Watch design, like automobile design, involves combining technology with aesthetic form. Some manufacturers take delight in making basic, legible timepieces that serve numerous functions with incredibly complicated systems.
Of the Swiss workshops rethinking and re-engineering watches—while delighting those who crave complication—Ulysse Nardin stands out. The company was founded in 1846 and made marine chronometers, pocket watches, and eventually wrist watches for ﬁve generations, but it hit its stride after the brand was sold to Swiss entrepreneur Rolf W. Schnyder in 1983.
Schnyder teamed up with Dr. Ludwig Oechslin, a holder of doctorates in philosophy, astronomy, and applied sciences, who had also earned a master watchmakers certiﬁcate. Together, they executed three of the world’s most complicated wrist watches, known as the Trilogy of Time. These included the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei, the Planetarium Copernicus, and the Tellurium Johannes Kepler—all examples of micro-mechanical engineering as applied to timekeeping and astronomical observation.
The new Acqua Diver Perpetual was introduced in spring 2009 at the Basel, Switzerland, watch fair, in a limited production of 500 pieces. It features Dr. Oechslin’s revolutionary perpetual calendar system, which displays the date (in this case mechanically by a system of wheels and cams) and automatically compensates for long or short months and leap years. Oechslin’s design enables the user to reset the calendar forward or backward, a great advantage if the watch is allowed to stop.
Complicated watches can be challenging, but the Acqua legibly displays the time, day, date, month, and year. The orange coated super-luminova hands stand out against the carbon ﬁber dial, which combines luminous numerals and batons. The “sector” style seconds register is designed to not overlap the day indicator. Seconds are read during the ﬁrst half of a minute by looking at the position of the black portion of the hand on the inner scale and during the second half of the minute using the opposite orange end of that same hand on the outer scale. The date is shown in an extra-large display above the logo, with the day, month, and year indicator below.
The titanium case and rubber strap keep the watch from being overly bulky, though it measures a broad 45 mm. The rotating bezel around the dial has beautiful Guilloché waves to remind the wearer this is a dive watch from a company with a long maritime history. Water resistance to 300 meters is achieved by the use of a locking crown system, sapphire crystal, and tightly gasketed case back.
The price tag of $26,800 may put this watch out of reach for many collectors, but watches in this league are selling well. And since there will be only 500, an owner who can justify the purchase will be satisﬁed with the watch’s rarity, as well as its function and ingenuity.