As a company that originally built a significant portion of its reputation by manufacturing precision marine chronometers, Ulysse Nardin has a rich history of producing table clocks, despite now being best known for its high-tech and avant-garde wristwatches. To celebrate the 175th anniversary of the brand in 2021, Ulysse Nardin decided to reimagine the classic marine chronometer and created the UFO table clock, which offered a distinctly modern and mechanically-oriented design, along with a whopping power reserve of one full year. The original limited-edition version of the Ulysse Nardin UFO clock quickly sold out, and a one-of-a-kind orange example fetched a six-figure sum at the Only Watch charity auction later that same year. However, as its latest new release for 2023, Ulysse Nardin has launched the final versions of its UFO table clock, and each of the three different colorways has been created as a different retailer-exclusive model.
The new trio of 2023 Ulysse Nardin UFO clocks are essentially just novel colorways of the original model that premiered back in 2021, with each dedicated to a different one of the brand’s major retail partners. However, while the inaugural example of the UFO clock was created as a limited edition of 75 examples and featured a dark blue colorway, the new trio of UFO clocks for 2023 are each produced as limited editions of just 30 pieces, and they make their appearances in green for Yoshida (ref. 9023-900LE-8A-YOS), ice blue for Bucherer (ref. 9023-900LE-3A-BUCH), and champagne for The Hour Glass (ref. 9023-900LE-9A-THG). Aside from the different colors, all of the various Ulysse Nardin UFO clocks are otherwise identical, and they offer an aesthetically contemporary take on a traditional concept that has been around since the earliest days of portable timekeeping
Designed in collaboration with the clock masters at L’Épée, the Ulysse Nardin UFO table clocks measure 159 millimeters in diameter by 263 millimeters tall, and they weigh a rather hefty 7.2 kilograms. The structure of the UFO clocks is inspired by the shape of nautical buoys, and it could best be described as pill-formed, complete with rounded surfaces on both the top and bottom. Given that an oblong structure with a rounded bottom is hardly a recipe for stability, the colored aluminum bases of the Ulysse Nardin UFO clocks feature tungsten weights inside of them, which allows the entire clock to wobble and move with up to 120 degrees of motion, while always self-correcting and returning back to its original upright position. In fact, the “UFO” name stands for “Unidentified Floating Object” as a reference to the way that the clock’s rocking motion mimics the way that a nautical buoy floats with the tide.
I briefly had the opportunity to play with one of the original Ulysse Nardin UFO clocks while visiting the brand’s museum in Switzerland; pushing the structure back and forth is surprisingly fun, although it can also be slightly jarring the first few times you give it a solid shove. The fundamental action of knocking over a large glass dome filled with precision mechanics truly goes against everything that feels normal, and I experienced a brief moment of panic after first pushing the Ulysse Nardin UFO clock, as I watched it topple over, only before it quickly corrected itself and wobbled back to its original completely upright position. A number of sculptures incorporate a similar concept. However, seeing it expressed within the highly mechanical context of a clock ultimately results in quite a lot of entertainment, while also turning a traditionally stationary object into a fun and interactive experience.
Fitted to the tops of the aluminum bases of the Ulysse Nardin UFO clocks are large 3mm thick clear glass domes, which cover all of the various internal components of the clocks that sit on full display underneath them. Measuring 150 millimeters wide by 250 millimeters tall, the glass domes are made by hand in Neuchâtel, Switzerland (additional images of the manufacturing process are included in the gallery below), and due to their dramatic bell shape and the hand-made nature of their construction, only about one-third of the examples that are produced meet the quality standards that are required in order to be mounted to the top of Ulysse Nardin’s UFO clocks. While this might sound a bit extreme, the base of the glass dome must be a perfect circle (in addition to having the appropriate dimensions), and any imperfections in either the material or its shape will be immediately apparent due to the clear and symmetrical structure of its design.
Powering the trio of new Ulysse Nardin UFO clocks is the brand’s manually-wound Caliber UN-902 table clock movement, which displays the time in three different time zones and offers an incredibly long power reserve of one full year (12 months), thanks to its six mainspring barrels that can be observed on the lower half of the movement near the base of the clock. Wound and set by a key, the incredibly long duration of autonomy offered by the Ulysse Nardin Cal. UN-902 is tracked by a disc-shaped power reserve that sits horizontally below the trio of dials at the top of the structure, and since its extra-large oscillator beats at the rather slow and convenient rate of 3,600vph (0.5 Hz), the movement also includes a dead-beat second mechanism, with its dedicated display register located on the top of the structure under the oversized oscillator itself.
Generally speaking, you can get quite a lot for your money when buying a clock compared to a wristwatch, although even a passing glance at one of the Ulysse Nardin UFO clocks will give you the impression that they are still rather expensive items. With an official retail price of $68,600 USD for any of the three new 30-piece colorways, the new retailer-exclusive Ulysse Nardin UFO clocks cost the exact same as the new Freak ONE watch that was launched earlier this year, and this also makes these new limited-edition clocks quite a bit more expensive than the original 75-piece dark blue version that debuted a couple of years ago. With that in mind, this trio of colorways represents the final editions of the Ulysse Nardin UFO clock, and after these 30-example lots are sold by their respective retail partners, no more versions of this unusual timepiece are going to be produced.
Lastly, while spending a lot of money on something that you can only enjoy while being in its presence may not initially seem like a way to get a lot of functionality out of your investment, collectors and enthusiasts typically like to wear multiple different watches, and a clock is something that you can enjoy every single day, regardless of what you have on your wrist. For more information on the Ulysse Nardin UFO clock, please visit the brand’s website.