Ulysse Nardin Breaks The Sound Barrier
Before we wore time, we heard it. Clocks chimed in the heart of every medieval city. Clocks made by brilliant craftsmen who would, through miniaturisation, create domestic clocks, and then hand-held timepieces, capable, despite their small size, to strike the passing hours. Inspired by watchmaking’s past and the possibility of moving musical timekeeping into the future, Ulysse Nardin wants you to hear time again, not read it.
The Mechanics of Power
It has been several years in the making but Ulysse Nardin has found a new way to make sound. Introducing the Blast Hourstriker, an innovative new striking watch that breaks barriers in sound technology.
This art of marking the time with music has always been a part of Ulysse Nardin’s technical arsenal. It was revived in the 1980s, under the impetus of Rolf Schnyder and given a new lease of life in 2019 when the Swiss Manufacture collaborated with French audio technology company Devialet on the next level of watchmaking acoustics, which was launched in the Classico Hourstriker Phantom.
This year Patrick Pruniaux, Ulysse Nardin’s CEO, has again made the choice to make sound central to the brand’s drive for more futuristic ways to reinterpret traditional watchmaking crafts.
The Power of the Mechanics
Ordinarily, to generate the sound needed to mark the passing hours, the hammers strike a wire gong wrapped around the movement to which it is attached. The acoustic wave spreads into the middle of the mechanism and is partly absorbed by it. In these conditions, the sound heard lacks power and its harmonics are partially muffled by the material of the timepiece.
For the Blast Hourstriker, Ulysse Nardin’s team of engineers decided to set themselves two challenges:
• Make the chiming mechanism visible on the dial side.
• Further improve the quality/power output ratio. A challenge that was already started with the Classico Hourstriker Phantom watch.
To achieve these goals, Ulysse Nardin’s engineers and watchmakers developed the UN-621 caliber. In order to guarantee optimal precision of Ulysse Nardin’s first in-house automatic striking manufacture movement, it is powered by a flying tourbillon; one that is equipped with a variable-inertia balance wheel, a silicon hairspring, anchor and escape wheel. Its contemporary lines have also been made sleeker and stamped with the now iconic X associated with the brand’s latest generation of timepieces.
The most complex phase of the Blast Hourstriker’s development involved redesigning the entire kinematics of this 330-component striking caliber to allow this highly sophisticated mechanism, which is usually hidden from view, to be seen dial side.
When the striker is on, the mechanical ballet that makes the watch’s sound is visible on the hour and half hour, but even its occasional activation is just as beautiful. By pressing the button located at 10 o’clock, the mechanism, driven by a specially dedicated barrel, is triggered. The hour rack and the inertia regulator start to turn; the hammers, visible in an opening made at 12 o’clock, hit the gong whose shape has been subtly worked to bypass the cage of the flying tourbillon.
Finally, to ensure that the Blast Hourstriker’s striking mechanism acoustic performance perfectly audible, this movement incorporates a titanium membrane developed in collaboration with Devialet – the French audio technology company with whom Ulysse Nardin worked on its torsion lever used in 2019’s Classico Hourstriker Phantom; one of whose co-founders is a direct descendant of the Ulysse Nardin family.
As in the Classico Hourstriker Phantom, the torsion lever connects the heel of the gong to the fine membrane. In this construction, it is pressed against a grid to prevent it deforming in the event of extreme external pressure. This diaphragm is 3/10th of a millimeter thick and treated with black DLC, which offers a large deformation area, which, when under load, moves a large volume of air, which improves the audibility of the sound produced.
The Blast line’s signature double X cut into the rose gold caseback, also ensures the security of this sensitive Devialet membrane, which, once in action, basically acts like a hi-fi speaker – releasing and amplifying the gong’s sound.
A Design Tailored to Break The Sound Barrier
An exceptional mechanism requires an exceptional case. So Ulysse Nardin decided to encase a movement inspired by the power of nature in a design inspired by a powerful man-made machine – the stealth airplane.
To truly allow the sound of the Blast Hourstriker to resonate, the distinctive 45 mm Blast case was given a black DLC titanium middle, capped with 5N 18-kt rose gold, for improved acoustics. To silence this imposing timepiece with the button located at 8 o’clock on the middle must be pressed and then the ‘On’ or ‘Off’ " position at the tip of the function selector hand located at 8 o’clock checked.
The three straps that come with the Blast Hourstriker allow its different personalities to be explored. The black high-tech, waterproof velvet option emphasizes its aerodynamism, while the alligator brings its more sophisticated side to the fore. In addition, a rubber strap is also available for this model. Whatever you choose, remember the Blast Hourstriker is made to be heard not seen.
DIVER X SKELETON
The Stars Align.
Fine watchmaking takes a plunge into the world of diving watches bringing them together in one unique collection.
Ulysse Nardin has merged the DIVER X and SKELETON X to create a new horological hybrid: welcome to the spectacular DIVER X SKELETON!
“The best way to predict the future is to create it."
Ulysse Nardin’s links with the sea are as deep as the ocean itself. The Swiss Maison was a pioneer in watchmaking innovation from 1846, when the brand cemented its reputation for incomparably accurate marine chronometers; robust navigational instruments that allowed sailors to calculate longitude at sea. Now Ulysse Nardin is reaffirming its status as a watchmaker destined to rule the oceans with the arrival of the DIVER X SKELETON. In 2019, Ulysse Nardin launched the DIVER X Cape Horn, Nemo Point and Antarctica, celebrating the bravery of the solo round-the-world sailors of the Vendée Globe. Now, to celebrate its 175 years, Ulysse Nardin is pushing the design of its DIVER X even further by stripping away the dial and revealing its skeleton.
In an Xciting merger of the two DIVER and EXECUTIVE SKELETON worlds, Ulysse Nardin adds a new design to its range of horological UFOs: the DIVER X SKELETON, an exclusive edition of skeleton diving watches limited to 175 timepieces, all numbered. This cutting-edge evolution of the DIVER X retains its sporty appeal, while taking a radical step towards transparency. As the new hero watch of the DIVER collection, the DIVER X SKELETON is an explosive fusion between the sporty design of a DIVER and technical prowess of the EXECUTIVE SKELETON. It’s a match that was written in the stars.
Like all of Ulysse Nardin’s DIVERS, the DIVER X SKELETON is designed to withstand the potentially fatal pressures that exist at a depth of 200 meters. To achieve this, it is equipped with a concave inverted unidirectional rotating bezel, which protects the domed sapphire glass against untimely impacts.
The engineering team has completely redesigned the UN-371 movement, which is visible through the 44mm case. Originally designed for the EXECUTIVE SKELETON collection, it has been improved by the addition of an oscillating weight in the shape of the Ulysse Nardin’s iconic X. There is also a barrel cover placed at midday with a blue Carbonium®, which is the same as the bezel, and the hours, minutes and seconds hands are coated with Superluminova, so you won’t struggle to read the time underwater.
The desire to keep the dial interface of the DIVER X SKELETON in the shape of the blue PVD X was one of the most technical and complex developments ever undertaken by Ulysse Nardin. The hour markers had to be secretly connected to the dial, so they appear to be floating. To achieve the sensation of depth, overlaid layers were used to emphasize the tiered construction of the central “X”. Different levels of finish were also employed to cause a play of light, which was amplified by the transparency of the skeleton movement.
The case, microbeaded on the sides with satin polished lugs, has been coated in blue PVD. Orange details, such as the hour markers, the internal lines of Ulysse Nardin’s signature “X” and the protective rubber around the crown, add vibrant pops of colour and emphasize the model’s sports origins.
DIVER X SKELETON and Carbonium®: aircraft fuselage on the wrist
On the bezel, Ulysse Nardin has used blue Carbonium®, a material originally used on its FREAK X. Carbonium ® is an extremely lightweight aerospace material and among the most robust and durable materials ever developed by scientists. It is made from the same fibers as those used for the fuselage and wings of the latest generation of aircraft. Because its manufacturing process involves using waste materials, it has a 40% lower environmental impact than other carbon. This high-performance material is created using a complex process which involves subjecting carbon fibers, which have a diameter of only 7 µm, to high pressure and temperature conditions. The process causes the fibers to form a pattern that is unique to each watch.
The DIVER X SKELETON comes on a rubber strap in either ocean blue or supercharged orange with an element adorned with the Ulysse Nardin anchor also in orange. A constant reminder that Ulysse Nardin has always ruled the waves by looking to the stars.
On The Horizon, An Unidentified Floating Object
Do you believe in UFOs?
Fasten your seat belts because Ulysse Nardin is about to take you on a journey through time to another dimension, where the on-board chronometer is no simple timepiece but a voyage through clock-making's history and a daring imagining of its future.
This UFO is real. But it is not simply a timekeeper, or an unusual object. It is a work of art. A piece of design; something architectural; a wave made mechanical; a brand-new odyssey into unchartered horological waters.
To celebrate its 175th anniversary, Ulysse Nardin takes clockmaking into the realms of imagination by reinventing the chronometer. This UFO might be a table or desk clock, but it is so many other things besides. It’s a swinging mechanical depiction of the movement of the waves. It is a triple-timed zone amalgam of the past, present and future. Once again, Ulysse Nardin has launched something completely unexpected – a new addition to its cabinet of curiosities, inspired by innovation and exploration, the seas and the skies. This UFO contains all of Ulysse Nardin’s horological history in one single object, from the marine chronometers of the 19th and 20th centuries to the Freak in 2001, to the Blast in 2020. It is simply out of this world.
The Marine Chronometer of the Future
175 years ago, Ulysse Nardin was renowned for its incredibly accurate and extremely reliable ships’ watches and marine chronometers. These were prize winning machines, scooping up the first prizes in the chronometry competitions of both Geneva’s and Neuchâtel’s observatories. Forty-five admiralties were kept on course, navigating the high seas thanks to Ulysse Nardin’s superlative craftsmanship.
So how to celebrate the future of the brand, while staying true to the desire to make the best time-measuring tools, which was the challenge Ulysse Nardin set himself in 1846? “Reissuing a watch from the past by reusing vintage codes was not part of our creative intentions for this anniversary object. On the contrary, we wanted to reverse the trend and make a leap forward of 175 years, rather than a leap backward. We always look ahead. We wondered what a marine chronometer designed in 2196 would be like,” explains Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin.
With its 663 components, and triple-dialled time zones, the UFO is the futuristic interpretation of what Ulysse Nardin’s designers, engineers, and watchmakers think a marine chronometer should look like in 175 years’ time. This UFO has been designed to guide the explorers of the future, whichever seas they may sail.
Rocking and Turbulence
Taking the ocean as the ultimate inspiration, the movement of the UFO is that of the waves made mechanical. The entire structure of the clock is built on an imbalance, on a gentle swing which recalls the ebb and flow of the tides, the perpetual movement of the ocean. The secret of the balance is its blue half-spherical aluminum base, which contains a tungsten mass. The base and glass bell are joined by a bayonet mounting system, which looks similar to the old systems of marine chronometers from which the glass could be unscrewed.
Whereas marine chronometers were housed in wooden boxes and set on gimbles to counteract the effect of the ship’s constant sway, Ulysse Nardin reverses this. Here it is the object itself that makes waves when it is nudged gently. Weighing 7.2kg, the UFO swings up to 60° from its axis – an amplitude of 120 degrees – and the engineers have accurately calculated the center of the gravity/mass/inertia ratio, which allows UFO to swing neither too fast nor too slowly and without significantly affecting the operation of the balance.
It isn’t just the UFO’s movement that is inspired by the ocean, the architecture is too. The bell under which this incredible creation is housed suggests floating black and yellow cardinal buoys – objects that also provide inspiration for the X sitting in the spine of the table clock. From above, the construction of the UFO seems almost kaleidoscopic, with its emblem, the marine anchor, dominating the heart of the rosette.
The UFO is mesmeric enough, but attention should also be paid to the ovoid glass bell under which it sways. It has been created by Romain Montero, a 26-year-old artisan glass blower who works for Verre et Quartz, a technical glass-blowing workshop located on the shores of Switzerland’s Lake Neuchâtel. He had the responsibility for handcrafting for every one of the 75 numbered limited-edition UFO glass covers.
“The biggest challenge was the overall aesthetics of the glass tube. To get 50 spotless glass bells, I had to blow out three times the number, 150 bells. You need to blow gently, as if you want to make a soap bubble. Even so, the glass is imperfect at the base and is sensitive to micro-vibrations during blowing, but there is beauty in those imperfections and small flaws,” explains Montero.
To manufacture each 3mm-thick tube, it was necessary to stretch the glass when it was still hot, for more than 45 minutes, using only the naked eye, on a traditional glass-maker's lathe at temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees. As it is heated the glass is transformed, becomes orange, red, white and morphs through all the hues of pink. The total process takes almost half a day of work: cutting of the glass, blowing, checking the blowing and the measurements, furnace annealing, cutting again, lamination, final and visual inspection, and then cleaning.
“From the moment you heat the glass, you disrupt the atoms. It’s the heat that creates the disruption. It’s inevitable. This creates weaknesses in the material that can lead to spontaneous breakage, which is not what you want. You need to release the tension to achieve perfection,” Montero explains.
Like all the most successful voyages, it takes an experienced crew. For this particular journey, Ulysse Nardin decided to collaborate with the celebrated clockmaker Maison L’Epée, who has been manufacturing traditional clocks since 1839 and is now famed for bringing the fantastical imaginings of MB&F’s CEO Max Busser to life.
Comprising 663 components, and with one year of power reserve supplied by its six extra-large barrels, and a balance wheel rim that reaches the spectacular diameter of 49 mm, UFO displays the time on three trapezoidal dials, which are so complex it takes 28 hours to manufacture just eight of them. Having three dials allows the owner to display three different time zones at once, seen from three different angles.
The XXL brass balance wheel beats at 0.5 Hz and the objective is twofold: to maintain a power reserve never before offered –one year – and to make the movement of the object like a meditation; gentle and soothing with ample time to admire one alternation (half oscillation) per second. The addition of a dead-beat second adds to that sense of this table clock being a meditation on time, with the passing of each second uniformly marked.
Treasure Chest and Key
UFO comes in a wood treasure chest aged as if it been discovered washed up on a beach; something that appears to come from the past but with a message from the future contained within. Inside, you will find UFO, but also its operating instructions, its warranty card and a special place for its winding key. It takes 40 wind-up turns with a square-end stainless steel key to wind up the mechanism for one year. Each dial has its wind-up notch, which is also used to the set the time (four notches in total, one for winding up and one for each time zone wound up using a single key).
Welcome to Ulysse Nardin’s brave new world.