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In Conversation With Jean-Christophe Sabatier, Chief Product Officer at Ulysse Nardin

James Gurney 2 Minute Read
Ulysse Nardin Marquetry.png

Ulysse Nardin has an intriguing dual personality as a watch brand being both traditional watchmaker, producing higher end simple watches with an essentially traditional feel (even if the aesthetics are quite contemporary), and horological revolutionaries of the most extreme sort, this being the brand that almost accidentally introduced silicon to watchmaking some twenty years ago.

That duality is not accidental as Jean-Christophe Sabatier, Ulysse Nardin’s Chief Product Officer, revealed when he was showing me the new Blast Free Wheel Marquetry. “We sometimes try and make the extraordinary wearable and at others, we are trying to twist what people expect from a watch.” It was with this in mind that a team of movement constructors, casemakers and designers brainstormed the concept behind the Free Wheel. The starting point was the ‘flying anchor’ that Ulysse Nardin developed in 2015 as part of a Constant Force tourbillon. This uses the way silicon components can be designed to do several functions in a single part to make an escapement anchor that can seemingly float over the escapement wheel.

“We’re used to ‘flying tourbillons’ and to ‘mystery’ devices where the hands seem to have no connection, so we thought we’d push the idea.” The result is a watch where you can see a gear train that runs from the spring barrel to the hour and minute hands floating over the dial but seemingly with no connection to either the tourbillon or the power reserve. That the case is clearly designed to open the movement up to view from side only increases the illusion, though as with the original mystery clocks the parts are really linked out of sight.

Turning the watch over only hints at the solution to the mystery as the silicon plate is pierced by a set of bearings that don’t match up to the elements on the front side, teasingly suggesting connections that are hidden from view.

“The way the watch is designed is meant to make you think about what you don’t see, but at the same time, we want this to be a watch that’s wearable, almost normal.” And if the flying tourbillon doesn’t catch your eye, the inlaid wafers of etched silicon surely will. There are 130 separate parts in the silicon marquetry design with subtly varying levels of profile (between 0.30mm and 0.35mm) meaning that the design seems to change with every slight movement of the watch.

The sleight of hand extends even to the case which has alternate mirror and satin polished surfaces that would be impossible to achieve using normal techniques given the angles – the ‘satinisation’ of those interior planes is actually done by laser.

The result is a watch that looks technical but absolutely hides the techniques used to achieve it and it uses silicon technology to enhance purely traditional watchmaking ideas. It’s also meets one of the aims that Sabatier describes as part of Ulysse Nardin’s brand philosophy:, to create watches that catch your imagination.

Find out more about Ulysse Nardin and shop online today

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