high quality the old-fashioned way, in old-school ovens, and has done so for several of the biggest names in watchmaking. The blue dial in this watch may not be an intricate cloisonné example depicting a design or a scene, but it has a depth to it that looks really wonderful in the supplied pictures from the brand. Combining such dials with a movement that is composed of silicon parts seems to me to be a very Ulysse Nardin way to go about watchmaking.
While I expect that having the date window probably made the process of producing these dials more difficult and contributed to a higher failure rate, I think this is one design that would be better off sans date window. The dial itself is fairly ornate to begin with. Enamel dials kind of have to be seen in person to be appreciated, and Donzé is known for making some really nice ones.
The Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur collection is one of Ulysse Nardin’s most popular. It uses the deck clocks and on-board ships’ chronometers that Ulysse Nardin was world-renowned for producing through the 20th century as inspiration, with an easily identifiable vertical sub-dial orientation consisting of a power reserve display at 12 o’clock on the dial and a small seconds register at six o’clock. Marine chronometers were precise timekeepers that sat in gimballed boxes and were frequently used for navigation on the high seas; as mythologized in Longitude, Dava Sobel’s 1995 best-selling book. Ulysse Nardin was a prominent producer of these timepieces and even won a U.S. Navy contract in 1905 to produce marine chronometers for use by the American torpedo boat fleet.
In 1996, under the ownership of Swiss watch industry legend Rolf Schnyder, Ulysse Nardin brought its Marine Chronometer back, this time in the form of a nautical-inspired wristwatch. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur, launched in 2017, is a continued evolution of that ideal; in 2021, on the 175-year anniversary of Ulysse Nardin as a company, the new 42mm Marine Torpilleur “Panda” Limited Edition has been released.
While classical on the outside, the movement inside borrows some of the high-tech attributes of the company’s well-known Freak line. Inside is the manufacture UN-118 movement, which utilizes a silicon escapement and offers 65 hours of running autonomy. Limited to 300 pieces, the Marine Torpilleur comes on your choice of a blue or brown alligator leather strap.
Ulysse Nardin has spent much of the past two decades bucking industry conventions and pushing watchmaking further through the Freak collection, so it’s sometimes easy to forgot that the company has such a quintessentially good-looking line of watches in the Marine Torpilleur. The new “Panda” model, which Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur states is the first time they’ve used the design, utilizes a pair of dark-blue sub-dials and classic black Roman numerals to contrast against the varnished white dial with rhodium-finished spade-style hands.
I am, quite honestly, very surprised this is the first Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur with a panda dial. All that means, after all, is a white dial with contrasting darker sub-dials, akin to the visage of the panda bear. Although this might be the first Marine Torpilleur with such a dial orientation and design, I’m sure it won’t be the last.