Ulysse Nardin is of course no stranger to innovation. The brand has been churning out interesting, innovative watches for ages. Witness The Freak, the Perpetual Ludwig, the Anchor Tourbillon, the Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon (click on the links for full reviews). And this year, the Marine Regatta.
At first glance the Marine Regatta looks like any other regatta watch. Count down function. Chronograph. In addition to the regular timekeeping duties, of course. Water resistance. Many other brands offer one. Bremont, Panerai, Girard-Perregaux, Rolex, Maurice Lacroix and many other brands offer variations. The big innovation for UN comes from working with the partnership with Artemis Racing for the 35th America’s Cup: from the usual countdown, the chronograph automatically starts. In the other regular regatta watches, the sailor activates the countdown, and at the start when crossing the line, has to stop the countdown, and start the chronograph. Not so with the UN Marine Regatta. The watch automatically switches from countdown to chronograph start at the end of the countdown. To understand, let’s take a look at regatta timing.
The purpose of a regatta chronograph is not only to track racing time but also to count down the critical minutes before the racers cross the starting line. This is because, unlike an automobile, the yacht is not able to do a standing start. The yachts will have been already moving when they cross the starting line.
The “Fleet Race”, which takes place on a course marked by buoys, begins with a five, seven or ten-minute countdown at the end of which the yachts begin sailing the course. During this decisive interval of time, the competitors strategically array themselves on the startling line – based on winds and, most importantly, keeping clear of other competitors – in order to cross the line as close as possible to the starting signal. It is the skipper’s role to ensure that his yacht will cross the start line as soon as possible after the starting signal to ensure a head start, but also not to cross the line before the signal to avoid penalty points.
A good start determines the success in this test of skill, tactics and technical expertise. And the standard regatta watch will not only have to be tough enough to withstand the rigours of racing, and the water, but also perform the countdown, and chronograph timing.
Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta
The case, dial and hands
The case measures some 44mm in diameter, but seems massive. It wears large too, and prominent on the wrist. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as this is a tool regatta watch, designed to suit its purpose as worn in a yacht race. The markings on the dial are clean and clear, and highly legible, even at a glance, all the timing information is easily read.
The clever use of colour, contrasting between a beautiful blue and yellow helps. Of course, the yellow is also a design cue which points to the Swedish origins of the Artemis Team.
The massive fluted bezel, cut and bevelled like a large cog wheel with rubber inserts adorns the case. The crown and pushers are machined from solid steel and accented with rubber for better grip in the wet. The crown is screw down to protect the movement from the sea.
The lugs protrude from the case, and curves aggressively to ensure a nice comfortable and snug fit on the wrist. These faceted lugs perfectly integrate the rubber strap featuring titanium inserts and folding buckle.
The Regatta Function
To explain the regatta function, we made an impromptu video with our iPhone at the UN booth in SIHH. Shown in the video is the limited edition Artemis Racing Marine Regatta with the black champlevé dial.
At the very center of the dial is the countdown with an arrow pointing at the yellow minute scale from 0 to 10. Easily readable, this hand can be set with a pusher located at the 10 o’clock and moves in a counterclockwise direction when when the countdown starts. At the same time, the two-way seconds hand of the chronograph ticks away the seconds – in a counterclockwise direction – until the countdown comes to an end. When the countdown reaches zero signaling the start of the race, the seconds hand instantly starts moving in the clockwise direction and begins timing the race, measured by an hours and minutes sub-dial at the 6 o’clock position. Easy to read and precise, designed for those moments during the regatta when each second counts and competitors jump into action.
The movement in the watch is the new UN-155, an in-house caliber made up of 650 components with a power reserve of 3 days. The chronograph is commanded by a traditional column wheel operating at 28,800 bph with automatic winding, and the usual UN refinements like the use of silicon in the escapement wheel. The most impressive component is the inverter mechanism which allow the countdown/chronograph seconds hand to operate bi-directionally to track the countdown and then the race time with no further user action required apart from activating the countdown. And the complicated mechanism to switch from counter clockwise to clockwise automatically.
Movement finishing is best described as adequate for a high engineering standard. This does not stray from the UN philosophy. The finishing will not win prizes for finnasage, but is efficient, well executed, and good. A special nod goes to integrating two chamfered, polished anchors, UN’s calling card, onto the rotor, which also bears a third anchor medallion. It is perhaps a pity that the chronograph works and the countdown works are on the dial side, and not visible from the sapphire case back, denying the viewer the complexity of movement.
The competitive landscape
Many regatta watches are available. Almost one from each of the major sponsors to racing teams. As mentioned, Panerai, Girard-Perregaux, Maurice Lacroix have their offerings. So do Audemars Piguet, Hublot and Rolex. The Rolex offering is the Yachtmaster II, the Yachtmaster I is a souped up Submariner with no sailing credentials, but the Yachemaster II is a true regatta watch based on the chronograph. Yet none of the competition feature an automatic switch from countdown to chronograph start.
Retailing at S$ 24,500 for either dial versions, and S$ 45,900 for the 35 piece limited edition enamel dial version, it remains quite competitive, as with most other UN watches, and also qualify for our #ComplicationsForLess hashtag.
The Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta is perhaps the most interesting, and innovative regatta watch made. The bi-directional countdown/chronograph seconds hand is an innovation that is practical, and comes only because the watchmaker is not sitting in some village in the Swiss Jura dreaming of what the sailor might need (remember Switzerland, though once held the America’s Cup, is land locked). But because the watchmaker is working with real sailors, in this case, with seasoned yachtsmen Loïck Peyron and Iain Percy, both brand ambassadors and members of the Artemis Racing team. This sounds like the very thing to do, and is perfectly logical, but the competition is content with sitting in their ice castle in Switzerland, dreaming about what the sailor might need. For this alone, it wins our hearts. And for this, it wins our Chief Editor’s Choice Award for SIHH 2017.
Coupled with the fact that it is a rather handsome tool watch. With rugged good looks, especially the blue dialed version, it tugs at our heart strings, and makes us want to go sailing.