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December 21 2002 at 5:49 PM

Marcus Hanke  (Login mhanke)


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Marcus Hanke
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Some thoughts on "manufactury" and "inhouse" movements ...

January 9 2003, 5:48 AM 

As we lawyers put it: It all depends on the definition. What do you think is a manufacturer movement? Especially in Germany, this has sparked furious debates among the watch-loving community, and it continues to do so. While in English-speaking countries, the term "manufacturer movement" does occur only infrequently. More often the term "inhouse movement" is used, but this, too, is far from being sharply defined.

"Manufacture" in a strict sense means that everything is made "by hand". Of course, a good watchmaker is able to produce every part of his movements by hand, but it would be crazy to assume that it is economical. Even Ludwig Oechslin, who does produce all working prototypes of his developments himself in his own little atelier, normally purchases standard parts (jewels, wheels, axles) whenever feasible, and makes use of a small, but modern CNC-machine for producing other components. One should not forget that the production "by hand" also includes the huge problem of tolerances. Mass-produced components like wheels etc. are made with extremely tiny tolerances, while manual production involves larger tolerances. In order to have a very good movement made by hand, the watchmaker has to invest a huge effort in order to 'calibrate' all parts to each other, so the tolerances would eventually work together, resulting in an accurate movement.

This is the reason why in earlier times, chronometers with the necessary accuracy were rare and expensive. Watchmakers had to spend a lot of time on a single movement, just to tweak it for taking successfully part in a chronometer competition. Whenever a damage made it necessary to change a single part, the complex system of tolerances was affected, and very often such a movement lost its accuracy. Today, the majority of ETA movements, regardless of their execution, already are within COSC chronometer limits, without any difficult adjustment procedures; this being a result of the tiny tolerances being possible with CNC mass production.

Even a a very top 'producer' like Philippe Dufour will rely on some modern equipment, and you have to wait a very long time until you get a 'Simplicity' delivered!

I made this lengthy introduction simply to challenge a misconception that is still very popular within the watch world, yes, sometimes even fed deliberately by some watch brands: Mechanical watches are not produced by hundreds of little elves, restlessly filing, smoothing, grinding, polishing watch parts, and they are not made by grey-bearded watchmakers, sitting bent at their tables for countless hours, somewhere in the Swiss mountains. This is what advertisment tries to sell us, but not reality.

Today, watch production primarily is an issue of engineers and metalurgists, technicians, specially trained workers. The traditional watchmaking part is but the very last stage in watch production, when the movements are assembled and adjusted.

Anyone searching for 'real' manufacturers, has to deal with certain realities: The series production of modern watches needs highly specialized machinery, which is so expensive, that smaller companies cannot afford it - their production numbers are not high enough to make full use of the machine and staff capacities needed by the equipement. Therefore, very often the production of certain parts or groups of parts have to be sourced out.

There is no watch brand that really produces all movements parts inhouse in substantial numbers. Even Glashütte Original, which, out of historical reasons, produces nearly everything within its one factory house, has to buy jewels and springs from other suppliers. And their production of individual screws is likely to be discontinued, once the old machinery is worn out. It is too expensive to produce one's own screws, if they can be bought in the same quality, but much cheaper from a supplier. Some companies try to achieve that "everything inhouse" status by simply purchasing the supplying companies; but this is not what originally is meant by "inhouse".

Thus one should be able to understand why it is so difficult to define "manufacture" or "inhouse" correctly. Does the term depend on the amount of parts produced, and where they are produced? Are old movements, that are in exclusive use by a watch brand, enough to justify an "inhouse" status? Hardly, I would think.

In my personal opinion, the key term in that problem should be "development". Regardless of where a certain part or even movement is produced in series, the company should have the decisive part in the development. This is where the most effort has to be invested. You have to come up with an idea, check its feasibility, produce all the plans necessary for a flawless production. Very often, it is necessary to hire partners from outside, specialists, which are not available in the company's staff. This is - and always was - very common in the watch industry, and is the basis for the group of 'independent' watchmakers, like Christophe Claret, Vincent Calabrese, Franck Mueller (before he founded his own company), to name but a few. Sometimes it is not a traditional master watchmaker and his abilities that is needed: Without the assigned experts from aerospace or computer industry, neither the "Trilogy of Time", nor the marvelous "Freak" would have been possible. And several parts for these watches have to be produced by that industries, just think of the etched silicone wheels of the "Freak".

I think that the new development of a movement, or a specific complication is the really important part. Sometimes, of course, the new complication is but a minor one, and maybe would not make the entire movement truly "inhouse", but sometimes the development of a new complication is so dominant, that it dwarfs the part, that is acquired more or less complete from other suppliers. As an example, take the famous "Trilogy of Time": All three astronomical watches are powered by the trusted ETA 2892A2 base movement. However, the complications atop of it, those displaying this manifold of data (sun, moon, eclipses, planetary orbits, area of the earth, lightened by the sun ...), are the result of long and complicated research, calculations, technical developments (new and light alloys had to be introduced from aerospace technology), that this makes the ETA base irrelevant, IMHO.

Ulysse Nardin is a typically small watch brand, that has found its niche due to its particular abilities: They are not able to actually produce all their movements in series. Since some time, they are able to produce all their prototypes, pre-production series, and to do the serial production of certain key parts, or complications/modules, where the numbers are not so large. UN's huge strength is their incredible technical creativity, and most of the employees at le Locle and La-Chaux-de-Fonds deal with the realization of own projects. It would be economically irrational to invest huge sums into machinery to produce movements parts, which can be acquired from other suppliers in the same quality. This would divert valuable resources from their development effort.

What we love about Ulysse Nardin, is the result of its development effort and creativity. You won't find the complications developed by UN in a product of any other manufacturer. Thus, I would say that their products are truly "their own" - or "manufactury", if one wants to use that term.


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Marcus Hanke
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Account on a visit of the UN factory

January 12 2003, 6:28 AM 

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to visit Ulysse Nardin's main factory at Le Locle, and the new production facility at La Chaux-de-Fonds. I had posted that account in the WatchRap forum, but it has become buried under hundreds of posts long ago. Many of the visitors of the UN forum might not have read it back then. Therefore, I'd like to give it an appropriate home here in the UN forum.

Please click here to go to the article


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Marcus Hanke
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Some thoughts on UN's company strategy and philosophy

January 27 2003, 5:21 AM 

First of all, please note that we are not an 'official' UN forum, which means, that my statements are far from being authoritative and only reflect my personal opinion, which is based on my experience with the brand UN, as well as several talks with UN staff members.

Brand positioning and customer profiles are issues of strategic planning, which is done by a few persons at a company's top executive level, in UN's case by Rolf Schnyder himself. It is very common that these things are kept confidential, partly because no one wants his competitors to get a free 'compass' on one's company; thus being able to plan a counter-strategy. Partly, because sometimes smaller or larger changes of that strategy might be necessary, and it could be annoying, having to explain the customers why you changed the course.

Finally, the questions you have asked can be answered differently, regarding the different markets where the product is sold. It is the - sometimes difficult - job of regional sales managers, to check out these differences and to market their brands accordingly.

I have frequently tried to do the same as you, to position UN within the lineup of watch brands. However, this proved to be very difficult, if not impossible. Ulysse Nardin is occupying a niche within today's watch industry, and does this very effectively. Technical innovation, the new interpretation of the mechanical watch, be it as an instrument (GMT, Perpetual), be it as a work of art (Freak), seem to be the prime goals of Ulysse Nardin's activities.

While the dedication to traditional master watchmaking is not forgotten at UN (just think of the marvelous repeaters, and tourbillon watches like the Genghis Khan), what the company excels others in, are technologies which make a mechanical watch more useable, or more 'thrilling'.

Generally, one could say that the best liked customer of a high-end watch manufacturer is the dedicated collector. Interestingly, most of the highly complicated, and therefore expensive watches are owned by people that have more than one of such pieces. In spite of the high costs, one who buy a tourbillon, will often also buy a repeater, or a perpetual, or both. The more you can keep these customers loyal to your brand, the more of your expensive pieces you will sell.

However, I am quite convinced that in total sales numbers, these serious collectors are but the minority. The larger income is made by customers, who do not buy the top complications, but the watch models of the lower range, one might designate them as "bread-and-butter-models", too. All top watch manufacturers have such watches, which make the major share of this company's turnaround. IWC has its "Flieger" and "GST" lines, Audemars Piguet its "Royal Oak" (in particular those without larger complciations), even Patek has such a line, with its steel "Aquanaut" and the simple "Calatrava". Ulysse Nardin is offering the "Marine" series in that range.

These watch lines are by far less expensive than the top models, and mainly serve two purposes: First, they are a first step into a certain brand. A person who cannot afford a perpetual or tourbillon now, might be able to do so in some years, and it is wise to offer him a nice product to start his brand loyalty. And second, normally the development of these watches is not so expensive, since they offer a more standard technology. Thus, the income they bring for the manufacturer, helps providing the means for the development of the real novelties and highly complicated watches. This is common with other products, too: If you decide to buy a Mercedes C-class car, your purchase helps developing products like the Maybach. Additionally, you might be satisfied with your purchase so much, that eventually you will upgrade within the brand, until you really might be able to purchase a Maybach. However, as in the car business, the high prestige value of the top models, will also increase the prestige of the more inexpensive watches, thus offering a higher "value". Of course, the quality of the introduction watches must never be inferior to the standards applied to the top models, otherwise the brand would lose credibility.

Therefore, if you want to analyze Ulysse Nardin's products as an indicator where the brand should be positioned, you have to include both main product lines; the top and the introduction models. Within the top watches, UN has no difficulties to reside among the best. However, it is difficult to offer a direct comparison, since the company philsophies seem to be rather different: Patek, Lange, Audemars, Vacheron, etc. invest a large, if not the largest share of their resources into the perfection and refinement of the classic art of watchmaking. The products they offer are wonderfully crafted interpretations of the mechanical watch as it was made already decades, if not centuries ago.

While Ulysse Nardin proves that it is able to play within that league, too, (just think of the 'mighty' Genghis Khan), its main goal is the development of innovative mechanics and technologies. Thus, I personally would consider a Freak or a Perpetual GMT as being far more typical for Ulysse Nardin than the Genghis Khan. Within its niche, UN hardly has a direct competition, which seems to ensure its prosper future even in case the luxury market should lose its economic impetus.

Regarding the introduction watch models, notably the "Marine" series, the avid collector might not be the typical customer. However, it will be difficult to qualify generally, who shall buy these products. There are regional differences, which have to be addressed by the regional sales managers. Unfortunately I am neither knowledgeable nor experienced enough to give a good overview, but I can give some details from how the situation is here, in Central Europe, in particular in the German-speaking countries: While in other countries, fashion and design are very important, the watch-buying public in Germany is massively influenced by the concept of "the good watch".

Besides cheap plastic watches with quartz movements, which are the majority of watches sold, as everywhere else on the world, those Germans (or Austrians), that purchase an expensive watch, do so to own a "good watch", that will accompany them for the rest of their lives. Such a watch costs about one or two months' net salaries, if made of of steel, twice that if made of gold. It is solid, unspectacular in both design and technology. The average customer wants to become old with this watch, and many think that only mechanical watches can offer this reliability and continuity. For the manufacturer the problem is, that these customers, once they are satisfied with their purchase, won't buy another watch. Only a minority of them will take their first "good watch" as a starting point for a watch collection. However, they might serve as multiplicators, spreading their good opinion of the watch.

Therefore, it is more than difficult to find an exact market position for UN: On the one hand it competes with the best brands, throwing their unique complications and concepts into the competition. Of course, the quality of both, material and work, must adhere to highest standards, in order not to drop out this competition. Serious collectors can be a difficult breed, they are very well informed, and experienced enough to check the quality themselves. Their financial means make it easy for them to drop watches of a certain brand in favour of another, that they consider being more worthy to collect. The fact that Ulysse Nardin has so many dedicated long-time collectors, IMO proves that they are successful in offering top quality.

Regarding the more inexpensive watches, UN faces an even harder competition than in the absolute luxury class. Here, the trump card as a niche manufacturer cannot be played as easily, since the introductory watch models only barely offer the break-through technologies typical for UN's top products. With the exception of the power reserve display, the popular "Marine" series only features standard technology. Thus there must be other reasons for their huge success on the market. A certain prestige value, deriving from the famous and spectacular top products, may be one reason. Their design another. Just as IWC managed to claim the archetype of all current aviator's watches, offering a complete product line, based on this model, Ulysse Nardin successfully placed the "Marine" theme as their recognizing style within the introduction watch lines. With its consequent design, UN found a certain uniqueness already at that level, which somewhat mirrors its special status within the haute horologie. People buy these watches, often not to collect them, but to wear a watch that appears to be a bit different. Uniqueness alone, however, could not guarantee the success. Without a high quality level, the "Marine" watches would not be such steady sellers.

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Marcus Hanke
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Insights into the assembly of the "Freak"

February 24 2003, 12:18 PM 

I hope you like my brief article on how a "Freak" is made. To access it, click on the following link:



This message has been edited by mhanke on Jun 23, 2003 6:53 AM

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A Brief Introduction to Silicon Fabrication

July 9 2003, 9:33 PM 

At the center of the Ulysse Nardin Freak is a new "dual direct" escapement. The description by Ulysse Nardin says that "the two wheels at the centre of the Dual Direct Escapement are plasma engraved out of pure silicon." This is a short description of the process through which the silicon wheels are made: A Brief Introduction to Silicon Fabrication.

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Marcus Hanke
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Basel 2003: UN novelties

August 13 2003, 6:48 AM 

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Marcus Hanke
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Marine Chronometer - Evolution of a Design

August 26 2003, 6:52 AM 

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Marcus Hanke
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UN PuristS dinner, New York, September 3rd, 2003

September 8 2003, 2:48 PM 

To read the magnificent article on the event, written by Jack Forster, please click on the link below:



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Marcus Hanke
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Bernard Cheong's article on his FREAK purchase

January 15 2004, 5:11 AM 

Well, most of you, dear readers, have felt with Bernard, who feverishly anticipated the delivery of his FREAK. And here is your reward: His detailed, lively AND lovely told account on his relation to a very unconventional timepiece.

And what could be a more eyecatching link to his article, than his beautiful wife!

Click here to read Bernard's story

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Marcus Hanke
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Why the Planetarium? A personal narrative and explanation

April 6 2004, 7:43 AM 

When I was confronted with the spectacular Trilogy of Time for the very first time, I started thinking about which one of the three watches I would like to own. At first the Tellurium was the prime candidate, because I considered the global day/night display with moonphase and eclipses the most useful of the three, in daily practice.

A little later, the Astrolabium gained attractivity in my eyes, just because it was so complicated. It was the manifold of lines, symbols and hands that made it so impressive.

As time passed by, I dedicated more and more energy in studying the Trilogy, getting deeper involved into their design and philosophy than I had ever anticipated. I even had the chance to spend several days with Dr. Ludwig Oechslin, the genius behind these watches. He is a true master of all sciences, and a fascinating personality.

It was him who opened my eyes, completely changing my attitude towards the one watch of the trilogy, which I had previously more or less ignored; the Planetarium.

This is the story as I learnt it from Dr. Oechslin, and which determined my final decision:

At the end of the 16th century, the Renaissance introduced massive changes and developments, not only in art and architecture, but especially in science. In both dimensions, microcosmos and macrocosmos, the view of the world that has hitherto dominated life, was completely turned over. Anatomical studies proved the human life being based a fascinating organism, but nowhere as mystical as most had thought before. And the Copernican system of the world replaced Earth as the centre of the known cosmos with the Sun. Suddenly, man as God's creation was removed from the centre, and given a place in a orbit around the Sun, among other planets. As the fate of Giordano Bruno, and Galileo Galilei's troubles show, it was even dangerous to publicly adopt the radical new view of the world. The problem was further enlarged by the fact that astrology, then considered an exact science, is based on the movement of the planets as they are seen from the Earth, so it formed a somewhat strange coalition together with the Church, which also defended the old system installed by Ptolomaeus, fighting against the new Copernican system.

In that time, a Swiss mathematician, astronomer and clockmaker, named Jost Bürgi, was torn between two emotions: on the one side, he was a scientist, and convinced of the Copernican system's truth, but on the other hand, he was pragmatic, and knew that his Catholic employers would not like him to express a view that was often considered heretical. Additionally, the old geocentric system was still needed as a base for astrological calculations.

Jost Bürgi (1552–1632)

When Bürgi started the construction of a new astronomical clock, he found an absolutely perfect compromise, combining the two disputing views of the world. He placed the Sun into the centre of his planetarium, as it should be according to Copernicus. Instead of letting the Earth circle around it, however, he placed the Earth into a fixed position, and re-calculated the planetary orbits in a way, that he could display them in reference to the fixed axis between Sun and Earth.

Jost Bürgi's marvelous clock, built in 1605, now held by the Museum of History of Art in Vienna

By means of that design, he was able to satrisfy both, the need for a astrological display, and his own self-understanding as a scientist. And to those criticizing that the Earth was not depicted in the centre of the system, he could point out that still all planets rotate around the Earth.

The dial of the Bürgi clock shows the Earth in a fixed location, with the other planets' positions being shown by hands

When working as a scholar, Dr. Ludwig Oechslin travelled through Europe, studying the astronomical timepieces made by Bürgi and his contemporaries. As soon as he was confronted with the clock held in Vienna, he was fascinated by the idea behind the planetary display, which he had never seen in an astronomical clock before. For Oechslin, it became a firm plan to design a watch, implementing the same unique display.

Besides the mathematical calculations, the real challenge was the fact that this watch would not have a "dial" in a conventional sense. Oechslin did not want to use a manifold of hands displaying the planets. This would add too much height, since it is necessary to stack at least seven hands (including hour and minute) on top of each other. Additionally, such a watch would be more difficult to read than the Astrolabium. Instead, the face should consist of several concentric rings, rotating around the watch's centre. Only the ring on which the Earth is placed is not moving, being the only place under which to hide the wheelwork. Oechslin invested huge amount of energy into this project, even more than he did before, with the Astrolabium.

this is how the planetary orbits are displayed on the Planetarium, in reference to the fixed axis between Sun and Earth: Since Earth is moving faster than the outer planets (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), the referential system overtakes these planets. As a consequence, the watch displays them rotating clockwise, when in reality, they orbit the Sun counter-clockwise, like all other planets

Finally, Oechslin improved Bürgi's design by adding a unique moon display, rotating around the Earth.

The moonphase display on Ludwig Oechslin's Planetarium

Thus was Dr. Oechslin's admiration for Bürgi's genius, that he suggested the new and second timepiece of the marvelous UN Trilogy of Time should wear the name "Castello", Italian for "castle", which again is what "Burg" (Bürgi) is in German. However, the decision was made to call it "Copernicus", which, according to Oechslin, is not entirely correct, since the watch does not display the Copernican system, but a geocentric system with Copernican orbits.

This was what I learnt about the Planetarium, and being a (legal) historian myself, I was deeply impressed by the thoughts and personalities behind that watch. Of the Trilogy, this is the most unique piece, since that particular way to display the planetary orbits has been realized only a single time, 400 years ago, by Jost Bürgi, and has now been retrieved from the long forgotten by Ludwig Oechslin. My personal choice was clear now.

A small epilogue: Dr. Oechslin was aware of my original uncertainty of which watch to choose from the Trilogy. When I met him in Basel last year, he asked me which one I took. I raised my arm to show him my Planetarium. Spontaneously, he shook my hand and congratulated me.


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cristiane dolinski semedo
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July 13 2008, 7:48 PM 

Obrigada pelas informações.

Vim em busca de informações, pois também gosto de relógios e tenho várias fotos que tirei durante uma viagem por alguns países do velho mundo.

Mais uma vez obrigada

Cristiane Dolinski Semedo

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(Login RTsai)
AP Discussion Group

Ulysse Nardin Watch Exhibition Dec. 20, 2003 Taipei, Taiwan

May 3 2004, 3:16 PM 

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Marcus Hanke
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Basel 2004: UN novelties

May 17 2004, 4:57 AM 

This year was a year of consolidation for Ulysse Nardin. After three major strikes in the last years (Freak, Ghenghis Khan, Sonata), it was time to give the development department time to work on the next projects (keep in mind that the Sonata needed seven years until it reached production stage!). Additionally, the order books are full, and the production facilities are hard working just to fulfil the Freak and Sonata orders.

Consequently, it was not astonishing that Ulysse Nardin did not present an astounding marvel of innovation this year, but decided to improve the wonderful timepieces already in the line, both, in technical and aesthetic regards.

The most stunning - and most exclusive - novelty shown by UN was the magnificent "Circus", a minute repeater featuring four automatons on the dial. Following the path taken with the mighty "Ghenghis Khan" two years ago, the new "Circus" also has a dial made of deep black onyx. Wonderfully chased figures made of pink gold depict a circus scene. While several rows of spectators seem to watch, the figues in the front move, whenever the slider of the minute repeater mechanism is engaged: An ape on the left side tries to catch one of the balls a clown is juggling with, corresponding the hour chime. The balls are the small second and are moving permanently. The quarter hours are shown by the movement of the tamer's whip and the tiger's paw together, while afterwards, the paw moves alone, depicting the minutes. During the whole chiming, the bear is rising in front of the dancing figure.

The "Circus" is available in both, pink gold and platinum, in a limited edition of 30 pieces each.

The display back shows the beautifully finished hand-wound movement.

The "Circus" is really a worthy successor to the famous Jungel Repeater, which seems to be discontinued now.

Since the combination of black onyx and pinkg gold or platinum cases proved so attractive on the "Khan" and now the "Circus", the complete repeater/jacquemart series is now offered in that striking combination. Thus, UN also showed the "Triple Jack" with onyx dial:

And of course the popular Hourstriker, which also got an entirely new case; somewhat larger, with more massive pushers, this case looks more substantial.

The new case also includes a display back, reveiling the finely finished 2892A2 base of the complex sonnerie and jacquemart mechanisms:

Another version of the Hourstriker was shown with a bright blue lapis lazuli dial. With its brightly glimmering inclusions, this dial is fascinating, but maybe a bit too bright for some tastes:

As usually with these materials, the picture cannot reproduce the dial's real appearance.

The new design of the repeater/jacquemart line apparently was very successful, since the production of 2004 is already sold out. Maybe, the inflation of tourbillons at this year's Basel show, made the automatons on the dials even more attractive in the eyes of many collectors.

Aside from these wonderful pieces, UN also presented a more earthly collection: The "Michelangelo Gigante Chronometer" combines the large case of Ludovico perpetual calendar, that was introduced last year, with the movement of the "Ulysse 1", immediately recognizeable by its unique power reserve display, consisting of two movement elements: the hand and the disk. A very attractive addition to the current Ulysse 1 line, especially for those who prefer a tonneau case and luminous hands.

This is the pink gold version, with a beautiful silver/grey dial.

The white gold version with a blue galvanized dial is limited to 100 pieces:

The stainless steel version sports three different shades of grey on its dial - very attractive!

Aside from this entirely new series, UN freshened up the appearance of some classical models: the Michelangelo UTC got the stylish Roman numerals, already known from the Ludovico.

The round-cased GMT Big Date received an attractive grey dial with waffle-iron structure and oversized numerals at 6 and 12:

And the GMT Perpetual also is now dressed in light grey:

Finally, two new cloisonné enamel San Marco from the sailship series were shown, this time in the larger San Marco Gigante cases, also with display backs:

Tea clipper "Lightning", in platinum case

Even more famous, the "Flying Cloud", in pink gold case

Even if the spectacular innovation was not present this year, I think we fans of Ulysse Nardin can be fully satisfied with what Rolf Schnyder and his "dream team" presented us.

With best regards,

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Marcus Hanke
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Sponsoring the World Elephant Polo Championship

June 6 2004, 3:41 PM 

Somewhen around last Christmas, I was informed that the newest sponsoring activity by a watch brand would be the support of the World Elephant Polo Championship. I would have thought of a joke, had the brand in question not been Ulysse Nardin, and the person informing me Rolf Schnyder, the company's president. Those two, the president and his company, are generally infamous to do what others don't. Consequently, instead of planes, cars or sailing yachts, UN decided to sponsor a virtually unknown sport, which barely one of us will be lucky enough to watch in person. Elephant polo is the spectacular proff that these grey giants, which seemingly are so portly and heavy, can be astonishingly quick and light-footed.

It is a principle of mine never to quote the press releases of the watch companies in my articles, since they normally are but advertising material, prepared by the company's public relations staff. Instead, I want to present my own thoughts and more info. However, this time, I'd ask you to apologize me for making an exception. The press text, UN provided on the elephant polo sponsoring is so well laid out and full of information, that it would be stupid to replace a good text with my own clueless one, especially since I do not know the least on elephant polo (these wonderful animal are a bit rare here in Austria!). Therefore, please Allow me to quote what UN writes about its most recent public relations activity:

"Ulysse Nardin’s sponsorship of the World Elephant Polo Championship is a street savvy move. Though different, unique and unexpected (the same superlatives often used to describe Ulysse Nardin itself), elephant polo is not controversial or gimmicky. Though few have a chance of seeing a live contest. It does have universal appeal and is certainly visually arresting and dramatic. Throughout history, elephants have been used to great, theatrical effect. Hannibal crossed the Alps on them. Nadir Shah had his princely gifts for Empress Elizabeth of Russia delivered on elephants. It took his entourage two years to reach St. Petersburg from Delhi but the commotion and admiration they received was worth the time and effort. And lately, who can forget the sight of the “oliphants” engaged in battle in “the Return of the King”?

The World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) was formed in 1982 at Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge in the Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal, by James Manclark, a Scottish landowner and former Olympic tobogganer and AV Jim Edwards, proprietor of Tiger Tops. Ironically, the idea originated, not in some steamy rainforest but over a drink at the Cresta Run Bar, in faraway, snow-clad St. Moritz, Switzerland.

The originators of elephant polo are lost in the mists of time but records show elephant polo was already being played at the turn of the 20th century by members of the British aristocracy. India was under British rule and doubtless elephant polo was a pleasant diversion for the British Raja and the local maharajas.

In mountainous Nepal, elephant polo had always been played on a grass airfield in Meghauly, located 180 meters above sea level on the fringe of Royal Chitwan National Park, where on a clear day you enjoy a breathtaking view of the Himalayas, the world’s highest snowcapped 8000+ meters peaks.

Initially there were no proper organization or authorization body. Games were played on an irregular, adhoc basis. Manclark and Edwards decided to formalize the rules and regulations, set up a committee and administer the games just like any other sport. WEPA became the first and most authoritative body to organize and sanction the ever increasing elephant polo tournaments in Asia.

The first games were played using a soccer ball. This modus operandi had to be drastically modified as the playful pachyderms had a penchant for stamping and smashing the balls! The polo sticks are made of bamboo and attached to a standard polo mallet at the end. The length of the stick depends on the size of the elephant – anywhere from 6 to 9 feet. Players simply choose accordingly their preferred size.

Elephant polo is similar to horse polo but with various amendments to accommodate the differences between equine and pachyderm. The pitch is ¾ due to the slower speed of elephants. It is also a penalty for a defending elephant to sit in front of the goal line as obviously its huge bulk would make scoring, well, an elephantine task. For safety, players are harnessed by ropes across their thighs and secured by rope stirrups. The game is momentarily stopped if a player’s harness comes loose and there is a danger of falling off. Like horse polo, elephant polo is not the world’s safest sport compared to table tennis or badminton. However, throughout WEPA’s 22 year history, only a few players have fallen off their elephants.

In horse polo, the players control their horses but in this case, the mahout or trainer is in complete control of the beast. A polo horse can be mounted by any player but an elephant accepts orders only from its mahout and no one else. Each mahout has trained or worked with his elephant for at least a few years which responds quickly to the verbal commands and signals. The mahouts communicate with the elephants by shouting or applying pressure to the back of the elephant’s ears using their feet. Each game is played with four a side and consists of two 10-minute chukkas of playing time.

As player and mahout are the only two allowed on each elephant, coordination is paramount. The player has to direct and communicate with his mahout quickly regarding where to go, how fast and when to stop or turn. Most mahouts and certainly all the elephants understand only Nepali so communication can be erratic or reduced to sign language or hand signals. Professional players tend to know some basic Nepalese for extra advantage.

The WEPA Tournament continues to be held each year in December in Meghauly and hosted by Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge. It is an invitational tournament and includes teams from all over Asia. The reigning champion is the Tiger Tops Tuskers from Nepal following their success in the finals on December 2003 in the 22nd World Elephant Polo Association Games. First runner up was Thai Anantara Resorts while defending champion National Parks from Nepal managed third place."

Thanks, Rolf Schnyder and Ulysse Nardin, for supporting such a niche genre, and educating us about that little known sport!


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Marcus Hanke
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What will happen when ETA stops delivering movements to UN?

June 22 2004, 7:21 AM 

First of all, ETA does not stop supplying movements at all, but wants (until now, this is decision is still not in force) to stop selling movement kits, that are small boxes, containing all the individual parts of the movement. What will be sold, are the completely assembled movements. Of course, this alone will cause some problems, especially for companies like UN, IWC and others, which traditionally only buy kits, in order to replace some of the parts and assemble the movement by themselves. These companies now would have to disassemble the movements delivered from ETA, which costs time and raises the costs.

However, this is not an imminent problem. Don't forget that you only get good prices from ETA, if you buy movements in large quantities. Ulysse Nardin has purchased far more movements than are needed within a shorter time, leaving them quite a substantial stock of movements kits, which is certainly good supply for the next years.

In long term, however, it should be clear that companies like UN will be forced to change their policy, towards a larger independence from ETA. First, the capability to develop and produce a movement in-house, is present, after UN has built up its new production facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds, not far from the old company building in Le Locle, where the parts are still assembled. Currently, UN produces all movements for the Freak and the Sonata there, as well as its various modules and add-ons for the ETA movements. The new facility offers enough expansion capacity, so it is just a matter of time, before other movements will be fully produced there. The movement design of the Perpetual GMT is full property of UN, and the production, while currently still done by Lémania, can be executed elsewhere.

Finally, don't forget that ETA is not the only game in town, even it is by far the largest. Other companies are capable to develop and produce complete movements. One example is STT, the successor of the ill-fated Progress company. Its new selfwinding cal. 11.50 movement is said to be very good:

Picture copyright by Thomas Ernst, www.watchtime.ch

Then there is Indtec, another new movement manufacturer.

Until now, of course, these manufacturers still have a weak position against ETA, which will change drastically, as soon as ETA reduces its deliveries.

Anyway, it will be an interesting development to observe, and I am convinced that the high development competence of UN will guarantee an uninterrupted success.


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(Login RTsai)
AP Discussion Group

UN 2004 Taipei Exhibition (a Jungle Minute Repeater video is included)

July 15 2004, 9:25 PM 

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Marcus Hanke
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UN Watch Design Contest 2003

September 26 2004, 2:00 PM 

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Marcus Hanke
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And the results, announced on February 11, 2004 ...

September 26 2004, 2:01 PM 

Dear fellow PuristS,

finally, I have got the contest results from the UN jury members, that means from Patrik Hoffmann, UN sales manager for the United States, M. Pierre Gygax, technical director, and of course Mr. Rolf Schnyder himself. There were very interesting entries, some more conservative, others very progressive.

I am sure that for all who participated, the contest showed how difficult it is to design a watch, if most technical parameters are given by the movement's specifications and proportions. On the one hand, everybody is eager to show something new, hitherto unseen in the business, but on the other hand, the underlying mechanics dictate a certain design approach. Making a watch design from the very first sketch to the final product is a very lengthy procedure, and the designs which we will be presented by Ulysse Nardin in the upcoming years will then have a long history behind them. Consequently, it is unlikely that we will see one of the winning contest designs as real watches in the near future, if it was not for a lucky coincidence with what is in planning already at UN. Let's see what happens.

Strangely, only a very small minority left the common path of round watch cases and went for rectangular shapes. Not a single tonneau-shape was among the entries. Some entries were a bit outside the rules by adding further complications. One entry had a chronograph function added to the GMT Perpetual. The drawings looked nice, but unfortunately, the author did not disclose how the chronograph mechanism should be integrated into the already tightly packed movement.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Here are the three winning designs:

Third Place

M. Emmanuel NARDIN from Paris (maybe even a distant relative of the company's founder?):

A very modernistic redesign of the GMT Big Date with integrated pushers and strap

Second Place

Mr. Vadim TANCEV from Donetsk, Ukraine:

A striking variant of the GMT Perpetual, reminiscent of UN's maritime tradition, but not as strong as the current diver perpetual

And finally:

First Place

Mr. Sam ANG from Singapore:

"New Wave GMT Perpetual"
One of the few non-round cased designs, this sketch shows a highly elegant rectangular variant. The - for aselfwinding perpetual calendar - rather thin movement will make possible a slim case. Especially interesting is the way how the author blends the time zone pushers into the case, resulting in clean outlines, unmarred by protruding pushers.

On behalf of the PuristS I sincerely congratulate the winners and give our thanks to all who participated in the contest, spent a lot of time making wonderful, often technically perfect graphics, and made this contest a wonderful experience!

May I ask the three winners to contact Ulysse Nardin at info@ulysse-nardin.ch and relate the shipping address where the prices shall be sent to.

With best regards (I am very proud of you all!),

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Marcus Hanke
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A few other contest entries, published on February 15, 2004

September 26 2004, 2:04 PM 

As I already said, I have got only some of the total number of entries from UN. Among them, here are some I liked in particular:

Vadim from Ukraine, who won the second prize with his "Marine GMT Perpetual", sent in several other designs. The most radical one was the "Grand Cruise", using the unique "Sonata" hands:

Too late for the contest, nevertheless a very attractive design was the "Fram", commemorating the sailing vessel "Fram", which was built according to Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof NANSEN. He used it during his 1893-96 polar expedition, when the ship froze in ice and drifted with the solid ice cap. Several years later, the FRAM was Roald Amundsen's base from which he started his journey to be the first man to reach the South Pole. The ship is now preserved near Oslo. Vadim suggested a white enamel dial with blue print. This design is one of my favourites, and I would like to see it realized.

Here is a very modernistic design by Bob Platek:

Even more futuristic is a design my Emmanuel Nardin, who scored third with his modern GMT Big Date. His GMT Perpetual, however, had a shifted big date display at 12, which would be impossible to accomplish without massive changes to the movement.

A design with some potential was entered by the contest winner, besides his winning draft:

The suggested design adds a world-time display to the GMT Perpetual. While outside the contest rules, this one seemingly sparked some interest at UN.

Finally, a very striking and luxurious design by G.I., which I personally liked a lot - in spite of the mutilated UN logo on the dial.

So you see the level of the entries was very high indeed, and I can imagine that the choice of the jury was not very easy. Once again thanks to UN for supporting the contest, and to all who entered such great designs!


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