Ulysse Nardin: undisputed pioneer of innovations in timekeeping
Without Rolf W. Schnyder in the early 1980s, who knows what would have become of Ulysse Nardin? Following the quartz crisis, which also had serious repercussions for our competitors, there were difficult times for the traditional brand. A visionary entrepreneur, Schnyder’s purchase of the Ulysse Nardin brand heralded a new sense of innovation which pervaded Ulysse Nardin after 1983. Clear evidence of this can be seen in the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei in 1985, the Planetarium Nicolaus Copernicus 1988, the Tellurium Johannes Kepler 1992 or the Perpetual Ludwig 1996, a hitherto unparalleled perpetual calendar. These pieces are accepted as milestones in watchmaking.
Ludwig Oechslin was the driving force behind this and other exceptional timepieces which put Ulysse Nardin back at the very center of the horological world following long years of absence. At the start of the 21st century, he was also the decisive influence behind the first use of a material which had only been known for its use in electronic components up to then: silicium. This was not the only reason why “Freak”, launched in 2001, was the embodiment of a real revolution. Its innovative “Dual Direct escapement” made anchors and escapement wheels as unnecessary as rubies for friction reduction or oil for lubrication. Energy is transferred directly to the balance wheel by two drive wheels made of hard but highly flexible and entirely non-magnetic silicium with extremely smooth surfaces. There is no other way of saying it: this watch heralded an unprecedented new era in mechanical watchmaking. Ulysse Nardin was subsequently the first watch manufacturer in the world to use thermally stabilized silicium for the core of all its conventionally ticking watches. By this, we mean the tiny but absolutely essential balance spring. This made Ulysse Nadin the silicon pioneer of mechanical watchmaking.
Of course, the research did not stop with the introduction of the legendary “Freak”. Quite the opposite. The development team felt particularly invigorated by the challenge and went on to discover the benefits of using diamonds in watch movements. 2005 saw the launch of the “Freak Diamond heart” and with it the first components made from the hardest material currently known to man. Because of the immense costs this entailed, the significantly more affordable “DIAMonSIL” was brought out in 2007. In this watch, the silicium escapement parts are covered in a synthetic nanocrystalline diamond film which has the same hardness and consistency as pure diamond.
In the same year, Ulysse Nardin made a splash again with the “InnoVision 1”. Ten different features in total, this watch was made to stand out. For several hundred years, brass, steel and artificial rubies had played a crucial role in the manufacture of mechanical movements. But now Ulysse Nardin has demonstrated that the time was right for a whole new range of materials and production technologies to be used in watchmaking. Selective photolithography technology had a large role to play in the manufacturer’s innovations. This features “DRIE” (Deep Reactive Ion Etching) and LIGA (the German acronym for Lithography, Electroplating and Molding). This was the first time that these had been combined in one technique, with each technology offering unforeseen possibilities for the design of movement components. This signaled the start of a long road towards new horizons in timekeeping for Ulysse Nardin. At the Geneva Watch Fair SIHH 2017, under the aegis of CEO Patrik Hoffmann, the “InnoVision 2” marks an important milestone for the watch manufacturer, with its ten unrivaled, sensational innovations.
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