The independent watchmaking maison of Ultramarine expands their collection and goes upmarket with their new Beluga, now sporting the Kenissi movement.
New with comprehensive Review: Ultramarine Beluga
The new Ultramarine Beluga is available in three colour options and fourth limited edition of 100 pieces in partnership with Sea Sheperd. The non limited versions will retail at EUR 2,400 for rubber, leather or recycled NATO strap and EUR 2,650 in stainless steel bracelet. These will be offered at 20% off till end of Feb, and 10% off till end of March. The 100 piece numbered limited edition Sea Shepherd retails for EUR 2,400 on recycled NATO strap and EUR 2,650 on steel bracelet. Prices are before taxes.
We have been previously impressed with the work from independent microbrand Ultramarine and their commitment to being fully manufactured in Switzerland. Their Albatross was their first offering. A three handed simple time only watch which carried the moniker “I.O.E.S” proudly on the dial – an abbreviation standing for “Intégralement Ouvrés en Suisse” in French, meaning Fully Manufactured in Switzerland. A second watch soon followed, and this was the Morse, with a UTC feature. And it too carried the designation I.O.E.S. The company is based in Paris with Founder and Chief Designer Lionel Bruneau. Lionel is not a watchmaker but was a collector who turned his considerable talent into designing and making watches. The watches are designed by Lionel, and with hand selected components.
I.O.E.S. vs Swiss Made
The Ultramarine catalog now adds the third line, the Beluga – a diving watch equipped with the coveted Kinessi and a sapphire glass bezel. We had the prototype watches with us for an extended loan of about a month, where we put the watches in its paces. Our main review is based on the Blue Beluga, which strikes us as the most beautiful of the lot, but we also had on hand the Ice Blue, the Black and also the Sea Shepherd. We understand that though the prototypes we have been loaned carry the I.O.E.S designation and thus shown in our photographs, Lionel has decided not to pursue the high expense of being 100% Swiss made, but still retaining the “Swiss Made” accreditation. Their webpage and shop site show images of the watches with I.O.E.S., but say Swiss Made in the description.
We understand that this is because the I.O.E.S. designation requires additional expense, and will make the Beluga more expensive. We estimate a premium of about EUR 800/1000 for each watch. And though this had been a unique selling proposition for Ultramarine, it will make the Beluga a tough sell in the face of the competition (see Competitive Landscape below). We support this decision to lower the asking price and to make a compromise to be just Swiss Made. In our view, there is nothing inherently wrong with Swiss Made, or Made in Germany, or Made in Japan, or even Made in China. Our view is to support manufacturers who are transparent on the origins of their products, and Ultramarine has certainly shown their honesty. For more on this issue, see our article on Edouard Meylan of Moser with his Make Swiss Made Great Again campaign.
We do note that the retail pricing still carries a premium over the Eterna powered models (which are I.O.E.S.) to reflect the use of Kenissi movements. For now till the end of February, the non limited Belugas are offered at a 20% discount.
The case, dial and hands
The Beluga gets its inspiration from the white whales and their inherent character of being extreme mammals who live and hunt under pack ice. The beluga whale is an endangered species whose habitat is shrinking, and the collection is a dedication by Ultramarine to highlight this intelligent animal and its natural environment.
The case measures 40mm in diameter and is 13.5mm thick. The case construction is a three piece, with the case middle forming the tonneau shape with strong shoulders leading to the lugs, with the right side of the case featuring a widened portion which acts as a crown guard. The other two components of the case is the bezel and the steel screw down case back.
The case finishing is an alternate of satin and polished areas. The bezel uni-directional rotating bezel is topped with a lightly domed sapphire glass and features large raised bands on its sides for good grip under gloves. The crown is also rather massive for the same reason, and is screw down for a good water resistance rating of 300m.
The dial is the classical diver watch layout with large and strong design elements for the markers. The hour and minute hands are large javelin styled with infilling of SuperLuminova. The central sweep seconds is a long, elegant affair with a lollipop on the long end, also infilled with lume. The hours of 12, 3, 6 and 9 are large Arabic numerals, with elongated trapezoids for the other hours. The minute track sits at the periphery. And the bezel features minute markers from 0 to 15 as a scale, with the 15, 30 and 45 in Arabic numerals and the other 5 minutes being marked by elongated trapezoids.
All the markers are generously coated with Superluminova SL BGW9. And legibility of the dial is excellent both in good and poor lighting.
The bezel operates with a satisfying clicks. The winding crown is also very sturdy, and feels very strong and secure as it screws in. The Beluga fits nicely on the wrist, with the case being “right sized”, and we are particularly taken by the beautiful hue of the blue dial and bezel.
The case back is closed, and features a stainless steel screw down back with engravings of a couple of diving belugas. The back’s relief engraving features this motif as well as wording which spell out the brand, model and other verbiage. As noted above, the I.O.E.S engraving will probably be replaced with Swiss Made.
The movement is the Kenissi 5402-01, which is COSC certified, and beats at 28,800 bph with 27 rubies offering a power reserve of 70 hours. We did not get the opportunity to open the case back to examine the movement finishing, but remain satisfied that this movement is finished to a good engineering level without much haute horlogerie embellishments. This is par for the course at this pricing level.
In operation, we found the watch to keep good time and is reliable.
The competitive landscape
Diving watches are aplenty. The landscape is not lacking in competition. And at EUR 2,400 the pricing for the UIltramarine Beluga is very competitive in the mid-priced diver range.
At this price point, we must consider the watches powered by the same or similar Kenissi movement. First up, the very large collection from Tudor’s Black Bay or their Pelagos series. We pick the Black Bay Fifty Fifty Eight as a candidate, but reckon that all Tudors will be good alternatives. The pricing is set higher at EUR 3,200 and it also carries the Kenissi movement. Kenissi is rather selective on who the movements are allowed to be associated with. As far as we know, Ultramarine is the only “micro brand” who are using the Kenissi movements. The other maisons who have access to the movements are investor partners Tudor, Chanel, and Breitling. The movement is also used in various models from Norqain, TAG Heuer and Fortis.
Our next consideration is another Kenissi powered dive watch – the Breitling Super Ocean. In the classic Breitling style, the Super Ocean is available in 4 different case sizes from 36mm to 44m. The prices are retailing circa EUR 3,200. One more Kenissi equipped candidate might be Norqain Neverest. We do note that the Norqain is not a diver watch, rather an adventure/explorer styled timepiece. But it falls in line with the EUR 3k pricing level. Yet another Kenissi powered diver is the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Pro 1000 SuperDiver which features a 1000m water resistance and is considerably more expensive at a retail price of EUR 6,450.
And perhaps an unlikely competitor, but the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (retailing at an even higher SGD 23,200 or about EUR 16,200) might also be seen as a competitor. The Blancpain is perhaps a different category of fish altogether. The movement is the beautifully finished Blancpain caliber 1315 (formerly F. Piguet), with a five day power reserve, a big date feature and a silicon escapement with antimagnetic properties. In addition, the Fifty Fathoms family carry the bloodline to the first diving watches ever. But the Beluga is a doppelgänger for the Fifty Fathoms, so this comparison is in its favour. As an anecdote, I was in a cafe with a friend, and another customer in the table next to us, leaned over and asked me if I was wearing a Blancpain while I was wearing the Ultramarine Beluga.
As we can see here, the decision to be only Swiss Made is done to allow the Beluga to undercut its major competitors, allowing it to come in at EUR 2.4k against the sea of competition at circa EUR 3.2k. None of the competition are I.O.E.S. anyway, and thus this comparison is par for the course.
We found the Ultramarine Beluga to be fit for purpose. This a beautiful dive watch. The finishing of the entire watch is very good and stands well when compared to the other Kenissi equipped watches in our Competitive Landscape survey, while coming in at a lower price.
A serious attempt by a small maison, with a keen eye for detail and for quality. The month or so when the sample watches were with us, it did not miss a beat. The watch was a pleasure to wear. It was accurate, reliable. And also very beautiful. Overall, an impressive effort from a small independent, and one which gets our approval a value for money diver watch.
Extra! Hot off the press: A steel bezel version!
Just as we are about to publish this review, Lionel emailed and told us that he has decided to add three more models to Beluga range, with a steel bezel in all three dial options. The overall impression of the Beluga now changes from being a lookalike for the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms to one which looks more like a more generic dive watch
Prices for the steel bezel line is the same as the ones with sapphire glass bezel. And for us, we feel this is a good thing that manufacturers offer more choice.