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Ulysse Nardin

Ulysse Nardin (Est. 1846 – ). Among Swiss watch manufacturers, few can claim to have been in continuous production for more than a century and a half. One of these, Ulysse Nardin, located in Le Locle, Switzerland, has been producing time pieces for over 169 years. It has operated out of the same building since 1865.

The company adopted the name of its talented watchmaker, Ulysse Nardin (1823 – 1876). He first apprenticed under his father, Leonard-Frederic Nardin and continued to perfect his skills under the tutelage of Frederic William Dubois (1811 – 1869) and Louis Jean Richard-dit-Bressel (1812 – 1875), both master watchmakers and famous for their work well beyond the mountains of Neuchatel, Switzerland.

Historically, the company is best known for its highly accurate marine chronometers that first saw service in the mid-1800s in more than fifty of the world’s navies. Ulysse Nardin’s excellence in time piece manufacturing has been recognized worldwide with the company receiving 18 international gold medals and 4,300 first prizes in chronometrics.

The first Ulysse Nardin watches were exported to Central and South America through a Paris go-between, Lucien Dubois, who was Nardin’s only customer for two years. In 1860, Ulysse acquired a high-precision and well-known astronomical regulator constructed by Jacques-Frédéric Houriet around 1768.

Using this regulator, Ulysse Nardin made its first exports to America where these minute repeaters, highly complicated watches, and pocket chronometers spread the manufacturer’s reputation. At the London International Exhibition in 1862, the company received the highest award, “The Prize Medal” in the category, “Complicated watches, [and] pocket chronometers.” This award propelled Ulysse into the leading international names of pocket watch makers.

In 1876, Ulysse Nardin died and his twenty-one year old son, Paul-David took control of the company. Not long after, in 1878, Paul-David received a Gold Medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition for his pocket and marine chronometers.

Awards and patents continued to go to the company under Paul’s oversight. Among these were two Swiss patents. One was for a mechanism that permitted daily winding without reversing the bowl; a system that was applied to the cylindrical aluminum cases made from about 1893 on.

In 1893, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the company received a First Prize for a remarkable chronometer in a gold and silver decorated case with a relief-engraved allegory of the Arts and Sciences.

At the outset of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, Ulysse Nardin supplied marine chronometers to both the Russian and the Japanese admiralties. Following the war, the Imperial Government of Japan increased its orders and becomes one of the company’s principal customers.

By 1906, the company had received a First Prize and Gold Medal at the Milan International Exhibition. At the Naval Observatory, in Washington, DC, Nardin chronometers took the first seven places. Not long after, a Nardin chronometer broke all performance records in the Hamburg Observatory trials.

In 1911, Paul-David had received a third Swiss patent for a perfected control mechanism used in the timing-wheel. This invention eliminated the uncontrolled leap of the chronograph-wheel that made it difficult to detect errors.

In 1975, the Neuchâtel Observatory released its last official publication concerning performance of chronometers during the years 1846 to 1975. According to the report, Ulysse Nardin had obtained 4324 certificates of performance for mechanical marine chronometers out of a total of 4504 awarded, nearly ninety five percent.

The company also received 2,411 special awards of which 1069 were First Prizes. Ulysse Nardin also obtained 747 First Prizes in the categories of deck watch, pocket chronometer and wristwatch. At various International Exhibitions, founder Ulysse Nardin and his successors had obtained 14 Grands Prix (First Prizes), the “Prize Medal” and the “Progress Medal”, 10 Gold Medals, 2 Prix d’Honneur, and 2 Silver Medals.

In the 1980’s, like some other Swiss watch manufacturers, Ulysse Nardin nearly became a victim of the Swiss watch industry’s financial crisis. In 1983, businessman Rolf Schnyder (1935 – 2011) acquired the company.

Working with watchmaker Prof. Ludwig Oechslin, the two men re-launched the brand and were among the first to combine science and innovation to create ground breaking and complication timepieces that used modern materials and manufacturing techniques. It was through this leadership that the company began its rise to the upper echelon of modern horology.

The first development was the “Trilogy of Time.” Beginning in 1985, this collection incorporated three different astrological pieces starting with the release of the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei. This watch displayed local and solar time, the orbits and eclipses of the sun and the moon, and the positions of several major stars. In 1989, the Guinness Book of Records identified it as the world’s most-functional watch having 21 distinct functions.

Dr. Oechslin followed the Astrolabium with two more astronomical watches: in 1988 the Planetarium Copernicus (named after the astronomer) and in 1992, the Tellurium Johannes Kepler (named for the element tellurium and another astronomer, Johannes Kepler.)

In 1996, Ulysse Nardin issued their first Perpetual Calendar. It permitted forward and backward adjustment of all calendar functions over a single crown. In 1999, this calendar was coupled with the GMT± complication. These are one-press buttons that adjust the hour hand back and forth for international travelers and was the forerunner of the GMT± Perpetual. The El Toro is the newest release in this collection.

In 2001, another timepiece, The Freak Blue Phantom contained a 7-day power reserve with a carousel tourbillon. In addition to powering the watch, the movement served double duty by rotating 360 degrees to keep track of hours and minutes. It also contained the Dual Indirect Escapement, constructed from silicon that minimized the need for lubrication. This was later followed by the Freak Diavolo with an eight-day power reserve, a flying seconds tourbillon, and Silicium technology.

The company introduced the Genghis Khan in 2002; a Westminster carillon tourbillon jaquemarts minute repeater. In 2003, the watch won the Innovation Prize – Watch of the year.

In 2011, the Genghis was followed up with the Alexander the Great. The Westminster in this watch had four gongs, each with a different tone (Mi-Do-Re-Sol). When the repeater is activated, the hour sound is “Sol” and the minute sound is “Mi.” All four gongs sound in three different sequences for the quarter hours. The movements of the Jaquemarts are synchronized with the sound of the gongs.

Also in the company’s production line during the first decade of the 21st Century were the Sonata (2003) and Moonstruck (2009). The Sonata is based on the technical movement and features a unique alarm setting with a countdown indicator and a patented dual time system with the instant time zone adjuster that are incorporated into many Ulysse Nardin watches. The melodic chiming of the Sonata’s alarm is based on a novel 24-hour mechanism that allows setting the alarm 24 hours ahead, i.e. for 7.35 pm the same day or 7.35 am the next day.

Dr. Ludwig Oechslin’s concept for Moonstruck was to replicate the movements of the Sun, Earth, and Moon, concentrating on scientifically accurate depictions of moon phases plus the global influences of lunar and solar gravitation that cause tidal movements.

The Moonstruck simulates the rotation of the Moon around the Earth, as well as the apparent movement of Sun around the globe. The latter is shown by another disc, rotating once every 24 hours that permits the determination of the current moon phase in relation to any location on Earth.

In 2013, along came The Stranger with its in-house developed musical mechanics that utilize a Silicium based technology from the previously developed 690 movement. The Stranger became the first in a series of limited edition timepieces that play, “Strangers in the Night,” the legendary song Frank Sinatra released in 1966.

After Rolf Schneider died in 2011, Ulysse Nardin continued to develop and produce specialized timepieces under the direction of Chief Executive Officer, Patrik P. Hoffmann. In 2014, the Kering Group acquired Ulysse Nardin and began a new era for Ulysse Nardin when it joined Kering’s “Luxury – Watches and Jewelry” division.

Today, Ulysse Nardin remains dedicated to innovation: No other watch company has filed so many patents with so few employees, – only 100+ – and growing. It has also continued its tradition of presenting classical watchmaking craftsmanship at the highest levels.

Kering’s acquisition of Ulysse Nardin coincided with the launch of another in-house movement: the Dual Time Collection. It also marked the debut of the revolutionary Ulysse Anchor Escapement based on flexible mechanisms that use the elasticity of its own materials.

In January 2015, Ulysse Nardin’s opened a boutique in the Dubai Mall with a ceremony worthy of the event. In UAE retail partnership with Bin Hendi Enterprises, it celebrated the brand’s largest boutique in the world. Another highlight of the launch was a Mall exhibition of Ulysse Nardin’s new musical marvel, the Vivaldi prior to its official debut at 2015 Basel World Watch Fair.

The official American retail outlet for Ulysse Nardin is in Boca Raton, Florida.

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