Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon

Flying High

The Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon fuses a stunning grand feu enamel dial with the captivating spectacle of a flying tourbillon, all beautifully formed in one harmonious horological package.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon

Observing a seabird in flight, one seldom sees the thermals supporting it from below, while above there is simply nothing. The same could be said of the Marine Tourbillon from Ulysse Nardin, the flying tourbillon is supported from underneath but appears to float on a sea of nothingness. Meanwhile, above the revolving cage there is nothing and the whirlwind complication appears almost suspended in the air, beguiling observers with its circular motion.

Ulysse Nardin has a rich history crafting highly precise marine chronometers for navigational use. In this instance, the company has produced a supremely accurate tourbillon, delivering chronometric exactness in a beautiful form.

Indeed, beauty is omnipresent with the Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon. Its wonderfully proportioned case measures a tasteful 43mm in diameter, while the leading edge of the case features a crimped motif. Wherever the eyes survey they are rewarded with bewitching aesthetics. Beyond this attractiveness is a grand feu dial whose allure is colossal and demands the wearer admire its lustrous form for just a few moments longer.

When I was presented with the chance to spend a few days in the company of this exquisite timepiece, I grasped the opportunity and enjoyed an all too brief period of intimate association.

The dial

A sea of grand feu white enamel arrests the attention of the observer. It is crafted by Donzé Cadrans, a subsidiary of Ulysse Nardin. In an atelier in Le Locle, powders are produced, applied to metal discs and then fired. This process is repeated several times thereafter. Ultimately, the dial surface assumes a glorious shining appearance, appearing resplendent in ambient light.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon

The nature of the firing process results in some dials distorting or cracking, leading to them being scrapped. This intrinsic risk makes those dials which survive blemish free all the more prized. The resultant finish of a grand feu dial will not fade with the passage of time, justifying its protracted creation.

The hour and minute hands exude an air of elegance, courtesy of their sinuous profiles. Each hand features a small pocket of luminous fill, evincing a green emission in dim light.

Black Roman numerals mark each hour. Their elongated forms reinforce the perception of elegance and grace. Below noon, a power reserve indicator resides. It is marked ‘Bas’ and ‘Haut’ and sits slightly below the main epidermis of the dial, charmingly playing with depth and underscoring the sense of luxury. When the 60-hour power reserve becomes depleted, the hand of the power-reserve indicator nestles against an area marked in red.

Spanning the east-west axis, from 3 o’clock to 9 o’ clock, the makers name and place of origin are proudly proclaimed. Indeed, Ulysse Nardin should be proud of their efforts as this timepiece features a high quotient of in-house components and expertise.

In the lower portion of the dial sits the mesmerising flying tourbillon. ‘The cage, wheels, screws and hairspring of the flying tourbillon are produced entirely in-house by Ulysse Nardin.’

The tourbillon does not inhibit ease of read-off, allowing other dial elements to shine as well. Moreover, there is no escaping the pulchritudinous quality of the tourbillon at play.

The case

Unusually for a tourbillon the case is not formed in noble metal, but steel. This will gain the approval from some would-be buyers whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing gold. Clearly, by crafting the case in steel this does help to mitigate costs and allows Ulysse Nardin to offer the Marine Tourbillon at a highly attractive price.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon

Again, unlike many tourbillons, the Marine Tourbillon is modestly proportioned, measuring only 43mm in diameter. Ulysse Nardin has perfectly illustrated that to possess a tourbillon does not mean wearing a horological leviathan. This watch is neat and readily nuzzles beneath the cuff of a stylish shirt.

Virtually all surfaces of the case are highly polished but, surprisingly, the watch does not appear showy or excessively flamboyant. Indeed, this watch exudes an air of good taste and quiet understatement.

The bezel features a comely crimped edge which invites extended index fingers to explore its tactile form. The case band tapers inwards as it approaches the case back and possesses concave contours near the lugs. Adjacent 9 o’clock, the serial number of the watch is presented on a cartouche. 

Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon

The crown features a rubber coating on its knurled section, aiding grip, while the vertical flank is presented in exposed steel and adorned with the brand’s logo. Crown protectors are delivered in brushed steel, providing a tasteful dose of contrast with the highly polished case band flanks. 

The lugs of the case are short and taper downwards, making the watch suitable for all but the smallest of wrists. The large screw heads affixing the strap to the case look purposeful and provide a steadfast union between watch and strap. The watch is supplied with a leather strap and steel folding clasp.

The dorsal flank of the case is equipped with a sapphire crystal, allowing sight of the automatic movement within.

The movement

The self-winding UN-128 caliber is a new movement crafted for the Marine Tourbillon. It showcases  Ulysse Nardin’s impressive in-house competence. Typically, tourbillons have a tendency to quaff power, but this movement has a parsimonious thirst sipping only small amounts of energy, resulting in an impressive power reserve of 60 hours.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon

Part of the secret of this modest power consumption can be attributed to the ‘silicium technology’ employed. The escapement and hairspring are made of silicium (silicon) and confer several other useful benefits, including non-magnetic, non-corrosive and low-friction characteristics.

Beyond the cutting-edge technology employed on this movement, Ulysse Nardin has not abandoned the traditional craftsmanship practised by the brand since 1846. Beneath the open-worked oscillating mass reside bridges adorned with circular Côtes de Genève motif. Additional enhancements include blued screws and a spiral-shaped motif, partly visible on a barrel cover.

Returning to the oscillating mass, it features two stylised anchors, the brand’s logo, which includes open-worked sections, granting sight of the bridges below. The central area of the rotor features the brand’s nomen and a blue medal proclaiming the initials of Ulysse Nardin.

The level of finishing on the movement proves most agreeable.

The balance oscillates to a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4Hz) and the movement contains 36 jewels.

Closing remarks

Ulysse Nardin has chosen not to follow other watch companies but take its own route to greatness. The case shape, grand feu enamel dial and flying tourbillon all collaborate to deliver an overwhelming sense of luxury. However, the company has also cleverly chosen to house this watch in a steel case, allowing it to deliver a degree of affordability seldom found on watches of this type.

The beauty of the grand feu enamel dial is simple to see, coalescing with the flying tourbillon wonderfully. The dial has an endearing lustre which is most becoming and proves easy to read. Furthermore, the flying tourbillon does not inhibit ease of read-off, yet is able to seduce with its hypnotic motion.

The Swiss brand has chosen a perfect case size for this watch, making it suitable for a broad array of would-be wearers. The case is beautifully detailed and evinces a muted character which heightens its appeal. In fact, as someone who finds some tourbillons a tad outré, this watch appeals to my notion of good taste.

Finally, the Marine Tourbillon shows the vast capabilities of Ulysse Nardin to create a timepiece with a high quotient of in-house content. From the state of the art movement to the glorious dial from Donzé Cadrans, this company superbly showcases its expertise with this timepiece. Indeed, the Marine Tourbillon provides a metaphor for a company who continues to ascend to ever greater heights.

Technical specification

  • Model: Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon
  • Ref: 1283-181/EO
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 43mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and case back.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; power reserve indicator; 60-second flying tourbillon.
  • Movement: Caliber UN-128, self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 36 jewels; power reserve of approximately 60 hours
  • Strap: Black leather strap supplied with folding clasp.
  • Price: €28,000 (RRP as at 13.4.2017)

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Angus Davies

Angus is a self-confessed watch addict and is frequently asked to contribute to various printed magazines and websites around the globe. He also writes for individual watch companies on matters of horology and has appeared on television and radio as an industry expert.