Long before electric lighting was invented, striking watches offered the well-to-do a way to hear the time in the dark, by ringing on the hour or quarter-hour.
Today, they are charmingly obsolete. But that hasn’t stopped the world’s prestige watchmakers from revisiting the esoteric mechanism. The latest example, from Ulysse Nardin, takes it up a notch (or 10).
The new Hourstriker Phantom is a limited-edition striking wristwatch made in partnership with Devialet, a French firm that specializes in high-definition audio and has earned a reputation for making some of the finest wireless speakers on the market (not coincidentally, its flagship product, introduced in 2015, is called The Phantom).
“The main designer of Devialet is Emmanuel Nardin, he’s actually a great-grandson of Ulysse Nardin,” Stephane Von Gunten, Ulysse Nardin’s research and innovation director told Robb Report. “But the idea here was to have a collaboration with the Devialet team for the aesthetic, as well as for the techniques of the watch.”
By looking beyond the world of haute horlogerie to create the next-generation chiming timepiece, Ulysse Nardin devised an entirely new approach to sound inside a wristwatch. Relying on Devialet’s expertise in distortion phenomena, the two companies have engineered a louder chime.
“The watch was 2 years in the making,” says Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin. “I was searching for a sound expert to collaborate with for a new watch and discovered Devialet. I was convinced they were the best and Stéphane Von Gunten, head of innovation at Ulysse Nardin, reached out to Max Rainer, mechanical engineer at Devialet. From then on it was an organic, natural, and obvious partnership. Both Ulysse Nardin and Devialet value developing quality high flying timepieces and revolutionary sound systems.”
Gear-heads will devour the brand’s explanation for how they achieved this: “Underneath is a semi-transparent plate so that you can see a little bit of the movement,” says Von Gunten. “This is an hour-striker watch and what we did with the Devialet engineer is input a sonnerie of 85 decibels, which is quite high for a watch. Of course, it’s not a church bell—the sonnerie sound depends on the size of the structure—but still, it’s quite high. Thanks to a special connection from the gong, it vibrates on a plane so it doesn’t diffuse the sound, so here we have the base of the gong linked to a thin titanium membrane that you can see on the back. The titanium membrane will be vibrating in the Z direction, so it can move a lot of volume of air to increase the level of sound. It’s quite technical but it’s a very high sound level with a unique tone.”
But for the average person, the upshot of the mechanical innovation is this:
“If Devialet products are looking to give the listener the impression that the artist is right in front of them, then this new Ulysse Nardin striking watch gives the sensation of a real musical instrument,” Pruniaux said in a statement.
The aesthetic of the model is as richly considered as its mechanics. A satin-brushed anthracite dial that resembles a lacy net is inspired by Chladni figures—patterns that reveal vibrations on a rigid surface, named after Ernst Chladni, aka the “father of acoustics.” The 43 mm case is made of polished titanium, which was chosen because it helps extend the resonance of the chime to an unprecedented 85 decibels.
The Hourstriker Phantom retails for $72,500 (relatively affordable for a striking watch) and is available in a limited edition of 85 pieces.