A history of horology

Ulysse Nardin

Ulysse Nardin has not only stood the test of time, its watches have become a testament to time itself

Following in his father’s footsteps, Ulysse Nardin founded his own watchmaking atelier in 1846 in Le Locle, Switzerland. “From the outset, Ulysse was driven to create the world’s most precise timepieces, and earned many top international accolades for doing so,” explains Sébastien Gautier, Western Europe Director at Ulysse Nardin. “When he began, most people kept time by public clocks, such as those on churches. An accurate personal watch would have been a privileged and prized possession, and of immense strategic importance to maritime and military professionals.”

Ulysse was particularly driven by the pursuit of absolute precision, as required in marine chronometers, which used time and the position of celestial bodies to determine a ship’s longitude at sea. A few seconds’ discrepancy over a long voyage could lead a ship into hazardous waters or in the completely wrong direction.

Such was the superior accuracy of Ulysse’s marine chronometers, he quickly became a world leader. The company produced more than 10,200 chronometers between 1876 and 1975 and went on to supply 50 navies and international shipping companies, including the navies of the US, UK, Russia and Japan.

Over the decades, the company and its ownership have evolved, while its pioneering innovations and consequential accolades have continued to flourish. In 1985, Ludwig Oechslin, a master horologist at Ulysse Nardin, created the most complicated watch of the time, which had 21 functions and earned a place in the Guinness World Records. The company was the first to introduce silicium components to its watches, and now uses recycled materials as part of its commitment to sustainable watchmaking.

Despite the introduction of quartz and digital technology to the watchmaking industry, the company has only ceased production once: during the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, the company is devoted to releasing limited collections of meticulously crafted mechanical watches, which continue to pioneer. The Freak X, for example, rotates around its own axis and has no dial or hands.

“Owners of Ulysse Nardin watches are like a secret club of horology connoisseurs who recognise the significance of our legacy of quality, precision, innovation and timeless sophistication,” says Sébastien, “There’s no false affectation, it’s simply and inherently understood that they, like Ulysse himself, won’t settle for anything less.”