Celebrating Success: Ulysse Nardin Marine Collection

Celebrating Success: Ulysse Nardin Marine Collection

Le Locle, Switzerland, situated in the Jura Mountains, is well known for long and bitter winters, the kind of place that has a short time to plant and sow for sustenance over the snow-laden days to come. As a way to supplement their resources, many of the inhabitants learned to produce timekeeping instruments for sale and trade. Ulysse Nardin was born in Le Locle in 1823 and first trained under his father, Léonard-Frédéric Nardin. Later he would continue to perfect his skills by working with two master watchmakers, Frédéric-William Dubois and Louis JeanRichard-dit-Bressel.

At only 23 years old, Nardin founded his own company in Le Locle in 1846. His love of the sea led the company to become one of the first manufacturers to design and produce all manner of seafaring instruments. His work on both pocket and marine chronometers has since become a standard of reference for civil, military and scientific timekeeping tools.

The Ulysse Nardin company headquarters, 1908
The Ulysse Nardin company headquarters, 1908

Setting the Standard

In 1860, Nardin acquired a high precision astronomical regulator by Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, a device that would allow him to calibrate his pocket chronometers to a high degree of precision. By this time, Ulysse Nardin’s minute repeaters, complications and pocket chronometers were known around the world for their quality and reliability. By his death in 1876, the company was well established as a gold standard in seafaring instruments. His son, Paul- David Nardin, rose to lead the company to 10 Gold Medals under his era (in Paris, Chicago, Milano, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Bern, Genova and Liège) for his pocket and marine chronometers and was awarded two Swiss patents at the end of the 19th century in 1890.

Expanding Reach

Under the Paul-David Nardin generation, James Pellaton, the famous watchmaker who specialized in the tourbillon complication, produced a very limited number of pocket watches. There were nine pocket chronometers with tourbillon escapements introduced by the turn of the century, an innovation that improved accuracy to another degree. His work in miniaturization led to timepieces that were much easier to carry and use on board and attracted the interest of the US Navy. In 1907, the company won the top 11 spots for the US chronometer contest and became the official supplier for the Navy. The manufacturer has been supplying navies across the world, including the United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia and Japan. They’ve supplied more than 50 navies, institutes and astronomical observatories through the decades.

The Big Win

The story of how Ulysse Nardin won the chronometer contest and contract with the US Navy is an important one. In February 1904, the Navy, under Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, advertised a competition for “Torpedo Boat Watches” where all the watch manufacturers were invited to compete. On November 7, 1904, The New York Times published an article stating that the American government was scouting for watches to equip its marine officers, with prices varying from $75 to $150. The first competition was held in 1905, from February 14th through June 19th. During the competition, the Navy considered not only the on- board position of the watch, but also the temperature and saturation of humidity in the air.

Out of the 35 models that were sent into the first competition, only 11 Swiss models were accepted by the US Navy, 10 of which came from the workshops of Ulysse Nardin. The US Navy immediately bought those that placed in the first five finishing spots. The manufacturer’s shipboard chronometer No. 10977 was ranked first. Its average daily deviation under all extreme conditions was 1.25 seconds. At constant temperature, the chronometer was measured at an outstanding 0.00026 seconds.

An article about the Ulysse Nardin Deck Chronometer made for “torpedo boats”
An article about the Ulysse Nardin Deck Chronometer made for “torpedo boats”
Ulysse Nardin Chronometer Pocket Watch made for the US Navy
Ulysse Nardin Chronometer Pocket Watch made for the US Navy
US Navy Submarines, circa 1942
US Navy Submarines, circa 1942

The watches delivered to the US Navy had cases made from silver, were fitted with a cover to protect the watch from dust, and they had an enamel dial with the power reserve indicator. The first deliveries were equipped with a single-boom racket, a Guillaume bimetallic cut balance and a Swiss anchor.

Ulysse Nardin’s selection of cut balances known as Guillaume was vital in the performance of these watches during chronometry competitions. Paul-David Nardin conducted research with Charles- Édouard Guillaume, a physicist who specialized in watch precision research through his work on metals and alloys less sensitive to thermal variations and oxidation. While American watch companies equipped their watches with pendulums and steel balance springs, Ulysse Nardin did otherwise and excelled in the temperature-related tests. The choice of Ulysse Nardin watches by the US Navy led to universal recognition of their precision watches by many of the world’s other navies, which translated into it becoming a supplier to 50 navies.

Modern Timepieces

During World War II, Ulysse Nardin equipped the American and other Allied ships with the chronometers. With the postwar dismantling and overhaul of ships, some of the US Navy’s chronometers were sold off in the 1970s; yet others remained active in service until the 1980s.

In the early 1980s, Ludwig Oechslin, a man already widely known for his work in restoration of the astronomical clock in the Vatican Library and who later famously curated the International Museum of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds from 2001 to 2014, began working with Ulysse Nardin.

The work Oechslin did under the guidance of Rolf Schnyder led Ulysse Nardin through a period of technical milestones, innovation and a disruption of watchmaking status quo. In 1996, for Ulysse Nardin’s 150th anniversary, he created the revolutionary Perpetual Ludwig. It is the only perpetual calendar in history to allow forward and backward adjustments of each calendar function — month, year, and the big date, with the quick setting position of a single crown. Oechslin’s work on the perpetual calendar led to several patents. To honor its success in chronometry, Ulysse Nardin had the Perpetual Ludwig undergo vigorous testing by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC), and it was issued with an official chronometer certificate.

Ludwig Oechslin (right) pictured with Rolf W. Schnyder (Ulysse Nardin)
Ludwig Oechslin (right) pictured with Rolf W. Schnyder (Ulysse Nardin)

The Marine Torpilleur 175 Years Collection

To this day, Ulysse Nardin is synonymous with the sea. The Marine collection boasts some of the most accurate chronometers in the world and includes several complications and models with exemplary quality and splendor. The collection was launched in 1996 and continued its exceptional chronometer journey through innovation. The Marine Torpilleur (French for “torpedo boat”) model was launched in 2017 as tribute to Ulysse Nardin’s rich history with the US Navy and other navies.

Marine Torpilleur in the foreground with historical chronometers in the background
Marine Torpilleur in the foreground with historical chronometers in the background
Marine Torpilleur Panda with Marine Chronometer 150th Anniversary from 1996
Marine Torpilleur Panda with Marine Chronometer 150th Anniversary from 1996

In 2021, to celebrate 175 years of watchmaking, Ulysse Nardin has presented seven new Marine Torpilleur timepieces featuring in-house COSC-certified automatic movements, complications and enameled dials. The manufacturer’s collaborations with Donzé Cadrans, an enameling workshop based in Le Locle that was acquired by Ulysse Nardin in 2011, has been able to preserve the artisanal practice, which requires over 90 percent of the enameling process to be done by hand.

Intricate handwork for making a dial
Intricate handwork for making a dial
Intricate handwork for making a dial

The Marine Torpilleur features the rich navy blue enamel that is a standout feature for the entire collection. The white Roman numerals are elongated for an elegant effect and the matching navy alligator leather strap complements the stainless steel case. The lightest touches of gold in the subdials add just a hint of sparkle. The watch comes in a limited edition of 175 pieces.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur

Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur

Tech Specs

Ref 1183-310LE-3AE-175

Movement: Self-winding caliber UN-118; 60-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, oversized small seconds and date
Case: 42mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 50m
Dial: Blue enamel; elongated white Roman numerals STRAP Blue or brown leather; stainless steel folding clasp
Price: USD 11,500
Availability: Limited edition of 175 pieces

Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Panda

The Marine Torpilleur Panda is a wonderful take on the duo-tone dial with a creamy white dial and navy blue subdials and oversized Roman numerals. The 42mm stainless steel case and brown alligator strap add to the textured appeal of the first panda dial in this collection. This watch is available in a limited edition of 300 pieces.

Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Panda

Tech Specs

Ref 1183-310LE-0A-175

Movement: Self-winding caliber UN-118; 60- hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, oversized small seconds and date
Case: 42mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 50m
Dial: White with blue counters; elongated blue Roman numerals
Strap: Blue or brown leather; stainless steel folding clasp
Price: USD 8,200
Availability: Limited edition of 300 pieces

Ulysse Nardin Torpilleur Annual Chronograph

The Torpilleur Annual Chronograph is also available with a choice of white or navy dial. The navy dial has eye-catching gold accents that tie in wonderfully to the brown leather strap for a watch with a sophisticated finish. The white dial is a cleaner version with blue numerals and the lightest touch of red accents. The silver sub-counters for chronograph and the annual calendar offer a well-balanced visual. The UN-153 movement improves upon Ludwig Oechslin’s invention where the settings are adjustable both forward and backward by operating the crown, making it easy to set both the time and date. Each version of this watch is limited to 300 pieces.

Ulysse Nardin Torpilleur Annual Chronograph

Tech Specs

Ref 1533-320LE-0A-175 (white) / 1533-320LE-3A-175 (blue)

Movement: Self-winding caliber UN-153; 52- hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph, date and annual calendar
Case: 44mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 50m
Dial: White or blue; elongated blue or white Roman numerals
Strap: Blue or brown leather; stainless steel folding clasp
Price: USD 12,100
Availability: Limited edition of 300 pieces in each dial color

Ulysse Nardin Torpilleur Moonphase

The Torpilleur Moonphase is the first moonphase complication for the Torpilleur collection. The Moon’s role in astral navigation makes it a perfect companion to the other timepieces. Available in two dials, one a dynamic white dial with navy numerals and the other a somber navy dial with white numerals, the moonphase complication is lovely and brings a whimsical touch to the collection. The navy blue alligator strap coordinates with the colorway for a touch of subtle texture. The watch is a limited edition of 300 pieces in each dial color.

Ulysse Nardin Torpilleur Moonphase

Tech Specs

Ref 1193-310LE-0A-175 (white) / 1193-310LE-3A-175 (blue)

Movement: Self-winding caliber UN-119; 60- hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, oversized small seconds and moonphase
Case: 42mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 50m
Dial: White or blue; elongated blue or white Roman numerals
Strap: Blue or brown leather; stainless steel folding clasp
Price: USD 9,900
Availability: Limited edition of 300 pieces in each dial color

Ulysse Nardin Torpilleur Tourbillon

Finally, the Torpilleur Tourbillon Grand Feu is a striking new version with an exposed tourbillon in a 42mm, 18K rose gold case featuring a black enamel dial. The UN-128 movement features the constant escapement flying tourbillon that won the Tourbillon Watch Prize at the 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. The black alligator leather strap pairs beautifully with the black enamel and helps the rich rose gold to stand out in contrast. In celebration of the brand’s anniversary, this watch is also a limited edition available in 175 pieces.
The Marine Torpilleur collection is an apropos homage to 175 years of fascinating success by Ulysse Nardin, while also pushing the boundaries of modern watchmaking.

Ulysse Nardin Torpilleur Tourbillon

Tech Specs

Ref 1282-310LE-2AE-175/1A

Movement: Self-winding caliber UN-128; 60-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes and tourbillon
Case: 42mm; 18K rose gold; water resistant to 50m DIAL Black enamel; elongated white Roman numerals STRAP Black leather; 18K rose gold folding clasp
Price: USD 48,400
Availability: Limited edition of 175 pieces

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