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First-class traveller: living with the UN San Marco GMT


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I said I was looking for something left field, and I certainly found it! Thanks to a combination of helpful people on two different forums (one of whom actually sold me the watch!) I was able to source and buy this one relatively quickly.

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Ulysse Nardin has been something of a “back burner grail“ brand for me for a while. When I first joined watch forums about 10 years ago it was one of many brands I had never heard of. I was attracted by its jaunty anchor motif and its association with the sea; founded in the town of Le Locle in 1846, the company was a famous manufacturer of marine chronometers. It appeared to enjoy high status in the watchmaking world, and was pretty much out of my ball-park price-wise. Highly attractive, rather different; a small workforce producing small numbers of high-quality watches. Many of its current products are large and downright ugly in my opinion, but the current range of marine chronometer wristwatches are for the most part very beautiful, albeit relatively expensive. It’s not a brand I thought I would ever own, but times change.

1180230945_bleumarine.thumb.jpg.03df74e720b1e0d1f16c087d7cb7f505.jpgAnd so to the watch itself...

This particular model was introduced in 1998, so given the relatively low serial number it probably dates from shortly after that.

The case is 39.5 mm in diameter; 43 mm if you add the crown and pushers. A nice size for me. Lug to lug measurement is 47 mm. The lug width is 20 mm; I am so keen on the bracelet that I haven’t tried it on a strap yet. It is 12 mm in height, reasonably slim for a double-complicated automatic, and the sapphire crystal is very slightly domed. All visible surfaces are polished, so it’s rather a shiny watch, which adds to the dressy feel. There are no sharp angles or edges; everything, including pushers, crown guards, stepped lugs and rounded bezel, is incredibly smooth and tactile.

The watch weighs 142 grams including the bracelet; it has heft, but it’s no monster; amazingly, the Speedy Moonwatch and the C65 Trident Diver, both on bracelet, each weigh exactly 148 grams, so they’re all very similar.

The screw-down crown has a smooth action, and a rather lovely feature; it contains a beautiful blue insert (à la Cartier) which is either enamel or resin, and is decorated with the UN Anchor logo.

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The two pushers at 8 and 10 operate the +/- GMT feature; again, these feel very smooth and sit close to the lugs. They have a satisfyingly firm action, so there is no risk of the arm or sleeve accidentally changing the hour!

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The main feature of the solid case back is the winged lion of Venice in relief; it is part of Saint Jerome’s variant of the Tetramorph, an artistic and symbolic tradition in which the four Evangelists are depicted variously as Man, Lion, Calf and Eagle. Mark is the patron saint of Venice, and his lion is depicted on the flag of the Republic of Venice, and also on the flag of the modern Italian Navy.

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The bracelet is just beautiful; a relatively thin Jubilee style signed with the UN Anchor near the shoulders and on the butterfly clasp. The clasp itself is a bit fiddly until you get used to it.

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Beautiful as the case and bracelet are, the real star of this watch is the dial, as it should be. I tend to be a bit scathing about white hands/indices on white dials. This, however, is a silver guilloché dial with rather elegant sword hands, they are a pale yellow (like the JLC Geophysic) and edged boldly in a sort of blue-black (changes with the light), so legibility is not an issue. The raised indices are of a similar hue, as is the slim seconds hand, and the bold Roman numerals at XII and VI are a nice feature. Although the lume is nicely visible when charged it struggles to last the night…but the watch is over 20 years old.

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The round window at 9 shows the Home Time, 24h format, black on white; thanks to a magnifier over the aperture but UNDER the crystal (so not a cyclops) it is very legible. I wondered whether this would click over instantly, but in fact it rolls around over about 3 minutes at the top of the hour. I’ve seen this feature on earlier models with the window at 11 and with the daytime hours (12 hour format) in black on white, and the night time hours in white on black. I must say I prefer this version. I wasn’t sure if I would take to the Grande Date at the 2 o’clock position, but I immediately liked it. Both windows are rather tastefully edged in black, which makes them stand out. The edging, like the indices, is noticeably raised. The hour indices are marked with discreet little lume pips, with the exception of 2 o’clock, and the minute track is a series of small but easily visible dots in a silver metallic ring. Together with the GMT +/- at 12 o’clock, and the full brand name and anchor logo at 6 o’clock, there is a lot going on. It’s an interesting and well-filled dial that somehow manages not to look too busy. Just a great piece of harmonic design; nothing looks too big, too small or out of place.

The complications are where it gets really interesting. Ulysse Nardin has a history of taking ébauche movements from other manufacturers, in this case the ETA 2892, and completely transforming them with their own highly individual and sometimes patented complications.

The two pushers advance or retard the hour hand in one hour increments. This is what makes the watch a “True GMT” or “Traveller’s GMT”, as opposed to an “Office GMT”, where it is the 24-hour hand that moves in incremental steps. Another rare and clever feature is that if you move the hour hand backwards through midnight, the date changes backwards as well! The date can be changed independently both forwards and backwards using the first position on the crown.

Timekeeping: the seller reported that it was running -5 s/d, with a clean plot on the Timegrapher. For the first couple of days (Thursday to Saturday) it was doing less well (around -12) but appeared to have improved by Sunday. I always think that watches which have been lying around for a while perform better after a few days’ action, so I set it to +30s on Monday morning to try to establish the rate. By Saturday lunchtime it was reading +3, so a rate of -5 was pretty well right. Periodic observation indicated a steady rate, with no spikes or dips. I’m happy with that.

So, a traveller’s watch, but not really one for kicking back on a Greek beach. For that I bought my MeisterSinger last year, though it has yet to see any holiday action. Again, this is an older watch so it’s not going in water, although originally rated for 100 m. I have this one in mind more for those trips I hope to be making in the not too distant future to help launch my second career as a travel writer. It would make a wonderful companion for a long distance road or rail trip, especially one that might cross a few time zones. It’s also quite a dressy traveller, so would be a good candidate for that round-the-world cruise…perfect, in fact.

Alternatively, I know of a few places around Europe where you can still find relatively unspoilt seaside towns and villages, and sit at a little café sipping a beer and picking at a few sardines or mussels while you watch the odd boat drifting past, all without getting wet. Or, of course, a Christmas & New Year fortnight in Cyprus. Hey-ho, why not?

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But also, at the end of the day, it’s just a really lovely watch that I was lucky to pick up and I am thrilled to own.

Thanks for reading.

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Posted (edited)
9 minutes ago, Bricey said:

Lovely read, lovely watch, and prose that suggests your second career is well chosen and destined for success.

 :thumbs_up:

Thanks. I already have an unpublished travelogue of the Camino de Santiago in Spain (hence the avatar!). I'm working on a book about Cyprus but I need a research trip, and I have ideas for books to follow the medieval Reconquest of Spain and the 18th Century Grand Tour. Should keep me busy for a while.

Edited by AVO
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1 minute ago, AVO said:

Thanks. I already have an unpublished travelogue of the Camino de Santiago in Spain(hence the avatar!). I'm working on a book about Cyprus but I need a research trip, and I have ideas for books to follow the medieval Reconquest of Spain and the 18th Century Grand Tour. Should keep me busy for a while.

I look forward to getting back to travelling a little more, although much of my travel is to pick up or drop off the kids, or on occasion to return to find things that they have inadvertently left behind!

 

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Just now, AVO said:

 

Ulysse Nardin founded in the town of Le Locle in 1846, the company was a famous manufacturer of marine chronometers. It appeared to enjoy high status in the watchmaking world...

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Le Locle, lovely little Town steeped in horological history with much to see.

Steep, winding roads & streets, close proximity of buildings, in many aspects not too dissimilar to Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Including, little bit of home awaits should you ever visit...

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:biggrin:

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Posted (edited)
2 minutes ago, Karrusel said:

Le Locle, lovely little Town steeped in horological history with much to see.

Thanks, Alan. One day I might do a travelogue on Swiss railways, visiting watch towns!:)

Edited by AVO
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2 minutes ago, Karrusel said:

 

Le Locle, lovely little Town steeped in horological history with much to see.

Steep, winding roads & streets, close proximity of buildings, in many aspects not too dissimilar to Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Including, little bit of home awaits should you ever visit...

nIo6lKw.jpg

:biggrin:

Our village still has a traditional telephone box outside the village pub. It now houses a defibrillator rather than a telephone.

I do wonder if there will eventually be a drunk found in there with a cab company card in there left hand and electrical burns to their right ear.

 

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Great post & an amazing watch - Health to wear :thumbsup: - Your mention of the Camino De Santiago reminds me how much I have missed visiting my friend who lives in Asturias, Spain through which the CDS passes - Beautiful part of Spain, which is mostly unspoiled (luckily well off the radar for most tourists!)
Paul

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12 minutes ago, PaulBoy said:

Beautiful part of Spain, which is mostly unspoiled (luckily well off the radar for most tourists!)

It certainly is. Many happy memories and I want to go back. Thank you.

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2 hours ago, AVO said:

It certainly is. Many happy memories and I want to go back. Thank you.

My pal who lives up one of the smaller mountains near Cangas de Onis, has a pair of nice rural appartments he rents out? - If you want some more info drop me a pm
Paul

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