Can InnoVision 2 match the impact of the original? Ulysse Nardin steps up to the plate
By James Gurney
Ulysse Nardin made its debut at the SIHH with the announcement of the InnoVision 2, a concept watch that served as a reminder of the brand’s good claim to be one of the godfathers to today’s vibrant independent sector. And while the brand is now part of the Kering group alongside Boucheron, Girard-Perregaux and Gucci, the essential spirit of innovation seems to have survived intact.
Ulysse Nardin was producing entirely sui generis complications back in the mid-80’s, starting with the Ludwig Oeschlin designed Astrolabium Galileo Galilei, and went on to develop some of the most ground-breaking technological advances of recent times. Following the Trilogy of Time series, Ulysse debuted the Freak in 2001, notable for its impressive “Dual Direct Escapement” which did away with anchors and the escape wheel, transferring the energy directly to the balance wheel through twin drive wheels made from silicon.
This was the result of pioneering work that that the company had engaged in looking at novel materials and production technologies lifted from the computer industry. Remarkably, Ulysse was producing real components with techniques that industry titans such as Rolex and Omega were only just starting to research.
Further work saw the 2007 InnoVision, above, a concept watch that included ten innovations (seven of which have been used in production watches since), including a wider range of silicon parts, a novel anti-shock mechanism and low friction coatings such as DIAMonSIL. The watch world was suitably stunned, finding it hard to understand just what the new technologies really meant (much in the way that the smartwatch problem overshadows much of the industry today).
Many of the concepts seen in the InnoVision have been adopted by the industry as a whole over the intervening decade, particularly in terms of the way lithographic component production offers such precise control over properties such as flexibility. Breitling’s Chronoworks from 2016 makes substantial use of lithographically-printed components, and the likes of Omega, Rolex and even Swatch now have standard movements that have been designed around the new technologies, meaning that the InnoVision 2 would have to represent a radical step forward to match the ground-breaking status of its predecessor.
Ulysse Nardin presented the InnoVision 2 as incorporating ten major developments. Properly significant are:
- “Direct Silicon Bonding”, a technique that allows for the precise manufacture of more complex components by forcing separately produced components to bond under heat and pressure.
- Grinder, (the name come from the capstans on race yachts…) a rethinking of the way energy is captured from the oscillating mass. The system involves a complex assembly of ball-bearings, springs and reduction gears that Ulysse Nardin says is far more efficient than a conventional system. No figures were offered, but you’ll be aware of the significant free play that most oscillating weights use before they “bite”.
- A new balance wheel assembly that includes an air-brake element to smooth out the airflow over the balance wheel. Made from silicon, it has a very low mass that means the gold weights exert more precise control of the inertia.
- “Hard gold” (which is to say, gold alloyed with more durable metals – which ones is not disclosed) gear trains, which Ulysse says are more efficient, thanks to both their increased mass and the increased precision offered by lithographic production, as well as being more decorative.
- Friction-free glass shock protection for the balance staff, a monobloc design that is claimed to react more precisely to shocks and return to its resting state with less friction.
Possibly less significant, if still impressive, is the Dual Constant Escapement, which is conceptually similar to Girard-Perregaux’s Constant Force – both generate impulses through an all-or-nothing silicon spring, doing away with a loss of amplitude as the power reserve diminishes. Similarly impressive are ideas such as the sapphire-coated balance bridge and the SuperLumiNova channels in the balance bridge – for no other reason than they really top off the industrial-sci-fi design.
If the InnoVision 2 doesn’t quite break the mould in the way its predecessor did, an almost impossibly tall order, the innovations on display are nevertheless remarkable. More extraordinary is that you can easily imagine ideas such as the Grinder system and the glass shock-resistance are capable of transferring into regular production watches without undue delay.