Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ulysse Nardin at Kronometry 1999

Alexander the Great tourbillon
Ulysse Nardin is a watch manufacturer steeped in history; Kronometry 1999, a modern brand that showcases the best in horology. Together, last Thursday, they presented some of the most complicated and astounding watches seen in London this year. Among them, a platinum Moonstruck, the Trilogy of Time set (below), the three-handed Classico, the remarkable Freak Diavolo and the astounding (and winner of world's longest watch name) Alexander the Great Westminster Carillon Tourbillon Minute Repeater (see closeup of the tourbillon movement opposite). The event, hosted in the London outpost of Walter Ronchetti's empire, is almost Bond villain-esque, looking like it was designed by the late Sir Ken Adam, which seems apt, when it's displaying such brands as Hublot, DeWitt, Harry Winston and, of course, Ulysse Nardin.

Nardin was incorporated in 1846 and has 165 years of history behind it, although it's probably the last 25 years or so under Rolf Schnyder's ownership that have seen some of the most innovative designs. It was these designs that were so prominently, and beautifully, displayed on Thursday night, and so charmingly shown by both Walter and the London K1999 Manager, Liam. So. To begin. A little bit about the Classico. This 40mm chronometer was announced a couple of years ago, and has applied markers in rose gold, a silverized starburst dial and a stunning blue seconds hand. Taking cues from (perhaps) Vacheron, this obviously harks back to the wristwatches of yesteryear, and contains UN's in-house automatic Calibre wound by a 22 ct gold rotor, visible through the exhibition back. This style of watch is very much in vogue at the present time, and the Classico will, I'm sure, hold it's own against many of the others in the market. 

The Trilogy of Time
Next up was the Trilogy of Time, a set of three watches that are so complicated, they come with a book and CD to explain how to use them correctly. Even setting these watches requires a great deal of thought and at least a pretty good idea of the phase of the moon! It's a good job that anyone who purchases this set is flown to Le Locle to be shown the watches by the UN staff. But to see them working, displaying the positions of the sun, moon, tides, equation of time and other celestial positions is incredible. The Astrolabium (left), Tellurium (right) and Planetarium (centre) are watches that were first conceived back in 1983. Each has its own speciality and abilities but all three are beautifully finished, with the most exquisite care taken on both the front and back of each watch. In fact, the rotors on these pieces really have to be seen to be believed (see photo below). As another example of the supreme craftsmanship of these watches, take a look at the cloisonné enamel globe on the centre dial of the Tellurium. Of the Trilogy, I think the multi-handed Astrolabium just shaves it for me, although, of course, I'd be happy to take any one of the three! 

Alexander the Great Minute Repeater
The star of the show was the Alexander the Great Westminster Carillon Tourbillon Minute Repeater in rose gold (at left). Following on from the success of the previous Ulysse Nardin repeaters (e.g. the Ghengis Khan and Circus pieces), this model shows a battle scene, involving Alexander the Great (at right, in gold, white gold and red enamel highlights). As the minute repeater is activated, each of the accompanying characters (or jaquemarts as they are known in horological / campanological circles) plays a role in striking the time. It really is quite lovely to watch and I couldn't help but smile when the tiny automatons chime the minutes quarters and hours. The tourbillon is visible through the ground black diamond dial, which can appear grey, black or anything in between, depending on the angle of view. The black diamond is, I assume, a by product from UN's incredibly successful venture into the production of synthetic diamond and diamond-like materials (check out this Royal Blue sapphire movement). Limited to fifty pieces in rose gold (as shown) and a further fifty pieces in white gold, it really is quite extraordinary. There's a closer view of the manual wind UN-78 movement below.

Freak Diavolo
However, for me, the night was special for another reason: the Freak Diavolo was also on show. I'm aware that this watch has some fervent admirers and many who just don't like it at all. I've been a convert for some time now, and this version (or is it a completely new model?) appears to be the best so far. With its ceramic bezel and crownless design, this Freak adds a flying tourbillon into the mix. The silicium escapement never ceases to amaze me, while the tourbillon adds yet another layer of complexity to this watch. I find the design to be almost industrial in nature, while winding the watch remains a very visceral experience. Not only can you watch the huge mainspring through the window in the caseback, but you can also feel the tension building. There's just one problem: the Diavolo is just short of one hundred thousand pounds, and therefore a little out of reach at the moment. 

Many thanks again to Walter, Liam and all at K1999 for the opportunity to see these pieces, and for Ulysse Nardin for allowing us to spend so much time with their Alexander the Great. K1999 can be found at 106 New Bond Street, London W1S 1DN. Further photos of the evening are available in the gallery here.

Click on any of these photos for larger images:
Alexander the Great UN-78
Tellurium rotor detail