The world of luxury watches is no stranger to innovation and creativity, but Ulysse Nardin’s latest creation, the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry, delivers a masterclass in both. This cutting-edge timepiece not only redefines the functional boundaries of watchmaking but does so with a visual flair that captivates the imagination.
Back in 2001, Ulysse Nardin sent shockwaves through the watchmaking world with the release of its Freak watch—the first to incorporate silicon, a material that brought unprecedented durability and precision to timekeeping. Fast forward to 2023, the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry now transforms silicon from merely a functional element to a poetic expression of artistry. The UN-176 Manufacture calibre on the watch’s face elegantly displays silicon wheels, a tourbillon with the Ulysse Anchor Constant Escapement, a barrel, and a 7-day power reserve display—all seemingly suspended in mid-air over a silicon mosaic.
What is immediately striking about the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry is its audacious case—45mm of white gold shaped with negative angle facets, created through a complex laser method. This advanced crafting technique accentuates the watch’s disruptive aesthetic and ergonomic prowess, offering a pristine view of the intricate movements within, thanks to the ultra-glass box that envelopes it.
It is in this technological theatre that the UN-176 movement performs its high-wire act, defying conventional watchmaking principles. Created after two painstaking years of research and development, this movement exudes the in-house expertise of Ulysse Nardin’s technical department.
In a further nod to innovation, the watch features a flying tourbillon located at 6 o’clock, composed of 45 components and boasting a revolutionary constant escapement— a radical departure from the traditional anchor escapement. This not only guarantees an even impulse on the balance wheel but does away with the need for jewels and anchor pivots, thanks to silicon technology. This audacious engineering feat previously won Ulysse Nardin the coveted Tourbillon Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2015.
The watch also breaks from convention with its unique power reserve display. Instead of a moving indicator, the display disc consists of three bands that signify a full wind and a single band for an almost empty reserve—intuitive, yet profoundly distinct.
However, the most visually arresting feature of the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry is its dial, adorned with 103 radiant blue marquetry slivers of silicon, assembled with micron precision. This is an art form that requires incredible dexterity; the assembly of these fragile slivers represents hours of meticulous work by artisans. The interplay of matte and mirror-polished surfaces, combined with the slivers’ varying thicknesses, creates a three-dimensional spectacle that elevates the dial into a piece of modern art.
The attention to detail doesn’t stop at the dial; for the first time, the case back is embellished with a blue silicon plate, taking the use of this high-end material to the very last detail. While Ulysse Nardin has incorporated multi-coloured silicon marquetry discs in its limited editions of the Freak X since 2019, the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry represents the first time this craftsmanship has graced the Blast collection.