Generally, there is not a whole lot of buzz surrounding Ulysse Nardin. But every time the Le Locle brand releases a new technological marvel, we are stunned by the incredible craftsmanship. Indeed, some of the technological wizardry is quite astounding. With the new Blast Free Wheel Marquetry, Ulysse Nardin presents a watch that had me reading the press release multiple times. A first glance might tell you how the watch looks, but you need the context to understand what makes this timepiece so special. Once again, Ulysse Nardin has us paying attention to its latest release.

When I think of the Ulysse Nardin timepieces that blew me away, the Blast Hourstriker that Balazs wrote about immediately comes to mind. As I explained in an article about the Ulysse Nardin Freak S, that watch brought together watches and audio technology, two of my greatest passions. The unique minute repeater hit the right note with me (pun intended) because it brought back a lot of memories from my youth. And when a watch tells a story connected to your great childhood memories, what’s not to love?

Ulysse Nardin Blast Free Wheel Marquetry

Tech that strikes a chord

I grew up in a household with a dad who worked with and loved technology, including audio technology. And with a brother who used to be an audiophile, it was hard not to get infected by the high-end audio bug. As a result, I read my brother’s German audio magazines like Audio and Stereo that tested equipped the good old German way. On top of that, audio design is quite a fascinating discipline that is still amazing to witness. So when Ulysse Nardin and French audio technology company Devialet worked on the Blast Hourstriker, I was more than intrigued. For the Blast Hourstriker, the two companies worked on a titanium membrane to optimize the striking mechanism’s performance. That’s exactly the kind of technology I’m here for. Add the connection to my younger days, and I became an instant fan of that special piece.

Blast Hourstriker

The Ulysse Nardin Hourstriker

Ulysse Nardin presents more technological wizardry with the new Blast Free Wheel Marquetry. This time, it’s not about sound, though. For the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry, the brand worked with silicon. It’s a material that Ulysse Nardin first introduced in 2001 with the famous Freak. Ever since, it has become a signature material for the brand. For this new piece, the brand worked with blue-toned silicon to come up with a unique dial that seems to have different elements floating against the blue background. This shows that silicon is not just a technological material but also one that can be used artistically.

Ulysse Nardin Blast Free Wheel Marquetry

The experimental Ulysse Nardin Blast Free Wheel Marquetry — a watch with “floating” elements

As a tribute to the movement of the iconic Freak from 2001, the new in-house-created UN-176 caliber reveals its inner workings, including the barrel, its wheels, and a tourbillon against the blue background. Additionally, the face features a seven-day power reserve display. The amazing thing is that all these separate elements seem to levitate in mid-air with no visible attachment to the dial. It’s a great visual illusion that results in a spectacular standout timepiece.

Ulysse Nardin Blast Free Wheel Marquetry dial

But that’s not where the magic ends. Usually, I’d start this section with some basic specs of the case, but the case is also part of the magic of the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry. The watch features the typical case shape used for the Blast line. The white gold case measures 45mm in diameter and features an intricate combination of flowing lines and angular facets. However, as a brilliant next detail, it features a glass box that offers an unobstructed view of the movement. This allows you to see the unique construction from the front and the side. The latter gives you a unique view of how this stunning watch was created.

Ulysse Nardin Blast Free Wheel Marquetry close-up

The unique in-house-developed UN-176 movement

As this new timepiece merges the unique dial and the complicated movement, it becomes something rather unique. Let’s focus on the movement for a bit. The UN-176 movement is a great display of Ulysse Nardin’s brilliant skills in watchmaking. The flying caliber required two full years of research and development before eventually becoming a reality. The manual-winding movement consists of 249 components and operates at an 18,000vph frequency. The signature flying tourbillon sits at 6 o’clock, composed of 45 components, including the brand’s revolutionary Anchor Constant Escapement. The escapement has a circular frame with a pallet fork fixed in the center, supported in space on two blade springs less than a quarter of the thickness of a hair in diameter.

Ulysse Nardin Blast Free Wheel Marquetry profile view

The two blade springs are mounted perpendicular to each other and are subjected to a bending force that curves and maintains them. The result of this unique construction is a perfectly even impulse on the balance wheel, regardless of the power reserve. As a result of silicon technology in the hairspring and the escapement wheel, the usual jewels for the escapement wheel and the anchor pivot become unnecessary. This unique tourbillon won the Tourbillon Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2015.

Exploring the elements of the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry

While the tourbillon is the eyecatcher among the visible parts of the movement, that’s not where it ends. If we go around the dial, several elements appear to hover above the silicon blue background. It starts with the flying barrel at 12 o’clock, providing the movement with a seven-day power reserve. At 3 o’clock, you will find the decorated winding wheel and the power reserve indicator at 4 o’clock. But this is not your normal power reserve indicator where a hand moves to show the reserve.

For this unique version, the indicator is fixed, and the number of bands opposite it indicates the power reserve. Three bands indicate a fully wound movement, whereas one disc indicates that the power reserve is running on empty. Finally, between roughly 8 and 11 o’clock, you will find the reduction gear, power reserve differential, and the intermediate wheel before returning to the flying barrel. All the elements give a unique view of the “inner workings” of the movement, set against a remarkable background that seems to suspend them in mid-air. It’s quite a spectacular sight to see.

A unique character

While the movement components might be the focal point of the watch, the illusion of the elements floating is the result of the construction against the blue silicon backdrop. Ulysse Nardin used a multi-colored silicon marquetry disc before for a number of Freak X limited editions. However, this is the first time that we are seeing one in Blast line. The 103 radiant blue marquetry slivers make this dial a piece of art. The pieces have two different thicknesses (0.30mm and 0.35mm) and feature a variation of matte and mirror-polished surfaces. The result is a difference in color and changing reflections in different lighting conditions.

If you turn the watch around, you will not find the usual glimpse of the movement. Since the main elements of the movement are part of the face of the watch, Ulysse Nardin decided to also work with silicon for the display case back. The brand designed and developed a special blue silicon plate decorated with a silicon wafer. Little openings reveal small parts of the movement for some extra visual attraction.

Thoughts on the Ulysse Nardin Blast Free Wheel Marquetry

What can I say other than I am super impressed by the technological wizardry that Ulysse Nardin displays with the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry? Because of that, I do not judge this book just by its cover. In all honesty, at first glance, this is not a watch for me in terms of its aesthetics. Then again, this watch isn’t about aesthetics alone. After reading about the incredible craftsmanship and looking at the pictures again, there is no reason not to be impressed.

Placed in the right context, what Ulysse Nardin has achieved with the Blast Free Wheel Marquetry is nothing short of unique. It’s most certainly a watch for the happy few, with a price of €139,200. The blue velvet-effect waterproof rubber strap and a blue alligator leather strap are included in that price, both fitted with a white gold buckle. But it’s not about the straps here. Hats off to Ulysse Nardin for once again showing that technological developments in the watch industry can lead to impressive results, regardless of whether the watch is for you or not. As I said, it’s hard not to find this new Blast Free Wheel Marquetry impressive.

For more information, visit the official Ulysse Nardin website. Let us know in the comments section what you think of the new Ulysse Nardin Blast Free Wheel Marquetry.

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Watch specifications

Blast Free Wheel Marquetry
Blue silicon dial made of 103 radiant blue marquetry slivers
Case Material
White gold
Case Dimensions
45mm (diameter)
Sapphire box crystal
Case Back
White gold with sapphire exhibition window
Ulysse Nardin UN-176 — manufacture manual movement, 18,000vph frequency, 7-day power reserve, 23 jewels, 249 components, flying tourbillon with Ulysse Anchor Constant Escapement Escapement wheel, anchor, and balance spring in silicon
Water Resistance
3 ATM (30m)
Blue velvet-effect waterproof rubber strap and a blue alligator leather strap, both with a white gold buckle
Time (hours and minutes)