Introducing the Ulysse Nardin Diver Starry Night and Marine Torpilleur
Thanks to its early marine chronometers, Ulysse Nardin is often associated with the ocean. These watches pay homage to this with dials that evoke the heavens that once guided intrepid seafarers to port.
It is rare for a brand to be so many things at once. Ulysse Nardin is simultaneously a staunchly traditional and avant-garde brand. It is known for two separate wings of its history. On the one hand, it is an esteemed producer of marine chronometers. Its timepieces were renowned for shepherding bold sailors from harbor to home and back again. Few names in our industry illicit the same level of respect in this field as UN, and yet, in modern times, it is for something quite wild (one might go as far as to say freakish) and far from the high seas for which the brand is best known.
While the brand’s early chronometers were concerned with the survival of the mariners who relied upon them, the release of the Ulysse Nardin Freak platform in the early 2000s busied itself with the survival of the industry.
Setting the stage
At that time, at the turn of the century, watchmaking was at an inflection point. The mechanical craft had risen from the grave, buoyed by a complete reevaluation of what a watch was and why one should be worn. Watches were suddenly collectible. The industry was thriving but seemed perplexed by its own existence. How long could this continue? For how much longer could these old brands keep on making old watches and hope to survive? Somebody needed to do something. Something needed to change. Somehow, the industry needed to reinvent itself once more.
Just twenty years after it looked like the quartz crisis had put the final nail in the coffin of traditional watchmaking only for it to be saved by a quartz-regulated phenomenon (Swatch), traditional watchmaking was once again rescued by an unlikely hero — a legacy watchmaking brand that abruptly decided to focus on thoroughly non-traditional watchmaking.
The Freak was born. The gloves came off. Modern watchmaking became an exciting place to be because, at long last, it was finally modern. Ulysse Nardin continued to develop and diversify its Freak line but, despite always being revered and even beloved, the brand did not perhaps receive its due.
A shifting wind
Finally, that is changing. Under the watchful eye of Jean-Christoph Sabatier, Chief Product Officer of Ulysse Nardin for the past seven (almost eight) years, the brand has firmly found its feet in this era. The catalog is sorted into distinct collections: the Freak, the Blast, the Classico, the Marine, and the Diver. There is something for everyone in the current lineup. The Freak, the Blast, and the Classico represent the more experimental lines of the brand, while the heritage of UN is perpetuated by the Marine family and the adventurous, hands-on spirit is exemplified by the Diver models.
Today, we’re treated to new additions for the Marine and Diver lines. In an unexpected twist, aventurine has been used for both dial displays. Initially, it perhaps feels more at home on the Marine (a dressier, more traditionally styled watch to begin with), but, for me, as an avid fan of the Ulysse Nardin Diver collection, seeing one of my favorite dial materials deployed on one of my favorite dive watch platforms is both exhilarating and bizarre. Does it make sense from a practical perspective? Maybe just about as much as the forty diamonds studding the uni-directional bezel do, but the aim of this piece is clear from the get-go: this is a testament to the brand’s abilities, not a dive watch intended to be used at the maximum depths its robust construction can endure.
It’s a funny thing to countenance as a designer. To look at a watch and know that by all teachable metrics, the piece in question should not work, only to find yourself admitting (even if a small amount of duress is required to elicit such an admission) that it’s so beautiful you just don’t care.
That’s where I am with the Diver Starry Night. It is not a tool watch. Or, rather, it was a tool watch, but since the aventurine dial and diamonds crashed the party, it ceased to be. What it is, is something other. It is a celebration. It’s arguably the most dinner-ready desk diver in the history of watchmaking. This watch knows it isn’t seeing a drop of the drink, and it’s fine with it. Perhaps it could bring itself to make it as far as the beach, but actually SCUBA diving? I doubt it.
However, despite its thematically incongruous design, it succeeds in dressing the Diver in its finest frock yet. Consequently, it may be one of the better watches intended for women on the market today.
I don’t want to speak for female watch fans, but it is pleasing to see a watch concept that was previously targeted at men, treated so sympathetically. It is smaller than the standard model, but not by much. The Diver Starry Night measures 39 mm in diameter versus the 42 mm of the standard line. So too is the automatic caliber retained. Yes, there are diamonds on the bezel, but they don’t feel as condescending as they would on a miniaturized quartz-regulated version of the same watch. And perhaps the addition of aventurine, a material that manages to straddle the gender divide, almost softens the diamonds’ presence. It feels more thought-out, more considered, more serious a watch than many targeted at women (even today).
But what is aventurine? Well, truth be told, it can be one of two things. There is a stone called aventurine that is also used in watchmaking on occasion (it has a very similar appearance), but more common is aventurine glass (or “avventurina”, which literally means “accident” in Italian). That’s what we see here on both the Diver and Marine Torpilleur models.
The story goes that sometime during the eighteenth century on the island of Murano in Venice (famous for its fineglassware), a glass-maker accidentally knocked a pot of copper filings into a cauldron of molten glass. The resulting material with its metallic inclusions became highly desirable. The goal, of course, is to create aventurine glass with a uniform distribution of metallic flecks and free from any bubbles or impurities. Achieving that is not easy. The results, however, as we can see with these two stand-out pieces, make the effort worthwhile.
There is something even more special about the Diver model’s dial, however. Amazingly, a thin layer of aventurine glass has been placed over a thin layer of Mother of Pearl, which has created this swirling, cloud-like, nebula-esque effect on the dial. It is, in a word, stunning.
For the Marine Torpilleur, the aventurine dial is a departure from the norm. This exclusive 300-piece limited edition is presented in a 42 mm stainless steel case and boasts a double-counter display with the moon phase and small seconds indication at 6 o’clock and the watch’s 60-hour power reserve (thanks to the in-house UN-119) displayed at 12.
It is truly a fusion of the brand’s heritage and its hopes for the future. The styling recalls the classic marine chronometers, the dial extols the brand’s investment in keeping artisanal crafts alive, and the movement, with its ultramodern escapement (comprising a silicon balance spring as well as a DIAMonSIL escapement wheel and anchor), is a glowing advocate for innovation.
In my humble opinion, Ulysse Nardin is heading in the right direction, and I for one couldn’t be happier that one of the most storied brands of our craft has such a rosy road ahead of it.
Ulysse Nardin Diver Starry Night
Reference: 8163-182B1-3A/3A (rubber strap), 8163-182B1-3A/1A (alligator strap)
Movement: Automatic caliber UN-816
Functions: Time and date
Case: 39 mm wide stainless steel case set with 40 diamonds (0.8 carats), water-resistant to 300 m
Strap: Blue structured rubber strap or white alligator leather strap, with stainless steel tang buckle
Price: USD 14,700 excluding taxes
Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Moonphase Aventurine
Movement: Automatic UN-119 Manufacture caliber with DIAMonSIL escapement wheel and anchor
Functions: Moonphase. Hours, minutes, small seconds.
Case: 42 mm wide stainless steel case, water-resistant to 50M
Dial: Aventurine with double counter: power reserve indicator at 12 o’clock, small seconds and moon phase disc at 6 o’clock
Strap: Blue alligator strap, leather strap
Price and availability: Limited to 300 pieces, USD 13,600 excluding taxes
MORE STORIES ABOUT ULYSSE NARDIN
|Self-winding caliber SW200-1b; 41-hour power reserve
|Hours, minutes and seconds
|41.5mm; 316 steel with Cerulean blue stonewashed Cerakote coating, matte vintage navy aluminium bezel insert; water resistant to 300m
|Matte vintage navy; hour markers outlined in Super-LumiNova
|Vintage navy TPU-coated nylon; additional vintage navy nylon with fabric keepers
|Limited Edition of 200 pieces