One of the most intriguing new watches shown at Baselworld begins arriving at local retailers this month. It’s the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon, featuring the new constant force Ulysse Anchor Escapement.
It’s probably safe to say that Ulysse Nardin is the undisputed king when it comes to the innovative use of new materials in watch movements, and especially in that most critical set of components, the escapement. Credit also goes to the esteemed watchmaker and polymath Ludwig Oeschlin, who recognized the benefits of silicium, aka silicon, early on. Bear in mind that Ulysse Nardin does not just use new materials, it develops them, working with a company it co-owns called Sigatec.
A quick historical review shows that in 2001, UN ushered in the age of silicon with its groundbreaking Freak. In 2002, it was the first to test a diamond balance spring, and in 2005, it used silicium in its Dual Ulysse escapement. It was also the first company to use silicium as a kernel for growing diamonds, giving rise to its proprietary DIAMonSIL material, which is essentially diamond-coated silicon.
The Ulysse Anchor Escapement is the culmination of eight years of research and development, and it is an undoubted world first. UN showed a prototype version at Baselworld last year. This year it’s finished, working, and ready for sale. The new escapement is fabricated entirely from silicium, and it features an entirely new architecture that exploits the elasticity of flat silicon springs.
The new Ulysse Anchor Escapement features a circular frame with a pallet fork fixed in the center, supported in space on two blade springs less than a tenth of the thickness of a hair in diameter. Mounted perpendicular to each other, these are subjected to a bending force that curves them and maintains them in a bi-stable state. If you’re experiencing a flashback to Girard-Perregaux’s constant force escapement, some of the basic concepts are similar, but the implementations are quite distinct. The impulse provided by each alternation of the balance wheel transmits its energy to the blades, which snap from one stable state to the other. The pallet pivots backwards and forwards about a virtual (nonexistent) pallet staff, so there is no friction.
The redesigned pallet fork incorporates an integral resetting face. As the escape wheel tooth slides along this surface as far as the banking face, it will bring the pallet fork back every time to within just 3° of the center line – that is, the imaginary straight line between the center of the balance wheel and the center of the escape wheel which defines the system’s equilibrium limit. Ulysse Nardin says that the effort that the balance wheel exerts to push the pallet fork as far as its tipping point is less than the effort that is restored to it immediately afterwards by the bending of the blade springs. This positive energy balance maintains the oscillations of the balance wheel at a constant rate, regardless of the state of wind of the two mainspring barrels, making it a major step forward in chronometric performance. To top it off, this impressive new construction is housed in a 60-second tourbillon whose cage comprises 35 components but weighs only 0.4 grams.
The caliber UN-178 that incorporates the new escapement will be housed in either a rose gold or a white gold case. The thoroughly modern development will be visible through an aperture in a classic white Grand Feu enamel dial created by Donzé Cadrans, a dial-making specialist owned by Ulysse Nardin. The Anchor Tourbillon will be available in two editions of 18 pieces each each, priced in the U.S. at $89,400 in rose gold, and $93,600 in white gold. Technical specifications appear below.