When it comes to the watch industry, watch launches are a fairly common occurrence. This time of year, we almost hit an embarrassment of riches in that regard, with SIHH kicking things off, and then BaselWorld coming up later this month. I cannot think of any other watch launch, however, that coincided with the launch of a boat – but that is precisely what we have with the Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver Midnight Express and Midnight Express 43′ Open model.
The first question you might ask is a simple one: why? Why would Ulysse Nardin want to create an official powerboat? The answer starts off pretty simply: just take a look at the Ulysse Nardin logo with its prominent anchor. This is a tribute to the history the brand has with marine chronometry – having been a prominent maker of highly accurate clocks is a history any brand would be proud to show off. Now, if you are a company that has an affinity for the sea, developing your own official boat just seems like a natural – although, more realistically speaking, perhaps a bit unlikely – step. And, if you are a luxury brand like Ulysse Nardin, well, then you end up creating something that befits your brand.
This venture started off as one made possible by simple proximity. Midnight Express is based in South Florida, not far from where several UN boutiques are located (the US headquarters of Ulysse Nardin is not that far away either), so it was easy for the companies to be aware of each other. Midnight Express is an impressive powerboat manufacturer, bringing in new technology and innovative designs to push the industry along, very much like Ulysse Nardin has done when they chose to be, not just an early adopter, but much more: they are one of the first developers of the silicium escapement. Ultimately, it was the love of the open water and the drive to innovate that brought the two brands together.
While work on this collaboration was kept pretty quiet (at least in the watch world), the curtain was lifted on the goings-on on the opening day of the Miami Boat Show in mid-February. While most of the press there was local and, for the most part, clearly boating-oriented, aBlogtoWatch was present as the exclusive wristwatch-oriented outlet to cover the launch. And while I was certainly there to talk with the brand about the watch and their extended collection, I want to start off talking about the boat.
For background, I grew up in Michigan, which has all manner of lakes, large and small, all over the place. Given that, when summer hit, boating was a big focus for a lot of people. While my family never owned any boats, I spent time out in simple aluminum fishing boats, canoes, and even some pontoon boats and ski boats. That was the size of boat I am used to being around. When the new Midnight Express Open 43′ was unveiled, I was taken aback. First, it was simply due to the size of the thing – it absolutely dwarfed anything I had been on in the past (well, aside from a cruise ship, but that is not really comparable here).
What ended up being the most impressive to a watch guy like me was all of the work done to make the boat truly an Ulysse Nardin edition. The most striking thing was the paintwork that was done on the hull. There are representations of the Ulysse Nardin Freak on both sides, which makes for a great nautical theme, given it’s anchor-based design. These are more than simple decals, they were actually hand-painted by a local artist, and so was the center console of the boat. The paintwork was simply amazing, giving a great, larger-than-life, look at part of the Freak. Of course, if it was not eminently clear why those were there, you have large Ulysse Nardin logos complementing those paintings.
The UN theme continues throughout the boat, with the blue-and-gold theme of the brand predominant throughout, and logos appearing on the upholstery, and even on the floor. There simply is no doubt who’s boat this is. Touches like those, the paint and upholstery, are certainly great, but there was actually something else that was the icing on this particularly powerful cake – powerful may be an understatement, as it is claimed to be able to do 100 mph on the water. That surprise showed up in the central console of the boat.
When you first see the console, the eye is drawn to three large screens, but then you notice there is something circular on both ends of the console. When I got a bit closer, I saw that there were actually watch winders mounted there, one on each side. This was the crowning touch that really put the boat over the top for me. While most of us probably have a winder at home to keep things running, I doubt any of us have one mounted in our cars. To have not one, but two, set on a boat, well, it certainly cements the ties to the watch world.
If there are watch winders, that means there need to be watches set in them. For this launch, we have a new edition of the Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver, which has been customized just as the boat has. As we talked about it here, the Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver line has had a facelift in the last six months or so, and this new Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver Midnight Express Edition follows along that same path. One of the most noticeable changes for this 100-piece limited edition is to the dial embossing. Rather than using the waves that are on the standard line, we instead see the Midnight Express logo repeating across the dial.
This is something that Ulysse Nardin has done quite a bit: they had some other special editions of the Marine Diver on hand, and dial embossing was a consistent change made, making the piece unique to that release. Regardless of the embossing, it really is a lovely shade of blue the brand uses on the dial. While I did my best to capture it in the photos, this is something you really should see in person if you can. Further modifications show up in the sub-seconds dial, where the Midnight Express logo appears again – in color, this time around – and there is another logo that is almost hiding in plain sight on the dial.
That would be, of course, the number 7 in red at, well, the 7 o’clock position. That would be in honor of Seven Marine, who builds the four motors that are mounted onto the back of the boat. The last specific branding change shows up on the solid links that appear on the rubber strap: one retains the UN logo, while the one that the wearer will most commonly see sports the Midnight Express logo. Speaking of the strap, what we were shown was a dark blue rubber with white racing straps, which looked rather sharp. While they were not presented here, there apparently will be a white rubber strap made available as well.
There are a few more changes made to this particular edition, as well. On the caseback, you have an engraving of the boat appearing, and of course, the plaque on the side of the case will represent what number the watch is in the edition, the one we were handling had a number well over 100; this simply represented the run done for the prototype. Last, but certainly not least, there is a slightly different color scheme to the indices and handset. This last little detail – blue stripes running down the center of the indices and handset – further helps to set this particular edition apart from the “plain old” Marine Diver, as well as any other limited edition versions you may come across.
For me, this was the first time that I had seen any of the Ulysse Nardin collection up close – and there was a wider selection available to handle, as the pictures attest. For the Marine Diver, however, this was a particular treat. I have handled many divers over the past few years, and many of them will verge towards the direction of being very utilitarian, tool-style watches. That, in and of itself, can be a very good thing. Sometimes, though, you really could go for a dressier watch that will handle what you’ll throw at it in the course of a day; say, skimming across the waves at 100 mph. This dressier take on the dive watch category really does seem to be a distinctive element here for Ulysse Nardin.
The 44mm case is certainly built to protect, but it is relatively slender for one that carries a 300m water resistance rating. The dark blue also lends it a dressier appearance – perhaps at the cost of underwater legibility – as do the highly polished surfaces seen throughout the case. With the inclusion of the various subdials (small seconds and power reserve), it further breaks from others in the dive watch category, as does the cyclops over the date window at 6. While the musical watches the brand creates, as well as technical innovations like the Freak, gather a lot of attention, it is these sorts of “daily wear” watches that really underscore the fact that the brand is, along with technical innovations, building up watches for the luxury consumer.
That in and of itself is perhaps the biggest reason I can see for the partnership between Ulysse Nardin and Midnight Express: luxury. These creations are built for those who demand high-performance from what they acquire, and expect that a certain level of craftsmanship and comfort will come along with what they are buying. While I will not pretend that I have a grasp on the boat market (or even where a $1,200,000 one-of-a-kind boat like this sits), I can certainly have an appreciation for what has been built. In much the same way, I have an appreciation for the changes made to the $10,500 Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver Midnight Express – a $2,000 premium over the standard watch on a rubber strap. While some of the watches will be offered to Midnight Express clients, there will also be some available at Ulysse Nardin boutiques. If you do pick one up, it will also come with a second strap – rubber as well – in white.
When viewed in scope of the entire Ulysse Nardin collection, as well as their pursuit of innovation and excellence, the collaboration (and boat) make sense. For those familiar with the brand, well, then the boat makes a logical extension of the brand. And for those boat buyers who may not have been aware of this particular take on luxury watches, well, then it exposes those folks to the Le Locle manufacturer and widens those horological horizons. As to me, no, I won’t be parking one of these boats in my driveway anytime soon. Something like the sophisticated take on the humble dive watch, as we have with the Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver, now that I could see showing up in the watch box some day. ulysse-nardin.com