Ulysse Nardin has specialized in creating a number of unusual watches over the last few decades. The most visible is probably the Freak, which began as a revolutionary one-off timepiece and became a platform for experiments in materials science and escapement design which continue to this day. But the company has also produced exotic astronomical complications (the Trilogy of Time watches remain, since the first came out in 1985, some of the most interesting astronomical watches ever designed) and as well, has produced chiming watches. In the latter category, the firm made a name for itself with its repeaters and hour-striking watches, and its latest hour striker, which is produced as a collaboration with the high-end French audio firm, Devialet, aims to extend the experimental spirit of the Freak into the design of chiming watches as well.
Devialet is a relatively new firm but its products, which include one of the most highly praised wireless speaker systems in the world, have taken the audiophile world by storm (and the high praise goes along with some pretty extravagant prices; the Phantom wireless speaker will run you $1850, although Wired, among others, seems to think it's worth it). The basic brief was to figure out how to wring more volume out of the chiming mechanism. Basically, when hammer meets gong in a striking watch, the gong oscillates laterally and the sound waves have to propogate through the movement and case before being heard. The idea behind the Hourstriker Phantom is one we've seen before up to a point – there is a thin membrane on the underside of the watch that acts as an amplifier, which is more or less what Audemars Piguet is doing with its Supersonnerie.
What seems to be unique to the Phantom is the system for driving the membrane. Ulysse Nardin hasn't released actual diagrams of the mechanism, but it describes it as a system of "torsion arms" which transmit vibrations to the membrane directly. The result, so the company says, is a watch that ought to be clearly audible under any conditions short of an aircraft carrier flight deck; promised sound output is 85 decibels (as measured at a distance of 10 centimeters) thanks to both the torsion arm and membrane system, and the titanium case.
Ulysse Nardin's collaboration with Devialet is an interesting one in that for all that striking watches are often characterized by their makers as musical instruments, it has as far as I can recall, never before happened that a watch manufacturer has produced a striking watch in collaboration with a high-end audio company. In retrospect, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to do – audio firms are, bien sûr, experts in sound and sound transmission, so why not ask one for advice? Ulysse Nardin appeals to a family connection to partly justify the partnership – Emmanuel Nardin, one of Devialet's founders, is descended from the Ulysse Nardin family – but you don't need bloodlines for the idea to make sense.
There is of course more to a striking watch than pure volume, and the quality of the sound, as well as how well the visual design aspects and the audible experience complement each other, will have a lot to do with the final impact of the watch as a whole. Still, the engineering ideas behind the Phantom could make for a never-before-heard impact in the rarefied world of striking complications, in which Ulysse Nardin has until now, preferred to play a largely traditional game. We look forward to hearing it, in the metal.
Brand: Ulysse Nardin Model: Hourstriker Phantom
Diameter: 43mm Case Material: titanium Dial Color: anthracite Water Resistance: 30 meters Strap/Bracelet: black alligator with pin buckle
Caliber: UN-610 Functions: minutes, hours; strikes the hours and also on the half hour Power Reserve: 42 hous Winding: manual or automatic
Pricing & Availability
Price: CHF 72,500 Availability: available now Limited Edition: yes, 85 pieces world wide.
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