Ulysse Nardin is one of the watchmaking companies which continue to surprise. Their hallmark is innovation and creativity. From way back then when Rolf Schnyder was running the company right up till now, and probably into the future, they never fail to fascinate with their novelties. The new UN Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon is one of the most interesting and creative use of crossover technology shown in this Baselworld 2016. In this article, we discover why.
One of the recurrent themes of UN is the venture on the high seas. In the early years, Rolf Schnyder had their booth at Baselworld made up to look like a ship in the high seas. The theme is still prevalent in this year’s booth, though the ship motif is shown by the timber deck flooring and the decoration elements rather than the more direct look of making the booth in the image of a ship.
But they never fail to surprise. From the early Freak (link to one of many Freaks we have covered on this site) to the special UN Anchor Tourbillon. We always leave the booth in awe. And this year, the UN Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon gives us reason to admire the company more. With the Kering aquisition (who also own GP and Jeanrichard among many non-watch luxury labels), they have access to resources of a far larger group. It is heartening to see them take advantage of this, and continue to make amazing watches.
UN Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon
The dial, hands, case
The dial and hands is where the magic is on this amazing watch. The dial is constructed from thin strips of wood. It is made using a painstaking marquetry technique so that it looks like the wooden deck on the ship.
The hours is read with a jumping digital system in a double aperture on the upper half of the dial, constructed from two concentric discs. .
The minute hand is made to look like the horizontal spar of the boom of a sailing shop. The minute hand is made from blued aluminum, and makes a sweep across a translucent arc of blue spinel that extends from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock. Instead of using cogs and wheels to drive the retrograde hand, UN takes a leaf from sailing and the boom is drawn by a system of nanowires. The nanowires are drawn through a system of pulleys which can be seen on the dial, not unlike the halyard cord that is used to hoist the sails.
The wires are incredible. Each nanowire is a mere 0.0357mm in diameter, but is capable of withstanding traction of 1.41kg without stretching. Th nanowire is made of polyethylene Dyneema® fiber, a material that is used in ship’s rigging and is many times stronger than steel.
The nanowires form a transmission system and loops through a rigging screw, two strands are visible, and the third fastens to the turnbuckle. The wires work like the winches that hoist the sails on deck, four pulleys use a drive gear, a spiral tensioning spring and two lock springs. Fascinating system.
In operation, the retrograde returns to zero smoothly and in a sedate pace taking 3-4 seconds to complete its journey from 60 to 0, rather unlike the sometimes violent snap of the retrograde hand returning to zero. This is quite mesmerizing to watch.
The case is a rather large 44mm in diameter and carries a depth rating of 100m. The bezel is fluted as a design element, as it is not movable.
The movement: Caliber UN-630
The Caliber UN-630 is made exclusively for UN by Christophe Claret, a specialist firm which we know very well, who also hail from Le Locle. In fact, the relation between UN and Claret goes way back into history, when UN commissioned their first repeaters and automata watches from the then upstart Claret.
The movement design is rather unusual. Two mainspring barrels are provided. And though they are wound using a single transmission system, they discharge their torque into two separate wheel trains. One train is used for the time-keeping mechanism. And the second barrel is used to power the complicated display system. The second barrel is regulated by a specific escapement (the pallet forks of both escapements can be seen in the photograph above, through the open-worked bridges) that collects information from the first barrel’s time keeping train. This design prevents the display’s complicated workings from interfering with the time keeping.
Visible in the photograph above at about 1 o’clock is a regulating organ, similar to the regulator in a repeating system, which is used to regulate the speed of the retrograde system. At the top of each hour, the boom jumps back to zero. This is regulated to take 3-4 seconds. But as the timekeeping mechanism is separate from the display system, the watch continues to keep good time while the hand takes its time to return.
The one minute tourbillon is a rather standard construction, and made flying.
The movement layout is rather pleasant aesthetics with the bridges laid out harmoniously. There are opportunities for the designer to incorporate inward and outward angles, and these can be observed. As an example, on the main bridge holding the double barrels, one can observe both trains. At the jewel holding the canon pinions, the bridges pinches into two beautiful inward angles around each jewel. A total of 7 inward angles can be observed on the movement.
Anglage is nicely performed on all the edges of the bridges.
Overall, the finishing is in keeping with the high aspirations of the UN Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon. We note that UN finishing in th early years, when Ludwig Oeschlin was in charge of the movements, was far from haute horgerie levels. Then, his focus was on the innovation, rather than on the laborious task of fine finishing. We are happy to report that this has improved. The Grand Deck is finished to a very high level and certainly in line with those found in other haute horgerie watches.
We come to review yet another watch which is rather unique, and we are hard pressed to find another with the same complication. The boom is unique not only in aesthetics, but also in its operation. The combination of a jumping hour, retrograde minute with a tourbilon is also quite unusual.
The use of double barrels to power two trains, one for timekeeping and the other to power the display mechanism is somewhat unique. Perhaps the Grönefeld One Hertz has a similar arrangement. One train for timekeeping, and the other for the seconds morte mechanism. But yet they are so dis-similar in almost all other aspects.
We can find many competitors in the jumping hour arena. Here are just two examples. The Vacheron Constantin Saltarello (discontinued) uses a large jumping hour system with a single aperture. And a retrograde minute hand, which snaps back to zero at the top of each hour. The VC uses a regular escapement without a tourbillon regulator. Close, but not close enough. Another might be the Lange Zeitwerk (€ 59,100.00 in white gold), But it has a complicated jumping minute system in addition, but no retrograde minute hand. It too has no tourbillon, which can sometimes command a € 100,000 premium. Also not close enough, neither in price nor in the level or type of complication it offers.
So we conclude that perhaps there is no competition, safe perhaps for alternatives for the same price. The price of CHF 280,000 is rather high, though limited to only 18 pieces. There are many options almost every major haute horgerie brand. But none offer the same complications as the UN. For a moment, we thought that by deleting the tourbillon, the watch will be more financially accessible. Certainly the tourbillon is not essential to the design. It is an embellishment, though a rather beautiful one. But on hindsight, it would leave a white space on the dial where the tourbillon sits, and would un-balance the design.
As mentioned several times, the UN Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon is unique. No other watch is the same. We find it interesting for the way the time telling system is designed and executed. We find it fascinating that UN has chosen to incorporate nautical elements directly into the watch, like the marquetry wooden dial, like the aluminum boom which serves as the retrograde minute hand, like the transmission system of pulleys and cables mimicking the sail’s hoisting system. It remains one of the most technically interesting and innovative watches from this Baselworld.
So for us, we are happy that UN has decided to do a watch like this. Push the limits of the technology and know how. Push the limits of innovation, yet keep the aesthetics beautiful. And we respect UN, and CEO Patrik Hoffmann and his team for pulling this one off. Bravo!