December 10, 2021
by David Bredan
Ulysse Nardin represents a dying breed of historic watch manufacturers — the sort that is in touch with its remarkably rich heritage without ceasing to innovate in the fields of technology and design. And because it hasn’t stopped refining its collections and because there is a lot to be learned about its history, Ulysse Nardin has not become absorbed by one or two iconic watches. Instead, it continues to offer some cool new watches with legitimate stories and details attached. The flip side is the fact that these do take a bit of extra effort to discover for oneself. A case in point is the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur 175 Years watch collection.
On a personal note, the more time I spend with Ulysse Nardin watches, and the more I get to chat with some of the folks behind the actual watches & movements, the more fond I grow of this oddball brand. Although quickly recognizable, in my experience, UN is going against the stream by including what is a rarely matched number of little details that can exclusively be appreciated in person and, often, only over extended periods of wear. Again, case in point is the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur 175 Years watch collection that, although I did not like at all judging from official images alone, grew on me the moment I put them on.
The source of both that pro and con is ironically the same thing: proportions. In images, the new 175-year anniversary Marine Torpilleur – more on that name and the story behind it in a moment – looked rather bloated, case-wise, with some petite dial elements added to the mix. In the metal and on the wrist, these nuances fell right into place on these new, smaller, and more refined iterations within the Marine collection, now presented in 42mm- and 44mm-wide cases, depending on the specific version.
Coming in at 42mm-wide are the Marine Torpilleur Blue Enamel, the Marine Torpilleur Panda, the Marine Torpilleur Moonphase, and the striking-looking Marine Torpilleur Tourbillon Grand Feu. The 44mm-wide watch is the Marine Torpilleur Annual Chronograph. The case thickness is impressively low at right around 11mm, save for the annual calendar chronograph that pairs a 13.66mm thickness to its 44mm diameter. All of these are powered by Ulysse Nardin manufacture movements, utilizing a mix of in-house-developed and -produced silicium and DiamonSIL parts for the escape wheels, balance springs, and anchors – no surprise, really, given Ulysse Nardin’s role in the development of these high-tech new components back in the day.
If you see some of the dials of the Marine Torpilleur (spoiler alert) Blue Enamel or the Marine Torpilleur Tourbillon glow in a consistent, soft light, that is because they are, in fact, grand feu enamel, produced by Donzé Cadrans, the specialized enamel dial maker that for a few years now has been owned by Ulysse Nardin. Probably the strongest offering of the lot is the $11,500 Marine Torpilleur Blue Enamel in 42mm-wide stainless steel with a COSC-certified self-winding manufacture caliber with silicium and DiamonSIL components, 4Hz and 60 hours of power reserve, and a numbered limited edition of 175 pieces. Still pricey, but a “horologically strong” package inside and out. The dials on the Annual Chronograph, Panda, and Moonphase are either blue PVD or white varnish.
Now, a bit of history. The Torpilleur collection is named for the small, fast torpedo boats whose agility ensured that they could easily outmaneuver bigger ships. As such, the Torpilleur is a lighter, thinner version of the Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer. What’s with all this marine connection? It’s based on Ulysse Nardin’s history as a successful and heavily relied-upon supplier of marine chronometers for over 50 Navys, geodesic institutes, and astronomical observatories.
Later on, Ulysse Nardin’s pocket chronometers became a prized extension to the deck chronometers – these were smaller, compact, yet highly accurate pocket watches of which there would be one on board, carried by the captain or his reserve. It also opened up the avenue of the miniaturization of onboard chronometers, an avenue that has extended into the world of wristwatches, neatly leading to the Marine collection of today.
Today’s Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur is a beautifully made and intelligently designed tribute based on a legitimate, rich, and extensive history – and that connection between past and present lives in the quietly perfected details such as the odd subdial layout, the various stylistic elements of the dial markings and hands, and on the company using the latest tech it developed in pursuit of better chronometric performance. It’s a difficult balance to be found between the pressure that stems from staying true to 100-150 years old designs and creating a product that feels fresh and functional in the 21st century. Whether or not the Marine Torpilleur succeeded at that is for everyone to judge.
Prices for the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur watch collection are as follows: Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Panda is priced at $8,200, the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Blue Enamel is $11,500, the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Moonphase costs $9,900, the Annual Calendar Chronograph is $12,100, and the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Flying Tourbillon is priced at $48,400. You can learn more at the brand’s website.