Ulysse Nardin‘s history and identity is deeply intertwined with that of the marine chronometer, and in a year underpinned by a return to vintage pieces for design inspiration, the brand has tapped into this history and recently launched the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur, which it calls a chronometer for the modern era (though based on old pocket watch designs). While it may be inspired by vintage marine chronometers, the Marine Torpilleur is a more modern and less formal alternative to the brand’s existing Marine Chronometer watches.
Torpilleur is the French term for a destroyer, which is a small, agile warship. Its use is meant to be a sign that this is a lighter, thinner version, which strictly speaking, is accurate. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur comes in a 42mm case as opposed to the 43mm of the Marine Chronometer – which is really a “splitting-hairs” level of difference. The real distinction is in the movement and complications. Unlike the Marine Chronometer watches which are powered by the Calibre UN-113 with annual calendar complication, the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur is powered by the automatic Calibre UN-118 which offers time, date, and power reserve functions, but no annual calendar.
The UN-118 was an important milestone for Ulysse Nardin as it was developed in-house with a unique material for the escapement – DIAMonSIL. A combination of silicon and man-made diamond, the use of DIAMonSIL eliminated the need for lubrication of the escapement. In theory, this should help keep rate keeping stable for a much longer duration. The logic is that over time, the viscosity of a traditional lubricant increases and the amount of friction with it – with DIAMonSIL this is no longer an issue. The primary motivation behind the development of the UN-118 was to reduce reliance on ETA ébauches, but the technical chops that Ulysse Nardin made available at this price point were definitely a welcome bonus as well.
In addition, the UN-118 features a silicon hairspring and offers 60 hours of power reserve. Given the ‘Chronometer’ in the name, the watch comes with COSC certification and the brand’s own Ulysse Nardin Performance Certificate. We are told that the movement is decorated and visible through a sapphire crystal case back, but unfortunately, no images were supplied, so it’s hard to comment on what finishing will look like.
As I mentioned earlier, the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur is housed in a 42mm case which is available in stainless steel or 18k rose gold and, unlike its bigger sibling, has more conventional lugs and no crown guard. The lugs are short and curve downwards quite significantly, which should help the watch sit comfortably on most wrists. An interesting design feature of the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur is the bezel’s coin-like edge that is reminiscent of rotating bezels with textures for better grip. However this is a thin, fixed bezel, so the finish is only to add visual interest and is not functional. Given the capabilities of modern watchmaking techniques, the marine association of the watch and the presence of a screw-down crown, the watch offers a disappointing 50m of water resistance. This may seem like a small detail, but I feel like they should’ve offered 100m.
The dial is offered in two variants, a blue and a white. The rose gold version is only offered with a white dial, while the stainless steel is offered with both. The overall aesthetic of the dial is very similar to vintage marine chronometers, with Roman numerals painted very legibly and elegantly, a second sub-dial at 6 o’clock, and power reserve at 12 o’clock. The date window at 6 o’clock is a modern addition, of course, but well incorporated into a fairly busy dial. The “1846” painted in red is a reference to the brand’s year of founding and nicely aids visual balance on the dial. The spade-shaped hands are in keeping with the vintage theme and are heat-blued for the white dial and polished for the blue.
For a vintage-inspired timepiece, the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur is refined, well-designed, and yet, contemporary enough to make for a daily wear piece. The highlight of the watch, in my opinion, is the movement which offers quite a bit of value in terms of horological pedigree. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur is available at retailers and boutiques for 6,900 CHF in steel with the alligator strap, 7,600 CHF in steel with the steel bracelet, and 17,900 CHF in 18k rose gold with the alligator strap, with the same prices in euros. ulysse-nardin.ch