Return of the King: The Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer Manufacture

Ulysse Nardin has a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most radically innovative watchmaking houses. The company’s groundbreaking Freak–a watch in which the entire movement rotates inside a case once per hour, acting as both the hour hand and as a tourbillon–was introduced over a decade ago and is still a benchmark for out-of-the-box thinking in horological design. In complicated watchmaking, there are few companies who can match Ulysse Nardin’s innovation; its world famous “Trilogy of Time” astronomical complications, which show a variety of astronomical phenomena with groundbreaking technical showmanship, have remained, since their introduction, three of the most mechanically sophisticated, aesthetically groundbreaking and even philosophically intriguing watches ever made.

And yet at the heart of Ulysse Nardin’s history is a devotion to a certain form of horological purism: the creation of clocks and watches which were historically not so much noted for their audacity or complexity, but rather for their extreme precision. Historically, Ulysse Nardin was one of the most important Swiss manufacturers of marine chronometers and deck watches—timepieces upon whose accuracy the fate of an entire ship’s company could depend, and whose failure could mean disaster.

The model with the most direct descent from that tradition has always been Ulysse Nardin’s Marine Chronometer 1886, which duplicates both the aesthetics and the accuracy of a classic ship’s chronometer. This year marked a turning point for both Ulysse Nardin and for the Marine Chronometer model, however; for the first time, the Marine Chronometer houses a movement designed and manufactured entirely in-house by Ulysse Nardin, the calibre UN-118.

The movements of ship’s chronometers were designed to be the last word in high precision mechanical timekeeping and the calibre UN-118 is designed in the same spirit. A self-winding movement with a power reserve of 60 hours (in keeping with the marine chronometer tradition of long running times as an aid to reliability and accuracy) the UN-118 is a platform for the latest in material advances in watch movement design. Of these innovations, the most important are in the critical escapement components, which are responsible for actually keeping time in a watch; Ulysse Nardin, borrowing from the semiconductor industry, has fabricated silicon-diamond components which require no lubrication (the deterioration of lubricants in a watch over time is one of the greatest detriments to long-term accuracy in a watch) and which are also immune to the effects of magnetism.

The Marine Chronometer Manufacture is also a classically beautiful watch. In 18 carat rose gold, it’s delivered with a genuine fired enamel dial—another echo of the marine chronometer tradition.

The Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer Manufacture ref. 1186 is a limited edition of 350 pieces in red gold, with a fired enamel dial.  Also offered in two non-limited editions in titanium with gold bezel, or titanium and stainless steel.  All models offered on a leather or rubber strap with matching titanium, gold, or steel accents.

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