Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ringing True

Ulysse Nardin brings harmony to art and engineering with melodic watches that set the tone for the industry.

The limited edition Imperial Blue
The Le Locle-based brand’s reputation for originality is built upon a long list of game-changing technical achievements in the modern era, including such feats as the astronomical watches in the Trilogy of Time and, more recently, the Freak collection. What elevates these timepieces beyond horological exercises, however, is Ulysse Nardin’s ability to balance brilliant function with imaginative aesthetic.

That tradition lives on in the Imperial Blue, an extraordinary variation on the brand’s Royal Blue Tourbillon. While the resemblance is uncanny thanks to the blue sapphire crystal bridge, flying tourbillon and transparent mainplate used for both, there is a significant difference, one you can hear.

The Imperial Blue includes a Grande Sonnerie Westminster Carillon, a mechanism that plays the familiar four-note melody on demand, and also strikes the hours, quarter hours and minutes. Without prompting, the watch automatically chimes each new hour, a feature that can be silenced with the push of a button.

It’s no exaggeration to say that only about a handful of watch brands in the world today are capable of achieving this extremely high level of complication. For Ulysse Nardin, however, this kind of supreme mechanical sorcery is a common thread that connects some of the company’s greatest triumphs, from the minute repeater chronograph it presented at the 1893 World’s Fair, to modernday masterpieces like its Westminster tourbillon minute repeaters — the Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great. Today, the Imperial Blue takes its place alongside those other legendary creations.

The Stranger
Expressive Artistry
The performance continues with the Stranger, a wristwatch that answers the question: What happens when you combine a modern automatic movement with a music box that plays the melody from “Strangers In the Night,” the Grammy-winning, smash hit from 1966?

The disc turns to play the tune 
With no dial to obscure the view, the show unfolds right in front of your eyes. At the top of every hour — or on demand — a disc studded with raised pins turns and plucks the 10 tuned teeth poised above and plays the memorable melody. When needed, the music function can be turned off with the simple push of a button.

Presented in a 45mm case, this white-gold version of the Stranger delivers a well-deserved encore to the rose-gold version introduced last year. Like its predecessor, this new model will be produced in a limited edition of 99 pieces.

Ulysse Nardin shows off a different kind of artistic sensibility with the Skeleton Tourbillon Manufacture.

Skeleton Tourbillon Manufacture in rose gold
Throughout history, artists have seen possibilities that others can’t. For instance, Michelangelo didn’t see a block of marble before him, but rather a statue of David waiting to be carved out. Similarly, the artisans at Ulysse Nardin who created the Skeleton Tourbillon Manufacture envisioned what could be when they sculpted the sweeping lines that form the “bones” of this in-house movement.

By removing much of the metal structure, light floods the mechanism to reveal the watch’s inner beauty, which is epitomized by the balanced arrangement of the engraved winding barrel and flying tourbillon. The open design also allows the eye to freely explore the innovative silicon technology in the tourbillon, including the violet-colored escapement wheel.

Due to the complexity of the watch, production will be limited to 200 pieces each in rose gold and white gold.

Executive Dual Time
Blue Genes
In the 19th century, Ulysse Nardin pioneered marine chronometers used by sailors to navigate the oceans, a heritage proudly acknowledged by its anchor logo, as well as the frequent recurrence of blue throughout its collection.

A tantalizing example of the latter is provided by this version of the Executive Dual Time, which uses blue ceramic for the bezel and pushers. The rose gold case (43mm) provides a warm counterpoint to the colorful theme and houses one of the brand’s signature movements, which includes a patented second time zone display.

Devised by Ulysse Nardin’s resident horological virtuoso Ludwig Oechslin, this mechanism allows the hour hand to be adjusted quickly — forward or backward — to reflect the local time when arriving in a new time zone. The window positioned at 9 o’clock keeps track of the traveler’s home time by means of a rotating 24-hour disc.

Blue colors another of Oechslin’s intriguing creations with the Freak Blue Cruiser, the latest incarnation of Ulysse Nardin’s revolutionary carrousel tourbillon movement. An exemplar of counterintuitive thinking, this tech is defined not by what it adds, but by what it takes away. The dial, hands and crown are all missing, but their absence reveals a new way of telling time.

Freak Blue Cruiser
The function of the crown is now handled by two rotating bezels. One on the front adjusts the time, while the other on the back fuels the watch’s seven-day power reserve. And instead of using hands and a dial to indicate the time, the entire movement rotates so that the lower bridge shows the hours and the upper bridge tracks the minutes.

Look closer at the anchor-shaped upper bridge and you’ll discover another innovation tucked into the design, the Dual Ulysse escapement. Instead of the traditional anchor and anchor wheel construction, it relies on two silicon impulse wheels to transmit energy to the balance staff. Because silicon is used for the wheels, lubrication is not required and friction is reduced to enhance the movement’s performance and longevity.

Spiral balance spring used in the Freak Cruiser
Since its introduction in 2001, the Freak has provided a versatile platform for Ulysse Nardin’s most advanced technology, but it’s also played an important role as a trailblazer in the watch industry at large. Its arrival signaled the beginning of a new era in watchmaking, one that embraces the constant redefinition of mechanical horology. It’s here, where imagination meets engineering, that the company is leading the charge into uncharted territory.

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