June 28, 2012
by Ariel Adams
If you would have told me sight-unseen that a rubber-clad timepiece would make a luxury watch I would have never believed you. Then it started to happen, high-end brands began to experiment with coatings of vulcanized rubber on watches. It started with bezel pieces, crowns, and pushers. Then brands like Ulysse Nardin said “screw it, let’s just coat the entire damn thing in rubber.” That is where pieces like the original Black Sea came from. Since then, Ulysse Nardin has offered a range of Maxi Marine based watches coated in rubber. There was a blue model, and some with trim details of various styles such as a Boca Raton boutique-only piece available in Florida with a gold bezel. This is the first chronograph version of the rubber-clad design.
The watch is called the Black Sea Chronograph and as a diver, it is water resistant to 200 meters with a rotating diver’s bezel. While few people actually go underwater with a watch like this, the dial does represent its utilitarian theme with bold hands and hour indicator. One thing that surprisingly seems to work are the skeletonized hands. Lately I have noticed a huge personal dislike of skeletonized hands. Mainly because they often serve no purpose other than to make reading the dial more difficult. Designers use them for two reasons. First for the practical reason to make seeing dial underneath the hands more visible. That makes sense, and is often a balance of trading off legibility for being able to see dial information more of the time. The second reason is purely for design. This I hate. This is when designers think skeletonized hands look cool in CAD drawings and computer renders. They could care less that it takes the utility level of an actual watch down a few steps – not knowing that the materials used to make the dials and hands drastically effect what it looks like in real life as compared to the computer images. This is especially bad when there is nothing under the hands on the dial you need to see. Keep away from those watches. In this case, Ulysse Nardin takes a much more practical approach. The hands are skeletonized in order to make viewing the chronograph subdials possible more of the time. This is because the hands are really fat. So while they are skeletonized, the fat lume-coated tips are large enough to see easily. So this is a case when someone actually put time into the dial design to consider the right balance as best they could.
The Black Sea Chronograph case is 45.8mm wide, but wears a bit smaller than it looks because of the thick bezel. You can see that the dial has a sand-like texture and there is a splash of red and blue on the face as well. While the name of the watch is the Black Sea Chronograph, Ulysse Nardin reminds you that this is certainly part of their Marine Diver collection right on the dial as part of the unique looking subsidiary seconds counter. On the side of the case is a steel plate that has the serial number of the watch – this isn’t a limited edition.
How does vulcanized rubber over steel feel? Well the rubber is stuck to the case really well of course. It is bonded to it, so it isn’t like the steel case is wearing a rubber jacket. You get the impression that it ought to wear well, but the right hit might end up tearing away some rubber. I wonder how often that happens. Vulcanized rubber is rather durable, especially as in this instance it does not need to bend at all. My understanding is that it is supposed to look good for a few decades at least. I don’t know of vulcanized rubber watches from 30-40 years ago – so I really don’t know how they hold up.
Attached to the black case is a black rubber strap. In the true Marine Diver style, the rubber strap has two black ceramic pieces in it close to the case. These have the Ulysse Nardin logo engraved into them. The rear of the case has a sapphire exhibition caseback window that helps break up the constant look of black rubber. Inside the watch is a caliber UN-35 automatic chronograph movement which is a base Swiss ETA. Even the crown and pushers are done in vulcanized rubber to complete the theme. Overall this is a unique sports chronograph watch that I feel is more interesting when handled in person than it appears to be in marketing images. I have to end by quipping on Ulysse Nardin’s press release comment that the “Black Sea Chronograph is for the for man who counts the hours before he can return to sea.” You can make your own joke about this strange comment on ocean addiction. Price is $10,900.