There is only one train that serves Le Locle, Switzerland, a tiny hamlet in the canton of Neuchatel. Hikers with ski poles are a familiar sight on this route, as are the discreet members of the Ulysse Nardin team, watchmakers from generation to generation. Church bells ring and echo from the mountains and an occasional herd of sheep can be seen on their way through the town’s streets. This bucolic atmosphere belies the technology at work in the house of Ulysse Nardin, an integral part of the landscape of Le Locle for 175 years.
Deep beneath the winter snow, Le Locle houses the beating heart of Swiss watchmaking excellence. Ulysse Nardin is one of the industry’s bestkept secrets, a house constantly striving to produce technological avatars while remaining true to the company’s original aesthetic and stringent work ethic. In 2021, Ulysse Nardin is proud to introduce its newest creation, a sleeping giant in the Executive collection: The Sparkling Free Wheel – a true work of art. Diamonds, diamonds, and more diamonds adorn a watchmaking marvel raised to the level of visual brilliance. Like the drifts of snow that glisten in the morning sun, the Sparkling Free Wheel incites dreams, encourages imagination and paves the way to fearlessly follow your passion to the ends of the earth.
The diamond-setting technique used on this chef d’oeuvre, known as “snow setting”, is a complex process performed only by highly trained craftsmen. In a snow setting, the diamonds of different sizes are placed side by side to completely cover the surface, like a fresh blanket of Swiss snow. The craftsmen of Art Setting, a Geneva-based workshop, have been perfecting this process for over three decades. Ulysse Nardin and its parent company, Kering, are dedicated to sustainability, endeavoring with each innovation to leave Earth a better place for future generations.
“At Ulysse Nardin, we adhere to the Kimberly Process to ensure that all of our diamonds are ethically sourced.” said Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin.
The 2’251 pavé stones on the Sparkling Free Wheel are rigorously selected and comprise a total of 5.90 carats. The diamond setting alone takes approximately 120 hours of meticulous work to complete. The stellar quality – all VVS or VS with an F/G rating for purity and color – is visible to the naked eye.
Diamonds are everywhere on this model, from the face of the gray gold dial to the horns and even the barrel cover. The carbon soft-touch, black alligator band features a clasp also set with diamonds using the snow setting technique.
“For over 30 years Art Setting has worked tirelessly to preserve the ancestral techniques of gem setting pioneered by our forbearers. We take pride in putting all of our knowledge and experience at the service of constant innovation”, said Claude Leblanc, Director of Art Setting.
The Free Wheel’s most astonishing features are the dial’s tourbillon bridges and the 7-day power reserve indicator at four o’clock, which are shaped like boomerangs and look like they are miraculously floating in the air. So too do the other components, the hour and minute indicators and the gorgeous gear trains. The sapphire glass box housing these ‘flying’ elements is another standout achievement. The structure’s complexity and finish—especially the polishing of the box angles—were extremely difficult to achieve, requiring lengthy and painstaking experimentation. The case back is also sapphire, except there’s less to see inside, as, in a complete reversal of watchmaking convention, all the exquisite components are visible on the dial side.
The mechanical movement powering all this beauty is the UN-176, entirely developed in-house at the Ulysse Nardin manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Its flying tourbillon is the “Ulysse Anchor Escapement”, a pioneering technology that replaces the traditional Swiss lever escapement system and uses Ulysse Nardin’s signature low friction silicium instead of metal or synthetic rubies.