Introducing Ulysse Nardin’s Sparkling Free WheelBy Israel Ortega
When you take the train from Neuchâtel to the Jura mountains, specifically to La Chaux-de-Fonds, and then on to Le Locle, you come across an endless series of beautiful sights that frame the culture, which has given life to Swiss watchmaking over the last couple of centuries. Especially if you take the tour in winter, the fields, hills, and villages are covered with a white layer of snow that offers a multitude of visual effects due to the impact of light on the surfaces. This is precisely the effect that Ulysse Nardin wanted to create through its exquisite gem-setting on the Sparkling Free Wheel.
The gem-setting technique used in this piece is known as “snow- setting”. It is a complex and meticulous process that requires a great deal of acquired experience. As the name suggests, in this pattern, diamonds of different sizes are placed side by side to completely cover the watch’s surface, like a blanket of fresh snow. Art Setting, a Geneva-based workshop tasked with finishing the Sparkling Free Wheel, has been perfecting this technique for more than three decades.
The Sparkling Free Wheel’s 2,251 pavé-set, top-quality stones have been meticulously selected and comprise a total of 5.90 carats. The diamonds are everywhere— right from the gray gold dial face to the lugs and even the barrel. The black alligator strap has a snow-set clasp as well.
The technical base is the Executive Free Wheel, a watch that really deserves your attention. Launched in 2018, the timepiece offers an unusual, transparent design for the tourbillon complication, as well as a loose and visible arrangement of a few gears and parts.
The Free Wheel’s open design is highlighted by the sapphire glass box at the top that serves as a dust cover for the components that contrast and rise above the surface with a unique technical display and are hardly comparable with other watches. The wheel nodes’ arrangement can be seen as a sort of archipelago of apparently dissociated watchmaking components, crowned at 12 o’clock by the barrel and visually supported by the flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock and the power reserve at around 4 o’clock. The same UN-176 caliber that gives life to the original Executive Free Wheel, can be seen again in this shiny new watch. The movement uses silicon in its high-performance and low-wear Ulysse Anchor Escapement. To all this is added a tremendous power reserve of seven days.
Finally, as a paradoxical consequence of the Free Wheel’s aesthetic and technical concept, there is not much to see through the sapphire caseback, as some of the essential components of the watch are already visible on the front of the timepiece.
With its open walls, extended lugs and the tall crystal dome, the complex gold case complements the movement’s technical design. As you may guess, achieving this level of finish and final appearance for the watch was quite a challenge for the craftsmen. This timepiece —limited to eight pieces and priced at 225,000 Swiss francs— is a fun, contemporary, and mesmerizing proof that Swiss watchmaking’s classic inspirations can still find new interpretations. That charm will always be waiting under the Jura Mountains’ snowy fields and under the diamond-set sparkles of the Sparkling Free Wheel by Ulysse Nardin. You just have to give it a chance.
Movement: Caliber UN-176 Manufacture movement; hours and minutes; power reserve indicator; tourbillon; silicon escapement;18,000 bph; 7-day power reserve
Case: White gold, 44 mm; grey gold dial; diamond snow-setting on case and dial, 5.90 carats; 30-meter water resistance
Strap: Alligator leather with gem-set clasp
Price: 225,000 Swiss Francs
Limited Edition of 8 Pieces