Navigating Through the Years: Hands-On with the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Chronograph


For its 175th anniversary, Ulysse Nardin is introducing an impressive fleet of Marine Torpilleur limited editions. Recently, WatchTime set sail with the Marine Tourpilleur Chronograph, which also has the added complication of an annual calendar onboard.

The French term torpilleur stands for a small boat designed to carry torpedoes into battle against larger, more heavily armed battleships. The name was reintroduced at Ulysse Nardin in 2017, fittingly chosen for a combatively priced watch with an in-house movement. For 2021, Ulysse Nardin’s 175th anniversary, the Swiss watchmaker is feeling combative again, and has launched a whole fleet of Torpilleur watches as a horological tribute to its storied past as a supplier of chronometers to many of the world’s navies in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ulysse Nardin President of America François-Xavier Hotier explained, “Chronometry has been our mantra for 175 years. These new Marine limited editions are designed for our friends and collectors worldwide. We pay tribute to our past as supplier of most of the admiralties in the world. It’s a wonderful way to showcase this chapter of the manufacture’s past, and a fitting addition to the many cutting-edge pieces we’ve introduced in the last two years. In short, we can now travel back in time with this collection, focus on the present with the recent releases, or even look into the brand’s future with the UFO deck clock.”

Despite its 44-mm diameter, the chronograph wears comparatively compact on the wrist, thanks to a length of 49 mm (lug to lug).

Speaking of time travel, established in 1846 by a 23-year-old Ulysse Nardin (Jan. 22, 1823 – Feb. 20, 1876), the Le Locle-based company quickly spotted the rising demand for pocket and marine chronometers that could measure time with the highest level of precision. As a consequence, Ulysse Nardin was awarded over 4,300 distinctions, including 18 gold medals, for the precision of its timekeepers over the following decades. Among its clients was also the U.S. Navy. In 1905, the Washington Naval Observatory began organizing a competition to find a manufacturer that could supply its torpedo boat officers with superior chronometers. Ulysse Nardin won the competition several years in a row, and established an ongoing relationship as an official supplier to the U.S. Navy that lasted until the 1950s.

The large screw-down crown bears the Ulysse Nardin anchor symbol and the brand’s initials.

The seven new models of the Marine Torpilleur anniversary collection (which we covered at their launch here) highlight different aspects of the brand’s current competencies: in-house movements, silicon components, tourbillon and moon-phase, enamel dials and, in the case of the chronograph shown here, also the additional measurement of elapsed time and an annual calendar. Ulysse Nardin has decided to equip only the watches powered by the automatic UN-118 (Enamel Blue and Panda) and UN-119 (Moonphase) with a COSC certificate. Hotier commented, “With the invention and use of new materials in our timepieces, such as silicon, we think it is more important to test the performance of the movement in its ready-to-wear state, i.e. once it has been put into the case with the dial and hands on it, in the same conditions the owner will wear the watch. That’s why we mostly focus on our own Ulysse Nardin certification; not only [do] we test the movement’s performance, but also the additional functions such as calendar, chronograph and power-reserve indicator. We may get some of our watches COSC-certified, but believe me, our own UN certification should be even more reassuring for collectors.”

The well-balanced dial consists of two subdials: the one at 9 o’clock is reserved for the continuous running seconds as well as for the month-of-the-year indicator in red.

The Marine Torpilleur Chronograph with annual calendar is available with either a varnished white or a matte blue dial, and is powered by the UN-153 manufacture movement that has replaced the earlier UN-150 movement. The dial is adorned with silvered counters at 9 and 3 o’clock, with the annual calendar being positioned at 9 o’clock. The date at 6 o’clock changes automatically (in sync with the month), and the annual calendar system (first used in the perpetual calendar model of 1996) is adjustable both forward and backward by using the large crown (which means that the month and day can be conveniently adjusted in both directions, should its owner have accidentally gone too far). Ulysse Nardin’s Caliber UN-153 is visible through a sapphire exhibition caseback, and the partially openworked rotor is decorated with the brand’s nautically inspired anchor motif surrounded by a frosted, textured surface.

Ulysse Nardin’s UN-153 chronograph movement was first introduced in 2016 for the brand’s 20th anniversary of the Marine collection. It is based on the UN-150 from 2014 but adds an annual calendar, adjustable both forward and backward by using the crown.

The version shown here (Ref. 1533-320LE-0A-175/1A) boasts a crisp white dial showcasing Roman numeral hour markers, blued “pear” steel hands, and a well-balanced bicompax chronograph layout. The watch is mounted on a brown leather strap with four oversized white stitches; a blue strap is also available for this version (Ref. 1533-320LE-0A-175/1B).

With a diameter of 44 mm for its 50-meter water-resistant stainless-steel case, the chronograph is the largest member of the Torpilleur collection, but doesn’t wear too big on the wrist, thanks to a comparatively compact length (lug-to-lug) of 49 mm. On top of that, its white dial and blued hands make it rather versatile, sailing easily between an elegant and an almost sporty appearance. Dial legibility is generally good (and most likely better as with the blue dial version), but, unsurprisingly, the lack of luminous material on the hands and dial does reduce its capability for a cruise after dark.

The satin-finished side plate is held by two blued screws and engraved with the individual number of each watch.

In comparison, the Torpilleur Chronograph is 0.66 mm taller than an IWC Portugieser chronograph measuring 13.00 mm, and has a diameter of 44 mm compared to the 41-mm steel case from IWC. Its main advantage, however, is probably the added annual calendar function, which is, next to the power-reserve indicator, an equally user-friendly as well as a convenient feature. Add to that an in-house movement, a distinctive nautical design, and a comparatively small number of watches produced, and you’ll get a lot of reasons to embark on a horological cruise with Ulysse Nardin this year.

The fluted bezel is one of the many classic hallmarks of marine instruments.

For nostalgic reasons, we would certainly not have been opposed to a boat christening ceremony with a “Chronometer” on the dial of the chronograph, given the company’s stellar performance at the Neuchâtel Observatory, but, overall, the chronograph and the new Torpilleur collection do appear to have hit their target.

SPECS:
Manufacturer: Ulysse Nardin SA, Rue du Jardin 3, 2400 Le Locle, Switzerland
Reference number: 1533-320LE-0A-175/1A
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, date and annual calendar; chronograph: minutes and seconds
Movement: Self-winding mechanical Caliber UN-153, 406 components,
escapement wheel, balance spring and anchor in silicon, 28,800 vph (4Hz), 52-hour power reserve
Case: Polished steel case (the curving lugs and the bezel are satin-finished) with transparent caseback, sapphire crystal on both sides, screw-down crown, dial with silvered subdials and blued hands, water resistant to 50 m
Strap and clasp: Brown alligator leather strap with folding clasp
Dimensions: Diameter = 44.0 mm, height = 13.66 mm, lug to lug = 49 mm
Variations: With blue leather strap (Ref. 1533-320LE-0A-175/1B); with blue PVD-coated dial (Ref. 1533-320LE-3A-175/1A on brown strap, 1533-320LE-3A-175/1B on blue strap)
Price: $12,100

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