Off the coast of Montauk, in the Long Island Sound, at the bottom of Peconic Bay and in other waters around the world, the remains of multiple ships lost at sea during the 1700’s and 1800’s are a constant reminder of the ocean’s power and of the necessity of keeping accurate time and finding longitude at sea. The first ship’s chronometer was invented in the late 18th century by British watchmaker John Harrison and was essentially a clock mounted in a box but with enough play to move with the rolls of the ship on the waves. It was precise enough to determine accurate time at a fixed location (Greenwich Mean Time) so that sailors, with some calculations at local noon, could determine longitude and not run aground — saving thousands of lives at sea.
Chronometry is all about being incredibly precise and some watch brands today achieve greater chronometry and precision than others, especially if they turn to high-tech materials that eliminate friction and other wear and tear. Ulysse Nardin is a master at chronometry and has been almost since its inception. The brand was an early leader, since 1846, in marine chronometry and was among the first to create chronometers for ships that resided in the the box and was anchored with moveable gyromax mounts — enabling it to withstand the tossing of the ships in the waves.
Over the decades since, Ulysse Nardin has supplied more than 50 navies, institutes and astronomical observatories with its timepiece inventions. In fact, when the USA opened its chronometer contest to watch brands around the world in 1907, of the 37 chronometers that were submitted, the top 11 spots went to Ulysse Nardin. From that year forward, the brand was the official supplier of chronometers to the Navy.
The first Marine Torpilleur model was actually unveiled to the world five years ago in 2017. It was inspired by Ulysse Nardin’s pocket chronometers that were coveted by navy officers a century-plus earlier. It is named for the small fast boats of yesteryear that could outmaneuver bigger ships.
Now, in honor of its 175th anniversary, the brand unveils an entire fleet of seven new Marine Torpilleur watches. Among them: a tourbillon, an astronomical moonphase watch, a chronograph and more. All house high-tech watchmaking techniques and materials, including silicium escapements, and offer hallmarks of design excellence in the form of enamel work and more. Each of the watches, produced in limited editions, carry the words “Chronometry since 1846” on the dial. For this new series, the brand has developed two new movements, as well.
According to the brand, the icon model is the42mm Marine Torpilleur Blue Enamel watch made in an edition of 175 pieces, but other models may be the most sought after, including the Panda with white dial and midnight blue subsidiary dials made in a limited edition of just 300 pieces, or the Tourbillon Grande Feu Enamel black dial watch in rose gold. Exactly 175 pieces of this model will be made. There will be 300 pieces each of the blue-dial and whilte-dial 42mm Marine Torpilleur Moonphase watch, and 300 each of the blue- and white-dialed 44mm Annual Chronograph that offers annual calendar and chronograph functions.
Prices for the watches in the new collection range from $8,200 for the Panda watch, to $9,900 for the moonphase versions, $11,500 for the Blue Enamel watch, $12,100 for the annual chronographs and $48,400 for the stunning tourbillon model.
(This article by Roberta Naas first appeared on her column on Forbes.com. Portions of it are reproduced here.)