Ulysse Nardin UFO
Do you believe UFOs? Fasten your seat belts because Ulysse Nardin is about to take you on a journey through tome to another dimension, where the on-board chronometer is no simple timepiece but a voyage through clock-making’s history and a daring imagining of its future.
This UFO is real. But it is not simply a timekeeper, or an unusual object. It is a work of art. A piece of design; something architectural; a wave made mechanical; a brand-new odyssey into unchartered horological waters.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
To celebrate its 175th
anniversary, Ulysse Nardin takes clockmaking into the realms of imagination by reinventing the chronometer. This UFO might be a table or desk clock, but it is so many other things besides. It’s a swinging mechanical depiction of the movement of the waves. It is a triple-timed zone amalgam of the past, present and future. Once again, Ulysse Nardin has launched something completely unexpected – a new addition to its cabinet of curiosities, inspired by innovation and exploration, the seas and the skies. This UFO contains all of Ulysse Nardin’s horological history in one single object, from the marine chronometers of the 19th
centuries to the Freak in 2001, to the Blast in 2020. It is simply out of this world.
The Marine Chronometer
of the future
175 years ago, Ulysse Nardin was renowned for its incredibly accurate and extremely reliable ships’ watches and marine chronometers. These were prize winning machines, scooping up the first prizes in the chronometry competitions of both Geneva’s and Neuchâtel’s observatories. Forty-five admiralties were kept on course, navigating the high seas thanks to Ulysse Nardin’s superlative craftsmanship.
So how to celebrate the future of the brand, while staying true to the desire to make the best time-measuring tools, which was the challenge Ulysse Nardin set himself in 1846? “Reissuing a watch from the past by reusing vintage codes was not part of our creative intentions for this anniversary object. On the contrary, we wanted to reverse the trend and make a leap forward of 175 years, rather than a leap backward. We always look ahead. We wondered what a marine chronometer designed in 2196 would be like,”
explains Patrick Pruniaux,
CEO of Ulysse Nardin.
With its 675 components, and triple-dialled time zones, the UFO is the futuristic interpretation of what Ulysse Nardin’s designers, engineers, and watchmakers think a marine chronometer should look like in 175 years’ time. This UFO has been designed to guide the explorers of the future, whichever seas they may sail.
Taking the ocean as the ultimate inspiration, the movement of the UFO is that of the waves made mechanical. The entire structure of the clock is built on an imbalance, on a gentle swing which recalls the ebb and flow of the tides, the perpetual movement of the ocean. The secret of the balance is its blue half-spherical aluminum base, which contains a tungsten mass. The base and glass bell are joined by a bayonet mounting system, which looks similar to the old systems of marine chronometers from which the glass could be unscrewed.
Whereas marine chronometers were housed in wooden boxes and set on gimbles to counteract the effect of the ship’s constant sway, Ulysse Nardin reverses this. Here it is the object itself that makes waves when it is nudged gently. Weighing 7.2kg, the UFO swings up to 60° from its axis – an amplitude of 120 degrees – and the engineers have accurately calculated the center of the gravity/mass/inertia ratio, which allows UFO to swing neither too fast nor too slowly and without significantly affecting the operation of the balance.
It isn’t just the UFO’s movement that is inspired by the ocean, the architecture is too. The bell under which this incredible creation is housed suggests floating black and yellow cardinal buoys – objects that also provide inspiration for the X sitting in the spine of the table clock. From above, the construction of the UFO seems almost kaleidoscopic, with its emblem, the marine anchor, dominating the heart of the rosette.
he UFO is mesmeric enough, but attention should also be paid to the ovoid glass bell under which it sways. It has been created by Romain Montero, a 26-year-old artisan glass blower who works for Verre et Quartz, a technical glass-blowing workshop located on the shores of Switzerland’s Lake Neuchâtel. He had the responsibility for handcrafting for every one of the 75 numbered limited-edition UFO glass covers.
“The biggest challenge was the overall aesthetics of the glass tube. To get 50 spotless glass bells, I had to blow out three times the number, 150 bells. You need to blow gently, as if you want to make a soap bubble. Even so, the glass is imperfect at the base and is sensitive to micro-vibrations during blowing, but there is beauty in those imperfections and small flaws,”
To manufacture each 3mm-thick tube, it was necessary to stretch the glass when it was still hot, for more than 45 minutes, using only the naked eye, on a traditional glass-maker’s lathe at temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees. As it is heated the glass is transformed, becomes orange, red, white and morphs through all the hues of pink. The total process takes almost half a day of work: cutting of the glass, blowing, checking the blowing and the measurements, furnace annealing, cutting again, lamination, final and visual inspection, and then cleaning. “From the moment you heat the glass, you disrupt the atoms. It’s the heat that creates the disruption. It’s inevitable. This creates weaknesses in the material that can lead to spontaneous breakage, which is not what you want. You need to release the tension to achieve perfection,” Montero
Like all the most successful voyages, it takes an experienced crew. For this particular journey, Ulysse Nardin decided to collaborate with the celebrated clockmaker Maison L’Epée, who has been manufacturing traditional clocks since 1839 and is now famed for bringing the fantastical imaginings of MB&F’s CEO Max Busser to life.
Comprising 663 components, and with one year of power reserve supplied by its six extra-large barrels, and a balance wheel rim that reaches the spectacular diameter of 49 mm, UFO displays the time on three trapezoidal dials, which are so complex it takes 28 hours to manufacture just eight of them. Having three dials allows the owner to display three different time zones at once, seen from three different angles.
The XXL brass balance wheel beats at 0.5 Hz and the objective is twofold: to maintain a power reserve never before offered – one year – and to make the movement of the object like a meditation; gentle and soothing with ample time to admire one alternation (half oscillation) per second. The addition of a dead- beat second adds to that sense of this table clock being a meditation on time, with the passing of each second uniformly marked.
UFO comes in a wood treasure chest aged as if it been discovered washed up on a beach; something that appears to come from the past but with a message from the future contained within. Inside, you will find UFO, but also its operating instructions, its warranty card and a special place for its winding key. It takes 40 wind-up turns with a square-end stainless steel key to wind up the mechanism for one year. Each dial has its wind-up notch, which is also used to the set the time (four notches in total, one for winding up and one for each time zone wound up using a single key).
Welcome to Ulysse Nardin’s brave new world.
Ulysse Nardin is the Pioneering Manufacture inspired by the sea and delivering innovative timepieces to free spirits.
Founded by Mr. Ulysse Nardin in 1846 and a House of the international luxury group Kering since November 2014, Ulysse Nardin has written some of the most beautiful chapters in the history of Fine Watchmaking. The brand owes its reputation to its ties with the nautical world: its on-board marine chronometers are among the most reliable ever designed and remain very popular with collectors all over the world. A pioneer in cutting-edge technologies and the use of innovative materials such as silicon, Ulysse Nardin is one of the few manufactures with the in-house expertise necessary to produce its own high-precision components and movements. An exceptional level of horological excellence has earned it a spot in the exclusive circle of Swiss watchmaking: the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. Ulysse Nardin is taking action in two main ways to help conserve the oceans: reducing marine plastic pollution and developing scientific knowledge in shark conservation, animals which are its emblem. Today, from Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, Ulysse Nardin continues its quest for watchmaking perfection around four pillars: Marine, Diver, Blast and Freak. In 2021, Ulysse Nardin is celebrating its 175th
anniversary and is offering fans of exploration a vertical odyssey, from the ocean depths to the upper atmosphere.