Though it’s been nine years since he passed, the late Rolf Schnyder comes to mind almost every time I sit down to look at a new watch from Ulysse Nardin. He was a larger-than-life figure in the watch industry and one of the key people behind its resurrection in the years following the quartz crisis. Clearly someone who was not bound by what had already been done, Schnyder employed technology and avant-garde design to breathe life into a centuries-old brand best known for its conservatively designed wristwatches and ship’s chronometers. Then an independent marque, Ulysse Nardin was the first Swiss watchmaker to use silicium, and though many others soon followed, it was UN who showed the way, even as horological purists plaintively wailed that the new material didn’t belong in “real” watchmaking. And while my own personal tastes tend to favor smaller watches of a more conservative style, I have a lot of respect for what Ulysse Nardin does, in large part because I recognize the impressive groundwork laid by Schnyder.
I say this because today, ahead of the Geneva Watch Days event, we have a new watch from Ulysse Nardin Blast 45mm, and considering its large size, use of unusual materials, and unorthodox construction, it struck me as one that Schnyder would have liked. Available in four different variations, the Blast is a 45mm openworked automatic tourbillon with three days of power reserve. In each of the four versions, the movements are framed with a rectangular upper bridge as well as by a bi-color double “X” and, if you flip the watches over, you see the X and the rectangle repeated. As you’d expect from Ulysse Nardin Blast 45mm, the escape wheel, the anchor, and the balance spring are all made from silicium, which benefits both tribology and resistance to magnetic fields.
The movement is the in-house UN-172, a new automatic tourbillon derived from the manually wound UN-171. And, while the new 172 has a less-lengthy power reserve than the 171, it has the benefit of automatic winding. Now, one could certainly argue that a tourbillon like this is hardly an everyday watch, but I think that depends on who’s wearing it as much as anything else. And having a solid three days of reserve means you can comfortably switch it out every so often knowing that it won’t need to be reset for a few days. There’s no date, so setting the Blast is as simple as it gets. Still, having a power reserve that is a convenience rather than an inconvenience is something I’ve come to expect from new mechanical movements coming out in 2020.
There are some other updates beyond the switch to automatic winding (which comes via a micro-rotor positioned at 12 o’clock) and the associated reduction in power reserve. The tourbillon cage, for example, has been redesigned to offer a more open view onto the escapement inside of it.
The watches also have Ulysse Nardin Blast 45mm UN Certification, which is granted following testing of the fully cased up watch to rate tolerances tighter than those required by C.O.S.C. for movements.
Each of the four versions features a four-part case with faceted lugs featuring contrasting finishing, and this part of the design is well worth a close look. The lugs are influenced by the exaggerated angularity of radar-evading stealth aircraft. And by virtue of their multi-piece composition, the cases can incorporate different materials. They have a multi-layer, “stacked” look. But this doesn’t lead to an overly thick-looking watch. The Blast measures 13mm thick, which I think works quite well with its 45mm diameter.
On the Rose Gold Blast below, for example, a black DLC titanium middle case is matched with gold just above and below it, as well as for the lugs. On top is a black ceramic bezel, which provides for a nice, scratch-resistant bit of protection for the gold case. The matte striations you see on some of the gold surfaces have been applied with lasers, UN says. On titanium surfaces in black, the surface treatment is DLC, and where there is a color involved, it’s PVD.
In addition to the new case design, the Blast is also debuting a new folding clasp. When you close the portion with the gold buckle, it sets the other side in motion simultaneously so that you don’t need to grab both parts or close the bottom side first. The clasp can be closed in one easy motion.
Any time a watch is more than 42mm in diameter, I tend to wonder about its wearability. At 45mm, the Blast is right in line with what Ulysse Nardin likes to do these days. Discreetly sized dress watches are something that I associate much more with the company’s past than with its present. While 45mm is not for everybody, there is an enthusiastic audience for watches of this size.
I’d like to get a closer look at these new watches. The angular lugs look like they give the Blast a lot of character. I wonder what a simpler, slightly smaller take on this watch might look like, too. At any rate, given the downward slope of the lugs and the relative thinness of the case, I think there is a good chance that this 45mm watch could wear comfortably on my seven-inch wrist.