Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

The Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel breaks new ground with its box-domed sapphire crystal, ingenious Calibre UN-176 Manufacture Movement and interesting dial, comprised of numerous ‘flying elements’.

This detailed review of the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel includes images, specification details and pricing.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

From the moment we are born, our minds are hungry for information. Most individuals are eager to look behind the fascia presented to them and try to uncover any machinations at play. We crave the truth and yearn for knowledge.

In the world of high-end watchmaking, skeleton watches have always piqued the interest of the mechanically curious. However, some skeleton watches can appear ‘busy’, confusing the wearer with a plethora of details which are ordinarily hidden from view. Only the finest skeleton watches  successfully incorporate disclosure and readability.

Recently, Ulysse Nardin, the high-end watch company from Le Locle, unveiled a new model, the  Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel. With this timepiece, the movement components are presented dial-side. Unlike a traditional skeleton watch, the naked watch parts are mounted atop a carved slab of slate, allowing the wearer to admire the numerous components in motion. Moreover, beyond its overt exhibitionism, the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel is endowed with a flying tourbillon, a prodigious power reserve and an innovative ‘Ulysse Anchor Escapement’.

Thanks to its distinctive mien the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel is deserving of column inches. On a recent trip to Switzerland, I had the opportunity to get ‘hands-on’ with this amazing timepiece and appraise its composition at close quarters.

The front of the watch

The Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel is offered in a choice of 18-carat rose or white gold. The selected case material determines the dial surface provided. The white gold version is paired with a ‘black honeycomb grid’, while the rich tones of the 18-carat rose gold case are combined with a slate dial.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

18-carat white gold

The hour and minute hands feature black centres and float above a sea of movement parts. A power reserve indicator is located at 4 o’clock. This consists of a v-shaped pointer which, in combination with a grey scale, indicates the energy stored within the two spring barrels. The power-reserve indicator is held in position with a ‘boomerang’ shaped bridge, a design also employed on the tourbillon bridge.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

Ulysse Nardin has cleverly played with depths, presenting several components in a stacked format. An innovative box-domed sapphire crystal, which apparently took ‘months to research and develop’, confers incredible lateral views of the movement components. Moreover, the space-age crystal illuminates the dial surface, aiding legibility and bathing the exposed movement parts in light, augmenting their allure.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

With the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel, convention is set aside, leaving the most knowledgable horophile wondering exactly how everything works. Each group of movement parts appears discrete with no obvious connection to its neighbour. Some parts of the gear train are positioned beneath the dial and some are shown above the dial.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

At the top of the dial sits the spring barrel, capable of harnessing an incredible 7 days of energy. The flying tourbillon is positioned at 6 o’clock. A conglomeration of blue and purple parts indicates that the movement incorporates silicium (the French word for silicon) technology.

Silicium can be used to make intricately shaped parts to incredibly small tolerances. This provides much freedom when designing components, creating geometric forms that were once considered impossible to produce. In addition, silicium is not subject to corrosion or magnetic influence. Lastly, silicium exhibits low frictional properties, obviating the need for lubrication.  

In this instance, the ‘Ulysse Anchor Escapement’ supplants the ubiquitous Swiss lever escapement. Instead of the customary shellac-affixed jewels, an elaborately-shaped escape wheel engages with two integrated pallets formed of silicium. Moreover, the pallet fork does not rest on a conventional pallet staff, instead it is incorporated into a circular frame that moves without friction.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

Ulysse Nardin state, ‘The pallet fork is fixed in the centre and supported in space on two minuscule blade springs. Mounted perpendicular to each other, they are subjected to a bending force that curves and keeps them in a bistable state. The result is a positive energy balance that maintains the oscillations of the balance wheel at a constant rate without influence of torque variation from the mainspring.’

Despite its incredible technical virtuosity, Ulysse Nardin appears to be bashful. The company’s branding is positioned at 6 o’clock, humbly sitting back and allowing the aforementioned movement parts to steel all of the limelight.

The case

With a case diameter of 44mm, the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel is generously proportioned. However, the watch appears much smaller when worn. I suspect one reason for this illusion relates to the domed sapphire crystal which imbues the watch with a slender appearance, courtesy of the near-invisible glass case walls.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

18-carat white gold

The lug design also makes the watch appear smaller. The triple horn design, draws the ‘carbon leather’ strap (in matt alligator) close to the watch-head in integrated union. There is no space between the strap and the watch-head and the lugs are comparatively short. It is this design language which bestows the watch with a neat appearance. The strap is held steadfastly in position with purposeful screws.

A plaque graces the left side of the case, specifying the watch’s unique reference number. While the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel is not a limited edition watch, by virtue of its protracted creation, exclusivity is assured.

The watch is endowed with an exhibition caseback, granting sight of the hand-wound Caliber UN-176.

The movement

With most of the mechanical manoeuvres taking place front of house, there is little to see via the exhibition caseback. There is a smattering of screws and a handful of rubies, each mounted in gold chatons. Most of the caseback is dominated by a ‘light black’ plate.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

The two barrels harness sufficient energy to confer 7 days of autonomous operation. This is an impressive figure, especially considering the movement has to power a tourbillon cage. The potential weakness of some hand-wound watches, particularly those endowed with a large mainspring, is that torque can significantly diminish as the mainspring relaxes. This can lead to the amplitude of the balance wheel falling and the balance losing oscillations, thereby, compromising precision. No such indignities beset the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel.

This watch features a constant force escapement made entirely of silicium. The aforementioned blade springs flex in a predetermined manner, delivering a constant torque to the balance, maintaining oscillations and ensuring the rate does not fluctuate irrespective of the status of the mainspring.

Closing remarks

The Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel is an incredible timepiece. Its design invites the wearer to hold the watch close to their enquiring eye and contemplate the purpose of each component. Each part is positioned discretely and appears to float above the dial epidermis. Part of the allure of this watch is that nothing conforms to the norm.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

While the numerous components float above the slate landscape, the time indications prove eminently legible. The power-reserve indicator is a welcome function, providing a useful means of tracking the state of wind.

The dial may not be perfectly symmetrical but somehow everything appears pleasingly balanced. The pairing of golden components with the brooding slate canvas proffers cohesion and notable eye-appeal. A sprinkling of blue and purple silicium components provide an additional soupçon of visual allure.

The box-domed sapphire crystal will have proved incredibly difficult to realise. I suspect the polishing of the crystal alone presented many challenges for the Swiss brand. Nevertheless, Ulysse Nardin clearly surmounted these obstacles, resulting in the impressively smooth, distortion-free crystal affixed to this timepiece. The dividend for this creativity is a clear lens that provides the wearer with lateral views, allowing an abundance of light to flood the dial plane and granting a visual lightness which makes the watch appear smaller than its vital statistics would suggest.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel

I also feel compelled to talk about the technical virtue of the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel. The use of silicium, with its low mass and low frictional properties, grants this watch with a parsimonious thirst, manifest with the 7 day power reserve. The highly inventive “Ulysse Anchor Escapement” capitalises on the flexibility of silicium blade springs to curve in a predetermined way, providing a constant torque to the balance and, in so doing, delivering excellent precision.

Ulysse Nardin, founded in 1846, is a Maison synonymous with creativity and technical capability. The Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel features a brand-new Caliber UN-176, entirely developed in the brand’s La Chaux-de-Fonds Manufacture. Furthermore, this watch encompasses a unique design, spellbinding views, courtesy of its ingenious sapphire crystal, and a useful power reserve of 7 days. It is this continuous search for advancement and independence which should resonate with anyone who appreciates fine watchmaking.

Further reading


Technical specifications

  • Model: Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel
  • Reference: 1766-176
  • Case: 18-carat rose gold; diameter 44mm; sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, power-reserve indicator
  • Movement: Calibre UN-176 Manufacture Movement; hand-wound movement; frequency = 18,000 VpH (2.5Hz); 23 jewels; power reserve = around 7 days
  • Strap: ‘Carbon Leather’ matte alligator
  • Price: £87,200 (RRP as at 18.10.2018)