Best known for their ties to the nautical world, people would often associate Ulysse Nardin to marine chronographs and dive watches. However, the Swiss watch brand made waves with their uniquely designed Tourbillon Free Wheel, a masterful reinterpretation of traditional watch construction. While the base models of their Executive collection use a fairly typical skeletonised design, the Tourbillon Free Wheel took the concept further, raising the watch movement’s most crucial components such as the barrel, power reserve and tourbillon regulator, and displaying them above the dial. Already a sight to behold, the brand recently decided to up the ante by incorporating 2,251 diamonds into the watch’s design.
Swiss Snow Fall
To make this dream a reality, Ulysse Nardin enlisted the help of master gem setters at Art Setting. The Genevan gem setters employed a technique known as “snow setting” in which diamonds of differing sizes are arranged side-by-side, completely covering the watch’s surface, to mimic a freshly fallen blanket of snow. The complexity of snow setting is carried out only by the most skilled of artisans and requires an astounding 120 hours for each of the 8 exclusive timepieces.
A project of this magnitude demands that only the most exquisite materials are used. Ulysse Nardin went to extraordinary lengths to ensure this, rigorously selecting diamonds of the finest quality, each holding a rating of VVS or VS for clarity and F/G for colour, purity, and brilliance. Additionally, Ulysse Nardin and their parent company Kering are dedicated to environmental conservation and sustainability, and so strictly adhered to the Kimberly Process to ensure that the 5.90 carats of diamonds on each timepiece are ethically sourced.
Physical Brilliance Reflecting Brilliant Technological Innovation
The 2,251 pavé diamonds encrusting the Sparkling Free Wheel’s dial, crown, lugs, and 44mm white gold case, shine with fiery radiance, hinting at the sheer brilliance behind the watch’s most striking feature (apart from all those stones that is). To highlight the most crucial components of the watch’s movement, without which it would be just an astonishingly pretty paperweight, Ulysse Nardin utilised a “floating design”, elevating these parts and mounting them on the front side of the dial.
Set against the diamond-encrusted grey gold dial, the exposed tourbillon, seven-day power indicator and gear train take centre stage, mesmerising the wearer with its constant graceful motion. The in-house UN-176 movement is a technological marvel in and of itself. It uses the brand’s signature Ulysse Anchor Escapement on the flying tourbillon, rather than a traditional Swiss lever escapement. To reduce wear and tear on the movement, Ulysse Nardin also used low friction sillicium, in place of rubies, allowing for a longer lifespan.
All of this is housed in a sapphire box, another testament to the skilled watchmakers at Ulysse Nardin. Sapphire is a rather brittle material, prone to breaking during machining which required extensive experimentation to achieve the desired finish. The Sparkling Free Wheel also features a sapphire case back, allowing the wearer to gaze upon the beating heart of the timepiece from both ends and fully appreciate what makes this watch tick.
Rounding off the entire timepiece is a soft and understated alligator strap with a similarly diamond encrusted clasp.
Only 8 of these opulent watches were made, each individually numbered on the side of the case. The price of owning one of these immensely exclusive and limited timepieces is 225,000 CHF.
All images courtesy of Ulysse Nardin