Hiding somewhere among the Freaks and the Mega Yachts and all the sex, Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin has the quiet and conservative Marine collection. Every once in a while, the brand tries out something new to give the lineup a bit of an edge. Four years ago, it released a set of four limited-edition watches in the Marine Torpilleur model line, to that very end. This seemed to be part of the brand rediscovering its history and DNA in making military chronometers, as well as an experiment in producing a modern-looking but classic-feeling timepieces (a key goal of the brand). One of those limited edition of 300-piece watches was the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Black, reference 1183-320LE/BLACK.

I will summarize my feelings about this watch by saying that I am glad it was a limited edition. As a design experiment, it was lovely in aesthetic and fun in character. The Marine Torpilleur did however have some features that were best left to limited production pieces and not full-scale production. That made it neat, and collectible, but it had some quirks worth discussing. None should have been a deal breaker for anyone who was emotionally invested in the look and feel of this handsome watch.

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The four limited-edition Marine Torpilluer watches released in 2019 (which followed two similar editions released the previous year) include a slightly more expensive model in a bronze case, as well as three steel models – each with a very specific type of “industrial” bead-blasted finishing. This was the only model in black, and it had an “all-black” look that was nicely done given that both the case and dial match pretty well together. The black was a PVD-coating over the base stainless steel. If you have a closer look, you’ll realize it didn’t compare with most other bead-/sand-blasted finishing styles you see on other luxury watches. The finishing looked very industrial, like something you’d find on a surface of an engine or machine shop. It wasn’t low quality, but I wouldn’t say it was luxurious either. It had a very factory-feel to it which is what I think Ulysse Nardin was going for in the look, but I’m just not sure it matched the character of a nearly $8,000 watch. Perhaps for 300 pieces, yes, but this is one of those areas where I feel that experiments applied are cool, but don’t necessarily belong in an ongoing-production model Ulysse Nardin timepiece.

Let me continue with the complaints because there aren’t too many, and I want to get them over with before I discuss more of what I like in the watch (and this next statement goes for all watchmakers who decide to pair their watches with these types of fabric straps). The canvas-style strap paired with the Marine Torpilleur Black was admittedly very attractive, and even still is on-trend.  It also matched the case and dial in a very fashionable way. By most accounts, it was a great-looking strap. The only problem was that it, like most fabric straps, are so rigid/stiff, that they were uncomfortable to wear. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I should have to wear-in a watch strap like a baseball glove for it to feel comfortable. I want it to feel comfortable the first time I put it on. It bothers me when I agitatedly need to adjust a watch on my wrist with the remote hope that the strap will “be better” in the future.

The strap buckle didn’t work well either. It looked nice, but if you look at its shape, you’ll notice a sharp rounded protrusion that faces your inner wrist. This piece of the buckle actually poked your wrist all the time.  Ulysse Nardin was clearly experimenting with something new here, and my friendly advice to them would have been to consider reworking not only the strap material choices but also the buckles. The good news is that straps can be very easily replaced.

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The Marine Torpilleur case measured 44mm-wide and had an expansive look in the Black form because of how the dial and bezel melded together color-wise. The case was reasonably thin at 12mm and had a 50mm lug-to-lug distance with a water resistance rating of 50 meters (maybe a watch with “Marine” in the name might have wanted to aim for at least 100 meters?). The dials of all the limited editions were the same, but each had its own fun color palette. Here we have an all-matte dial with markers and hands. Like traditional marine clocks produced by Ulysse Nardin, the Marine Torpilleur face was a paragon of good proportions and legibility. Look at that great contrast and those properly-sized hands. I want to show this dial to watch designers I encounter who are somewhat shy about making hands as long as they ought to be.

One thing you’ll notice is that, compared to many other Ulysse Nardin Marine watches, there is no power reserve indicator on the dial. This feature was taken out for style, and I think this more utilitarian look had a purpose for existing. At present, you can’t buy a Marine Torpilleur without a power reserve indicator, which is a shame. The novel look of this theme without the power reserve indicator helped to add flavor to the larger Marine collection – which sometimes has models which struggle to distinguish themselves visually. One of the neat collector’s features on the dial was that the limited edition number for the watch was placed in red text on the dial of the watch. The limited edition number was also placed on the side of the case in a more traditional Ulysse Nardin style, complete with cursive font. What does the “C.W.” stand for on the dial? I am pretty sure it means “Chronometer Watch.”

The dial luminant was not as expansive as I had thought. Ulysse Nardin painted the watch hands and points around the hour markers in luminescent material. That means the attractive Arabic numerals that appeared to be in luminous material, actually are not. Over the dial was a slightly domed sapphire crystal. I think it could have benefited from a bit more AR-coating material. The watch crown screwed down and was secured in what feels like a very solid crown stem tube once it is screwed in place. The rear of the case was screwed in place and featured a motif of what is supposed to be…the view from a torpilleur (torpedo boat) onto perhaps …a target? I’ve seen other watches and history related to these interesting World War II-era torpedo boats. What I find sort of amusing is that the boats themselves aren’t actually very attractive, and other than the torpedoes themselves (a violent weapon) no one has quite figured out how to catch the flattering side of the humble torpilleur. At the least, the watches that celebrate these historic military vessels can make up for it with real appeal.

Finally, we get to the movement inside of the Marine Torpilleur limited edition, and that was the very compelling in-house Ulysse Nardin Calibre UN-118 automatic movement. As I alluded to above, this same movement also comes with a power reserve indicator in another form, and might be a bit thinner in this configuration with just the time and subsidiary seconds indicator. What I really like about the UN-118 movement is that the 4Hz frequency mechanism (60 hours of power reserve) makes liberal use of Diamonsil-coated silicon. Ulysse Nardin developed a factory that has the ability to put a diamond-like coating over silicon. What this does is markedly reduce the brittleness of silicon and thus remove one of its principle weaknesses. The vast majority of other watches, even those with silicon parts, do not employ this technology. Silicon in the mechanical automatic movement allows it to be more accurate over time and immune to certain types of environmental influence (like temperature and magnetism), which negatively affect wristwatch accuracy. Not that Ulysse Nardin really needs the paper to prove anything, but the UN-118 movement in the Marine Torpilleur came with a COSC Chronometer certification.

As a limited edition of 300 pieces, among a set of four other equally handsome limited watches (the colors Ulysse Nardin chose to go together are truly beautiful), the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur was as fun as it was exotic. This was a successful fashion experiment to see if a core Ulysse Nardin look could satisfy a fashion industry perpetually interested in military style. These watches were inherently modern, but with a nice foot in the past which gave them a warm, familiar character. The military style in such a watch is certainly more on the civilized side versus macho, which I think helps increase its appeal. Having said all that, Ulysse Nardin made a few questionable judgments when it came to some of the more minor details of the watch – the most serious of which (the strap) could be easily remedied. The larger 44mm wide case size (versus the 42 of the standard Marine Torpilleur collection) and the lack of a power reserve indicator could have been the foundation for an exciting improvement or expansion of the collection, but it appears that in the years since, the brand has stuck with the usual Torpilleur fare. While no longer available from the brand, we found used examples of the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur limited edition of 300 pieces reference 1183-320LE/BLACK listed as low as $4,750 USD. Explore the current Marine Torpilleur collection at the Ulysse Nardin website here.

Necessary Data
>Brand: Ulysse Nardin
>Model: Marine Torpilleur Limited Edition Black, reference 1183-320LE/BLACK
>Price: Used from $4,750 USD
>Size: 44mm-wide, approx. 12mm-thick, and approx. 50mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a modern-feeling, fashion-forward yet traditional-feeling in character luxury military-style watch.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone wanting a traditional-looking luxury watch with a bit of an active feel and a fashionably bold color palette.
>Best characteristic of watch: This and its four companion limited edition Marine Torpilleur watches are all very attractive visually. The size and thickness of the case look good on the wrist and the overall dial proportions work very well. This is a great foundation for Ulysse Nardin to build upon.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Strap material choice is stiff (needs a lot of breaking in) and buckle can jut into wrist. Dial would have been more exciting if the Arabic numerals were also painted with Super-LumiNova. Stamped caseback torpedo boat scenery motif lacks much artistic or emotional character.

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