Introducing Blast Hourstriker and UFO by Ulysse Nardin
Continuing with our review of the Ulysse Nardin novelties for Watches & Wonders 2021, it is the turn of two specimens that best represent the objectives of the Le Locle based maison. While marine chronometry will always characterize the firm’s creative motif and passions, the interest of its master watchmakers is deeply manifested in these two fabulous creations.
After several years of development, Ulysse Nardin presents the Blast Hourstriker, a new and highly technical wristwatch with sonnerie that raises the volume, literally and figuratively speaking.
Chiming watches are a signature of Ulysse Nardin’s history, mainly since the 1980s when numerous watches with sonneries (along with some eclectic automatons) were developed, marking a glorious era for the maison. More recently, high-end auditive technology found a place in new developments such as the Classico Hourstrike Phantom from 2019. The Blast Hourstriker continues this auditory chronicle with a mechanism that had to satisfy two conditions: allowing the mechanism to be visible and intensifying the quality and power of the sound.
To achieve these goals, Ulysse Nardin engineers created the UN-621 caliber. The mechanics are haute horlogerie delights. It is the first self-winding chiming watch of the house and includes a flying tourbillon to ensure high precision. The use of a variable inertia balance wheel and silicon for the balance spring, escape wheel, and pallet lever helps maintain maximum accuracy and reliability in timekeeping. Of course, the highlight is the striking mechanism, which involved reformulating conventional designs to create the new 330-component device that strikes the hours and half hours on demand.
It all begins with the pusher located at 10 o’clock on the caseband that activates the system powered by its own barrel. The 12-hour rack and the inertia regulator begin to rotate while the hammers (visible at 12 o’clock) hit the elongated gong, whose unique shape eludes the tourbillon assembly at 6 o’clock. This proper sound system, which incorporates a titanium membrane that helps maximize the sonorous marking of the hours, was developed in conjunction with French hi-end sound specialist Devialet (who was also involved in creating the Classico Hourstriker Phantom). The aforementioned membrane is connected to the gong base through a torsion lever that prevents deformation if it were subjected to external forces. With its 0.3 mm thickness, the membrane offers a large surface that moves a good amount of air, thus amplifying the chimes’ sound. The modern design of the Blast case helps the propagation of a high-quality sound. The signature “double X” is cut into the case back of the rose gold case, protecting the membrane and serving as a sound board.
The mechanical concept is accompanied by great aesthetic daring, starring the modular watch case. It uses 18-carat rose gold, but the middle part is made out of titanium, which contributes to the sound’s fine-tuning and lightens the mass. A switch located at 8 o’clock allows the user to mute the chiming mechanism.
Three straps accompany the bold design of the Blast Hourstriker to customize the appearance of the robust timepiece that eludes simple definitions. And yet, in the words of Ulysse Nardin, this is a watch to be enjoyed with the ears.
Ulysse Nardin’s pedigree as one of the top developers of sonneries is safe and sound. After developing the interesting Classico Hourstriker Devailet, it was only a matter of time before this aural technology found new applications. In the world of musical timepieces, there are two contrasting currents of thought: on the one hand, there are those who prefer a sweet, melodic sound, evocative of the romantic and classic watchmaking creations of yore. But on the other hand, in a world overwhelmed with noise, distractions, and mostly crappy pop music, it is just as important to maximize these tiny percussion systems’ volume. With the collaboration of houses like Devialet, the exploration of new possibilities in chiming watches will make a lot of noise, more so with a hard-hitter like Ulysse Nardin.
Ulysse Nardin Blast Hourstriker Ref. 6215-400/02 (Alligator Strap), 6215-400/3B/02 (Velvet Strap), 6215-400/3A/02 (Rubber Strap)
Movement: Mechanical, self-winding cal. UN-621; hours and minutes; flying tourbillon; hour and half-hour striker (on demand); Devialet sound amplification; 28,200 bph; 60-hour power reserve
Case: Rose gold, 45 mm; glass box sapphire glass; screw-down case back with cutouts for sound dispersion; 30-meter water resistance
Strap: Alligator leather, velvet or rubber
Price: HKD 824,700
It’s lovely to see that even in these times of tremendous corporate pressures, some are having fun doing what they do best: creating. The UFO by Ulysse Nardin is an excellent and curious work of watchmaking art.
In principle, the UFO celebrates the 175 years of the brand and seeks to reinvent the chronometer through a triple time zone device whose movement emulates the sea waves’ swaying. The UFO contains all the house’s horological learnings, from its marine chronometers to the notorious Freak.
I’ll let Patrick Pruniaux, Ulysse Nardin’s CEO, explain the intent of the UFO: “For this anniversary, we didn’t seek to simply relaunch a piece from the past or to capitalize on certain historical themes; instead, we wanted to travel forward, leap 175 years and imagine what a marine chronometer would look like in the year 2196”. Pretty cool, huh?
The structure of the 675-component watch —co-created with L’Epée, the specialist in mechanical creations— is built on an unbalanced system. The secret of its operation is a hemispherical aluminum base containing a tungsten mass. The base and glass bell are mounted on a bayonet system similar to those seen on yesteryear’s marine chronometers. The watch itself oscillates at a frequency of 0.5 Hertz. This low rate ensures a long operation —the power reserve is one year— and allows you to contemplate its function in detail.
You will not find a wooden case or a gimble on which the chronometer rests and balances. Here, the object oscillates by itself up to 60 degrees from its vertical axis (for a maximum amplitude of 120 degrees). Engineers calculated the centers of mass and inertia of the 7.2-kilogram device to achieve the desired motion without impairing the chronometric rate. The overall design of this table timepiece takes features from buoys and other marine elements. The crystal bell that protects the device deserves a special mention. It was created by the young craftsman Romain Montero, who worked the glass using traditional blowing methods. For each finished crystal bell Montero had to create, he had to discard two. So, because of its handcrafted quality, each UFO adds a personal and very human touch to its fascinating mechanical coolness.
It is pleasing to see how the inspirational talents of great traditional watchmaking can find reasons for creators to have fun. Considering that precision watchmaking is entirely due to the invention and development of marine chronometers, Ulysse Nardin’s UFO is a beautiful and striking tribute to its history and the new watchmaking chapters it wants to write in the short to very long term.
In a creation like the UFO, the collaboration of the artisans of L’Epée could not be understated. The UFO’s charms are diverse: the daring design, its glacial-slow operation, and the beautiful transparent glass dome that protects it. But I would highlight this one: to wind the watch and grant it a one-year operation, you have to wind it with just 40 turns of its key. This seemingly simple fact is as exciting as it is significant: how such a simple and relatively quick operation can turn into a magical and almost tireless act.
Ulysse Nardin UFO Ref. 9023-900LE-3A-BLUE
Movement: Mechanical set-top clock, hand wound cal. UN-902; hours and minutes; deadbeat second; 3 time zones; 3,600 bph (0.5 Hz); 1-year power reserve
Case: Aluminium and blown glass; 263x159mm; weight: 7.2kg
Limited Edition of 75 Pieces