Independent Watch Brand
The company was founded in 1846 by the Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin. From the very beginning, the master and his company had great success with the production of technical timepieces, especially marine and pocket chronometers. This activity was extremely successful. From 1861, when Ulysse Nardin began supplying its marine chronometers to the Geneva and Neuchâtel observatories for chronometer competitions, until 1975, when the Neuchâtel observatory decided to stop testing marine chronometers, Ulysse Nardin received 4,324 marine chronometer certificates out of 4,504 issued by the observatory during this period. In fact, Ulysse Nardin had a monopoly on classic large format hi-end marine chronometers.
The image of the master of technical precision timepieces contributed to the popularity of the brand, which supplied the market with classic, complex and ultra-complex pocket watches and, since the first half of the 20th century, wristwatches. Nowadays, Ulysse Nardin watches from the classic period are perceived as valuable collector's items.
In the 1970s, during the quartz watch boom, Ulysse Nardin underestimated this trend and ran into financial difficulties in the early 1980s. In 1983, the brand was acquired by businessman Rolf Schnyder, a dial manufacturer, who set out to revive the traditional brand. Thus began the modern period of the Ulysse Nardin timeline. Rolf Schnyder was an open-minded person, which helped him to establish long-term and fruitful collaborations with creative and inventive people. In this context, three people in particular should be mentioned: Ludwig Oechslin, Christophe Claret and Michel Vermot.
Ludwig Oechslin, researcher, astronomical clock restorer and inventor, proposed three highly complex astronomical wristwatches to Ulysse Nardin – Astrolabium Galileo Galilei (1985), Planetarium Copernicus (1988) and Tellurium Johannes Kepler (1992), known as the Trilogy of Time. In 2009, Ulysse Nardin introduced two more astronomical designs by Ludwig Oechslin: the highly complicated Planet Earth table clock and the Moonstruck wristwatch. Ludwig Oechslin also designed for Ulysse Nardin the practical Dual Time complication with digital 24-hour GMT indicator (1994) and the Perpetual Ludwig wristwatch with perpetual calendar, which was launched in 1996, the year of the company’s 150th anniversary. In the Perpetual Ludwig, the perpetual calendar can be set both forward and backward – a world first for a wristwatch. In 1999, Oechslin combined these two developments into a single movement, creating the GMT± Perpetual watch.
However, the most attention was attracted by the Freak watch, which was introduced in 2001 and was also designed by Ludwig Oechslin. Based on the idea of a central carousel presented by budding watchmaker Carole Forestier in 1997, Oechslin designed a watch for Ulysse Nardin with rotating bridges, a gear train and an escapement that served to display the minutes. Therefore, the Freak watch can be considered an orbital tourbillon. It also has the innovative double direct escapement, which was also developed by Oechslin, whose impulse wheels are made of silicon – an industry first that paved the way for the widespread use of silicon parts, including the silicon hairsprings also proposed by Oechslin in 2001. Of the modern Ulysse Nardin watches, the numerous versions of the Freak are the most attractive to collectors, especially the early examples. A promising collectible in the future could be the modern Freak X models with automatic movement, which are produced in relatively large numbers and in numerous variants.
Christophe Claret, the founder and current owner of the eponymous atelier of complications, designed complex calibers for Ulysse Nardin. The collaboration began in 1988 when Rolf Schnyder commissioned minute repeater calibers with jacquemarts, an idea that was then transferred to less sophisticated Hourstriker watches, also with jacquemarts. Of the jacquemarts watches created in collaboration with Christophe Claret, the most famous is the Genghis Khan Westminster Carillon Tourbillon Jaquemarts Minute Repeater, the most complicated and impressive model. Christophe Claret also supplied tourbillons to Ulysse Nardin before the brand developed its own calibers. The manufacture program launched by Rolf Schnyder bore its first fruits in 2011 with the introduction of the UN-118 caliber, the brand’s first fully manufactured movement.
Another Rolf Schnyder idea that had a major impact on the industry was enamel dials. In the late 1980s, he met Michel Vermot, the head of the enamel dial workshop Donzé Cadrans (which was acquired by Ulysse Nardin in 2011). Donzé Cadrans produced enamel dials for many models in the Ulysse Nardin collection, particularly in the techniques of flinqué (translucent enamel over a guilloché) and cloisonné enamel.
Rolf Schnyder left us in 2011, in 2014 his widow Chai Schnyder sold Ulysse Nardin to the French luxury group Kering, and in January 2022 Ulysse Nardin was acquired by the management together with the Girard-Perregaux brand.