We’re big fans of Ulysse Nardin’s dialside magnum opus, the Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel, here at QP. The watch’s peerless arrangement of mechanisms against a contrasting dial and its vast 44mm glassbox sapphire crystal give the impression of a horological exhibition or perhaps some kind of laboratory demonstration. Plenty of watches are well-finished, but the Free Wheel appears so fastidiously spotless and downright shiny that it looks more like a scientific instrument than a mechanical object.
So, what better way to extend such a showcase-on-the-wrist than use it as a cabinet of material curiosities. Ulysse Nardin has created a new series of four watches, each limited to 18 pieces, featuring rare materials or metiers d’art skills to adorn both its dial and barrel cover.
The first watch in the series features the densest element known, Osmium, from the platinum family of metals. A trace element which is thought to be represent just 50 parts per trillion of the planet’s crust, Osmium is also by some margin the rarest metal on earth. Here gem-like crystals of the metal cover the dial and barrel cover like an iridescent blue carpet.
Here Ulysse Nardin has opted to use a blue variant of the translucent, shimmering mineral which, with its sparkling inclusions, is often used to represent the night sky. Confusingly, Aventurine was originally the name given to a form of glass discovered by accident on the famed Venetian island of Murano when, legend has it, some copper filings fell into a vat of molten glass.
This sparkling material was given the name Aventurine, from the Italian "A Ventura" or ‘By Chance’, which was then later appropriated for the mineral because of its similar appearance. To further cloud the issue, the glass material is now also known as Goldstone.
This fusion of two thirds carbon fibre (comparatively long at seven microns when compared to those used in other similar carbon composite materials) and one third high temperature epoxy, Carbonium was initially developed for the French civil aerospace industry.
It boasts a uniquely stiff structure, is 40% lighter than aluminium and, most importantly in this instance, has an entirely random, grained appearance. Ulysse Nardin began using the material when manufacturer Lavoisier added gold into the mix to create a striking, high contrast aesthetic.
Ulysse Nardin might be best known today for cutting-edge materials and mechanical concepts but it is clearly not adverse to traditional metiers d’art techniques either, as straw marquetry stems from the 17th century and was originally practiced by nuns. Here the stalks of straw are transformed using a black textile dye before being cut into shape and set in place, radiating out from the centre of the barrel and the tourbillon.
The Ulysse Nardin Executive Free Wheel Tourbillon in Osmium is priced at £92,650 while the other three variants are £89,900.
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