In the last few years, many watchmaking brands have been narrowing their focus on key pieces or collections; building or rebuilding those collections up as a way to concentrate on the pieces that would work best in a market that, while improving, can still be perceived as unstable. Ulysse Nardin, however, has over the course of this year focused on offering a little something for everybody—making sure that any customer walking into one of their boutiques would find something for themselves. In light of the 2019 edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) coming next January (where has the year gone?), let’s look back at what Ulysse Nardin has unveiled this year.
SIHH 2018 – The Freak Saga Continues
Ulysse Nardin’s biggest bang this year at SIHH 2018 was, without a doubt, the Freak Vision. First introduced in 2001, the Freak was the brainchild of Rolf Schnyder, then-CEO of Ulysse Nardin, and watchmaker and designer Ludwig Oechslin (based on a concept created by Cartier’s Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who consulted at Ulysse Nardin at the time before joining Cartier). The original Freak was decidedly different from anything else in the world of watches – it introduced a carrousel tourbillon with a minute-hand that was also the entire movement. It was also, at the time, the first watch to use silicon components, which is almost a norm in modern watchmaking today.
The Freak has been through many iterations since – Ulysse Nardin uses it as the centerpiece for a lot of its innovation, using different materials and designs to continuously produce something different. 2018 saw the introduction of the Freak Vision, the first automatic watch in the Freak Collection. The design on the Freak Vision turned a new leaf – the carved upper bridge evokes a boat’s hull (tying the Freak with all of Ulysse Nardin’s marine history), the box-domed sapphire allowed for a thinner design than previous models, and there were some technical firsts with the Grinder Automatic Winding System, which boosted the movement’s efficiency and the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Escapement, a constant force escapement made entirely of silicium. And, as always, the Freak Vision is visually arresting – it’s a commanding watch, both in terms of design and in technology, and at a more affordable price than previous Freak models.
While the Freak Vision dominated the airwaves from Ulysse Nardin during SIHH 2018, the brand also introduced the Diver Deep Dive, an appropriately named hulk of a watch with a water resistance of 1,000 meters. Ulysse Nardin’s relationship to water and diving is no secret – the brand has a long history with diving instruments, and that relationship continues to drive its pursuit of partnerships. This year alone, Ulysse Nardin announced new partnerships with free diver Fred Buyle, professional French kite surfer Alex Caizergues, sailing journalist and navigator Sebastien Destremau, and French professional snowboarder turned “waterman” Mathieu Crépel.
And diving remained a strong pillar for Ulysse Nardin. After the Diver Deep Dive, the brand launched later this year, at the Monaco Yacht Show, the new Diver Chronometer collection, comprised of four titanium 44mm pieces with a 300m water resistance. All four watches are modern and bold in design, featuring an inverted bezel with a domed sapphire glass – another innovation from the brand. In fact, as a pre-SIHH 2019 announcement, Ulysse Nardin recently announced an expansion of the Diver collection with four new pieces in 42mm, but with a vintage inspired design. We’ll have to wait patiently until January, however, to get our hands on those.
And to complete its roster in 2018, Ulysse Nardin also expanded its women’s watches with five new Classico Jade 37mm timepieces, steel pieces available in blue, gray or red with a sweet wave of diamonds on mother-of-pearl dials. The design is demure and elegant, and absolutely at home amongst the brand’s offerings in the Classic Collection.
Ulysse Nardin continued to focus on alternative dials and designs for the rest of 2018 with the introduction of the Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel. The 44mm watch has a dial carved from a slab of slate for the rose gold version and a sleek black honeycomb grid for the white gold version. The components of the movement, mainly the tourbillon bridges and the power reserve indicator at four o’clock, look like they’re practically floating in the midst of the black dial. Each component looks separate from the other, and instead of a sapphire caseback to show off the movement, it shows… well, nothing. The movement (the brand new UN-176) is completely on the dial side in an unprecedented design.
So, what’s next for Ulysse Nardin at SIHH 2019? Well, embargo dates prevent us from disclosing that to you (sorry!), but judging from the year the brand has been having, there will be a little something for everyone, and even greater push for innovation.