The Ulysse Nardin San Marco Cloisonne watch: Reminding me that the whole is more than the sum of its parts

Sometimes, it seems that the watch hobby gets so bogged down with the technical. Things like “Is a watch Manufacture or not Manufacture?” Does a Breguet hairspring perform better than a flat hairspring?” “How much more durable is a full balance bridge than a balance cock?” “How many complications does this watch have?” “Manual or automatic?” “Is this chronograph a column-wheel design?” And on and on.

It’s not that these types of technical questions and considerations are bad; after all, the amazing mechanical ingenuity of watches is a considerable part of what makes them so fascinating. I’m as guilty as anyone for using this rather cold yardstick, and probably more guilty than most. The point is, sometimes its good to enjoy watches for their pure aesthetic value; not what we see through the back, but rather, the first impression the watch gives when we look at it. Pick up a watch you’ve never seen before: quick now – does it move you, or not?

The Ulysse Nardin San Marco Cloisonne watches definitely move me. So much so, that I really could not care less that the watch uses a modified, rebuilt ETA base caliber, a fact that ordinarily would be an issue. (I respect the ETA calibers greatly, but as I’ve said in the past, if the movement isn’t made by the brand whose name is on the dial, I almost never consider owning) Last night, I had the privilege of attending a dinner in Seattle hosted by Ulysse Nardin, and got to learn some fascinating things about their brand, and the many exciting things UN has done, and are planning for the future. Of course, some amazing watches were there for show, including the Freak DIAMonSIL and the Sonata Cathedral Dual Time, which are both about as brilliant as it gets, technically. Neither of these were my favorite, as you (or I) might expect.

The one piece that grabbed me by the collar was a platinum San Marco Cloisonne watch with a magnificent dial depicting the historic battle of Portobello. Truly a breathtaking work of art for the wrist; seeing it made me think about aspects outside of cold, hard gears, and think about the amazing craft of the enameler who created this amazing – and unique – creation. “Unique”: one hears that word a lot, and its often misapplied. Yet, here it is appropriate to say, for no two of these dials can ever be exactly alike due to the dauntingly difficult, meticulous process to create the cloisonne artwork.

It also tied in to what Patrick from Ulysse Nardin wisely commented to the group about there being so much more to the creation of beautiful watches than just the watchmaker who builds the movement. Indeed. The mechanism may be the heart, but the design, the dial, and the overall aesthetic concept is equally important to make a watch memorable in the long run.