The Ulysse Nardin Classic Perpetual Ludwig was first launched in 1996 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the brand. Despite more than 170 years of history, Ulysse Nardin is hardly the household name for watch lovers, but its accomplishments in watchmaking should not go unnoticed; especially to watch enthusiasts. Award winning watches like the Freakishly Innovative or the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon are two examples that come to mind. This year, some two decades later, a re-edition of the watch is released based on the original design, and we thought it fun to compare the old 1996 version with the new 2017 model.
Conceived by Ludwig Oeschlin for the late Rolf Schnyder, who was then owner of Ulysse Nardin, this watch marks a turning point in innovation for the Perpetual Calendar complication. The watch was named after its maker, Ludwig Oechslin who was popularly known as Ulysse Nardin’s ‘Master Innovator’. He also designed the Trilogy of Time and the GMT+ for the maison.
The same legacy movement
The Ulysse Nardin Classic Perpetual Ludwig 1996 and 2017 both use the legacy movement, the Ulysse Nardin Calibre 33, which is based on a Lemania base module. A powerful movement that has the torque to pile complications on top without affecting the reliability and running accuracy. It is self-winding, 31mm in diameter, 6.95mm high, with 34 jewels and 223 parts. The UN Trilogy with astronomical complications is also based on the same caliber.
The movement was well-known for its innovative adjusting system. Apart from the Ulysse Nardin Trilogy pieces Planetarium and Astrolabium, the Ludwig is one of the only, if not the only perpetual calendar, that allows its calendar displays to be adjusted back and forth via the crown. This might sound like not much, but it is a feat especially for perpetual calendars. When it was premiered, this was a great innovation. Today, a few other perpetual calendars offer this feature, amongst them the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon and the Moser Perpetual 1.
In the 1996 edition, the ball bearing central rotor is made of white gold and hand-engraved. The newer version uses the same rotor design and has the same dark blue Ulysse Nardin anchor in enamel. It however looks less embellished as its predecessor possibly due to the brushed machine finish as opposed to the original hand finished edition.
The non-symmetrical digital display is a fixture of the Ludwig. It consists of a day display within the sub seconds counter and adjacent to it, a month counter and at the 6 position, the year. The large date window is placed between 12 to 2 and sits just above the brand logo. Since both the new and the old perpetual calendar use the same caliber, the display position relative to each other remains the same. The most striking difference however, is a result of a size difference, which makes the newer version more spacious at the periphery as compared to the more compact 1996 edition. The added space on the dial also creates a relative vision of a weaker font for the three smaller sized displays.
Different case size and dial
The 2017 edition features a 41.5 mm case in stainless steel, a step or two larger than the original at 38.5. The original 1996 edition is available in three precious metals, namely yellow gold, rose gold and platinum, each with a limited edition of 150 pieces. As mentioned earlier, the larger sized case naturally calls for a larger sized dial. Since the movement remains the same in both watches, the dial to movement ratio changes on the newer model. The spaciousness of the 2o17 edition is also magnified by its non-textured dial.
The 1996 edition uses a silver-colored, bark patterned dial. There are applied gold indices at the 5 minute points; and each piece is individually numbered “No XX” at the bottom centre of the dial. The words “150th Anniversary” occur near the bottom of the dial, under the year indicator. The patterned dial adds character to the watch. We understand that the dial is so difficult to make perfect, that the reject rate is incredibly high. Resultingly, later edition Perpetual Ludwigs have done away with this beautiful textured dial, as in the case of the 2017 edition.
Overall, both watches are excellent offerings to the Perpetual Calendar repertoire. Both in form and functionality. A minor discontent we have with the Ludwig however, is in the relatively faint font on the day, month and year discs, especially on the new edition, as well as the recessed wheels. While the font type is subjective, the recessed wheel on the year disc just creates that little hint of imperfection. And there’s also the case of a missing Moonphase. Between the two watches, the original comes ahead, because of the more compact dial, the unique pattern, and the numbered production. It being the first time the Caliber 33 was used also makes the original more collectible. That said, the new edition is still a lovely watch, reasonably priced and arguably more suitable for those with a larger wrist size.