Ulysse Nardin swapped the madding crowds of Baselworld for the relative calm of SIHH this year, exhibiting at the Geneva fair for the first time.
The watchmaker tested the waters with its new audience with novelties that consolidate its house style and highlight its know-how, and revealed timepieces with more affordable price points – a strategy other brands are undertaking to appeal to younger clients.
The new Classico Manufacture, for example, lives up to its name with a classic 40mm case in stainless steel that makes it easier on the wallet. This is countered by a Grande Feu enamel dial, produced in-house following Ulysse Nardin’s acquisition of enamel specialists Donzé Cadrans three years ago; and judging by the number of enamel dials at SIHH, we can expect to see them feature prominently in the future.
Grand Feu is a 17th century craft where layers of enamel are applied to gold and fired at extreme temperatures to achieve a high shine – in the case of the Classico Manufacture, in Ulysse Nardin’s trademark blue.
Technical prowess peeps through a date window that can be set forwards or back, a rare achievement for a mechanical watch. The mechanism is powered by an automatic calibre UN-320, also featuring the silicium hairspring pioneered by Ulysse Nardin that improves precision and durability of the movement.
The new Marine Regatta tests the waters in a more literal sense. Ulysse Nardin’s association with sea faring activities goes back almost as far as its origins, and as the official partner of the Artemis Racing team for the 35th America’s Cup it collaborated with yachtsmen from the team for this model.
One of the key features is a new calibre UN-155 with a patent-pending, bi-directional countdown timer. The feature allows for a sweep countdown that can be set from one to 10 minutes, enabling competitors to countdown the critical minutes before a race begins.
The movement is based on the chronograph UN-153, but with an inverter that allows the central seconds hand to turn clockwise or counterclockwise to track the countdown; once complete, it automatically begins the running time without any manual prompt. The countdown arrow points to a yellow minute scale, and the hours and minutes are measured through a subdial at 6 o’clock.
A 44mm stainless steel case gives the Marine Regatta a sturdy sea base, while the fluted bezel and rubber inserts, and dials in ocean blue and Artemis Racing yellow or “sea foam” white lacquer, give the theme order.
There is also a limited edition set of 35 pieces with black enamel Champlevé dials and a countdown on the bezel in the Swedish team’s yellow and anthracite grey.
Joining the brand’s sea faring collection is the Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu, which also pairs difficult mechanisms with enamel work. The watch features a new, self-winding calibre UN-128 with the brand’s trademark silicium components and a flying tourbillon, a complex mechanism prized for its ability to counter the negative effects that gravity would otherwise have on the precision of a watch.
While a flying tourbillon is not so unusual these days, one that comes under the US$30,000 mark is – and it makes the movement more accessible to tourbillon aficionados that would otherwise have to settle for wistful window gazing.
Ulysse Nardin makes use of its specialist enamel team with a dial crafted in a pale milky Grand Feu, contained in a 43mm stainless steel case that no doubt helps keep the costs lower for a highly complex timepiece.
The profusion of enamel dials at Ulysse Nardin this year was perhaps a reminder that the watchmaker is as adept at the artisan side of watchmaking as it is the technical.
The brand steered attention away from its marine timepieces towards its women’s collections with five variations on enamel, though each hinted at its associations with the ocean.
The Jade Grand Feu series gets three additions, and two novelties join Jade Cloisonné. The trio of Grand Feu enamel dials in turquoise, ruby red and grey green generate a wave-like appearance over guilloche tracing; meanwhile, lionfish and jellyfish motifs are added to the Jade Cloisonné set, using a technique where the enamel is separated by thin metal strips to create an image.
The Hourstriker Pin-Up, meanwhile, displays a cheeky sense of fun. Limited to 28 pieces, a burlesque dancer’s modesty is revealed or hidden at the sweep of the hour striker, disguised as a peacock’s tail and wings. The dial was hand painted in a process taking tens of hours.