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<BR><h1><font color=brown>Ulysse Nardin San Marco Chronometers</h1>
<P><h2>With Blue Enamel over Guilloché</h2></font>
<BR><b>by <a href="mailto: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;>C. Bradley Jacobs</A></b><br></center>
<BR><b>Various examples of the San Marco line from Ulysse Nardin</b> have been on the market for years now, including alarm watches, chronographs, calendar and GMT watches, yet the most recognizable of the line continues to be the enamel dial Chronometer series. This series was originally offered with dials of deep blue (the subject of this review), light blue, white, red, and green in cases of steel or yellow gold. Other variations with limited-edition cloisonné dials were available and a series of ladies San Marco models with intricate gem-set and cloisonné dials came later. This review will focus on two sizes of the San Marco models with deep blue dial.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/BBFB43F5E11AF5C/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/BBFB43F5E11AF5C/orig.jpg" border=0 align=left WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=188 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="Two UN San Marco Chronometers"></A>
<P>The dial of these watches is a wonder. When I first acquired my watch I found myself staring at it at every opportunity and had to discipline myself to keep my eyes on the road while driving, so great was the temptation to gaze into its enamel depths. If you have not seen one of these watches in person, be advised that no photograph or description can prepare you for the remarkable presence they have.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/CB2DD7FC92A961C/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/CB2DD7FC92A961C/orig.jpg" border=0 align=right WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=250 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="The blue dial is a wonder to behold"></A>
<P>The San Marco enamel dials have something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality conflict. In moderate light the watch presents a face to the world that is rich and luxurious and hints of a good life. It is suggestive of quiet havens paneled in rich wood, furnished with stately leather chairs and smelling of fine pipe tobacco. No one would mistake this watch for anything other than a fine timepiece—one with a pedigree and a sense of style albeit perhaps not one that is outrageous.
<P><I>Until it is exposed to sunlight:</I>
<BR><br><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/F13701EE5E226E9/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/F13701EE5E226E9/orig.jpg" border=0 align=left WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=188 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="The pattern beneath the enamel dial comes alive in bright light"></A>
<P>When viewed in crisp, direct light, the rich blue façade is as a fine fur coat on an otherwise nude seductress—one could not previously have anticipated the surprises contained within. Direct light reveals that beneath the smooth, rich enamel layer there is a finely engine-turned sunburst pattern engraved into the metal surface of the dial. This guilloché pattern at once explodes and draws you in. Layer by layer the San Marco draws you in…and you are captured. From the sapphire crystal that covers the top of the thin, elegant case to the subtle, slightly luminous hands to the elegant applied white metal markers to the rich blue enamel to the sunburst guilloché and beyond…
<P>With so many layers visible just from the front of this watch you may find it remarkable that there is still room for a chronometer-certified automatic movement with date and a screw-on caseback with a design in relief. All this in a dress watch measuring but 8 mm in thickness.
<P>Read on and discover the wonders of each version of this fantastic timepiece…
<BR><center><h1>Men’s Model</h1>
<BR><h2>San Marco Chronometer
<BR>Reference 131-77-9-7/E3</center><br>
<P>As indicated above the case of the San Marco Chronometer is thin, but it is not small. Today’s average watch buyer demands a larger case size than has been the norm for decades and the SMC, although not overly large, should be appealing even to those who prefer oversize timepieces. The case is just over 36 mm wide (it is listed in the catalogue at 37 mm) which, with the ridged bezel and relatively narrow (but long) crown, appears to be larger than it is. The lug span is a respectable 19 mm and the entire case measures 43 mm from lug to lug. The design is conservative, with a hint of classic elements such as the stepped lugs which complement the ridged bezel.
<P>Set nearly flush into the bezel is a sapphire crystal that does not have an anti-reflective coating on the outside. This is sensible, as an AR coating might only serve to reduce the striking effects of the dial under various degrees of lighting. As is de rigeur these days on pricey watches one might expect a domed crystal but this ca. 1999 San Marco has a flat one. However, this is hardly noticeable; one’s eye is drawn right through the crystal to the dial, as it should be. One other item under the crystal is worth noticing—a brushed steel crystal ring at once forms a subtle border to the dial and reflects diffused light onto it. This is a subtlety, to be sure, but one this reviewer appreciates.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/D438D49C424AC0A/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/D438D49C424AC0A/orig.jpg" border=0 align=left WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=188 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="Each San Marco model is available with elegant and thin steel case"></A>
<P>The sides of the case (the part often referred to as the “band” of the case) are curved top-to-bottom. This is a design element that is often used to make very wide watches seem smaller but in this instance it gives the San Marco something of a wider, thinner look. The stepped lugs and bezel and the screwed-down case back help to form a balanced, tripartite enclosure.
<P>The case back is secured with four crews (not blued) and is rated to water resistance of 30 meters. Nicely represented in relief are the Ulysse Nardin logo and the winged beast known as the Lion of San Marco. This image is common to many of the watches (that employ similar cases) in the San Marco line. The caseback and, indeed, every external surface of the watch and bracelet are nicely polished.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/17A4EEAE5AD52C4/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/17A4EEAE5AD52C4/orig.jpg" border=0 align=right WIDTH=300 HEIGHT=220 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="San Marco Lion on case back"></A>
<P>The final decorative element of the case is also the only functional one: its crown. As mentioned before, the crown is thin but somewhat elongated. This is due in part to the cabochon of enamel at its tip and in part to the narrow grooves etched into its sides. This scalloped effect makes the crown seem narrower than it is but also aids in the gripping and turning of the crown. For a small crown it is quite easy to turn once you master getting a fingernail under it to pull it out to its setting positions. The minimal width of the crown and the slight overlap of the case back serve to make the crown’s extension difficult. Luckily, the chronometer certification of the movement means you should not have to set it often. As a final touch, the Nardin anchor logo is visible beneath the blue enamel cabochon.
<P>The San Marco Chronometer is available with a choice of a leather strap or the San Marco bracelet. The bracelet is, as indicated above, an elegant, highly-polished affair. Fitted, solid metal end pieces match nicely to the curvature of the lugs and case. The bracelet is of a 5-row design with each link, when viewed from the side, reflecting the stepped design of the San Marco case. This pattern follows the full length of the bracelet, which employs a push-button butterfly deployant clasp. Nardin’s anchor logo is inset at the center of the first full link on either side of the case and on the clasp.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/6FADA89CC10AE65/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/6FADA89CC10AE65/orig.jpg" border=0 align=right WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=188 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="The bracelet links in profile"></A>
<P>The bracelet is well-made and comfortable and does not pull on one’s arm hair. The underside of the bracelet is brushed steel, which helps keep the watch from sliding around on one’s wrist. All parts of the clasp that are in contact with skin are polished and free of burrs and harsh edges. Spare links are attached with pins that are screwed in rather than friction fit.
<P><img src="/http://www.ulysse-nardin.ch/uploadfiles/10003R.jpg" align=left alt="Photo courtesy Ulysse Nardin">Much has been made of the term “manufacture” in recent years. Debates have raged as to whether houses such as Nardin have the right to call themselves a “manufacture” and personalities as significant as UN President Rolf W. Schnyder have chimed in. Regardless of the outcome, or lack thereof, of such discussions, the movements in Nardin watches should be considered among the best available. In the San Marco Chronometer, Nardin chose to utilize a variation of the ETA 2892. To the best of my knowledge, Nardin buys high-grade ETA ebauches and finishes them in-house. The movement in the San Marco Chronometer--designated Caliber 13--is gold-plated and inscribed on the rotor is the UN logo. The movement in each watch has been submitted for chronometer testing and issued a COSC certificate before being cased by UN technicians. This attention is good enough for me and I have not submitted either of the timepieces described in this review to any further timing tests.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/DC74CEDE309E9BA/standard.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/DC74CEDE309E9BA/standard.jpg" border=0 align=right WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=250 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="The San Marco’s automatic movement - Cal. 13"></A>
<P>I’ll note for the record that the date wheel on the San Marco’s movement is white with black type. The white background of the wheel is in contrast to the rich color of the dial but UN has chosen to frame the date window in silver, thereby visually setting the window apart from the dial surface. Many purists would prefer a date wheel colored to match the dial but it would be nigh on impossible to get an exact color match considering the complexity of the processes used to create the enamel dials. I’m just grateful that the date window was given the consideration it has.
<P>The MSRP of the San Marco Chronometer is $4400 on bracelet. It may have increased recently—the number I quote is not from the 2003 catalog. (<I>Author's note, March 2006:</i> The San Marco Chronometer is no longer offered by Ulysse Nardin in this configuration. Informal communication with UN dealers has indicated that all original stock has been sold.) Regardless, it is a lot of money for a time-and-date watch in steel. This relatively high price brings with it no small amount of exclusivity, however. Nardin watchmakers produce no more than several thousand watches annually (whereas the behemoth Rolex churns out hundreds of thousands in the same time span). Along with exclusivity of brand you also get the satisfaction of owning a watch with a genuine enamel-and-guilloché dial—something not frequently found in the annals of horological history.
<P><h2>Overall impressions</h2>
<P>In conclusion, I’ll just say that the watch is a joy to wear. It is comfortable and stays put on the wrist if properly fitted. Once one grows accustomed to the large amount of polished surface area and the striking dial, it seems natural to wear such an elegant watch. Put differently, this timepiece is a real eye-catcher and can make the wearer self-conscious at first, but this is easily overcome (and surpassed by the pleasure of seeing such a fine instrument on one’s wrist).
<P><I>You may just like it so much that you buy one for your wife…</I>
<BR><center><h1>Women’s Model</h1>
<BR><h2>Reference 123-77-9-7/E3
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/{62353C46-5D84-4E3A-9601-F9E6FCDB41C4}/picture.JPG" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/{62353C46-5D84-4E3A-9601-F9E6FCDB41C4}/picture.JPG" border=0 WIDTH=350 HEIGHT=300 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="San Marco women’s model"></A></center>
<BR><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/12219167D5E8E87/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/12219167D5E8E87/orig.jpg" align=left WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=250 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 border=0 alt="The case back of women’s San Marco in steel"></A>
<P>The San Marco line for women is, as expected, a smaller watch, but many of the elements that make the larger model endearing are also endearing in miniature. In short, the rounded case band, the stepped lugs and bezel, the distinctive crown, the brushed steel crystal ring and the decorated case back are all equally wonderful in each size. There are subtle differences in scale, and some major differences in function and presence, but the smaller San Marco is every bit as worthy of attention as the larger. In fact, its size and subtlety make it more elegant than its larger brother.
<P>The case measures 27 mm in diameter, 32 mm lug-to-lug and is, interestingly, the same thickness as the larger watch: 8 mm. The result of this is to give the watch a certain (again I use the word) presence on the wrist that is independent of the visual impact of the dial. So many watches made for women (primarily quartz-powered) are dainty and thin and…well, immaterial. When was the last time you saw a woman wear a watch that caught your eye (and was not a watch originally marketed for men)? This watch fits the bill.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/CB4A759D59E108F/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/CB4A759D59E108F/orig.jpg" align=right WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=188 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 border=0 alt="Women’s San Marco enamel dial"></A>
<P>Aside from the sizes of the watches, the obvious difference between the two models is on the dial. The women's’ model does without the date window and is not labeled as a Chronometer. This raises a question or two (it is called San Marco Chronometer in the catalog but not labeled as such on the dial, however neither of these watches came with COSC certificates…hmmm) but they are not germane to this review. Further comparison of the two dials shows that everything else is replicated exactly, albeit reduced, from the large model to the small, even down to the luminous dots outside the hour indices and the luminous fill on the hands. Rarely have I seen a watch meant for a lady stay so true to the design of the man’s model.
<P><h2>Strap and Buckle</h2>
<P>A bracelet is offered for the watch described here but this example was sold with color-matched signed crocodile straps and a steel UN buckle. The straps are fine and padded (though not too much) with the hide and stitching dyed to match the dial. The buckle is the small version (12 mm inside) of the typical Nardin square-with-cut-corners steel tang buckle with applied UN anchor logo. One element that subtly reminds one of the larger watch is the similarity of this applied logo to the inset logo found thrice on that watch’s bracelet.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/A61082D34A9498D/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/A61082D34A9498D/orig.jpg" align=right WIDTH=220 HEIGHT=260 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 border=0 alt="The automatic movement of the women’s San Marco"></A>
<P>Nardin chose another Swatch Group ébauche to power the women’s San Marco. Images are provided, but not taken by me and I cannot confirm the specs of the movement in the watch in question. Regardless, it is gold-plated and decorated in a similar fashion to the larger watch’s ETA 2892. Again, my purpose in this review is not to provide technical information but, rather, to impart to the reader a sense of each watch’s presence and impact on the wearer.
<BR><img src="/http://www.ulysse-nardin.ch/uploadfiles/10003O.jpg" align=right alt="Photo courtesy Ulysse Nardin">
<P>Pricing of the women’s model on bracelet is the same as the men’s model. My price list (again, from 1999) did not include the same watch on straps only. One can perhaps assume that the price difference would be no more than $600 (the difference in price between the men’s model on bracelet and the same watch on straps).
<P><h2>Overall impressions</h2>
<P>Considering that I am unable to comfortably wear this watch (nor do so in good conscience) I will refrain from describing what I think of it in the usual terms. As an observer, however, I find the watch to be stunning. Where the large model sometimes is overpowering in its…well…BLUE-ness, the smaller dial of this watch makes a much more subtle statement. It’s no less beautiful, however, due to its smaller dial. In a perverse way it gives me great pleasure to see my wife wear her UN San Marco. Even when--nay, especially when--I am not wearing my own San Marco, I can have the same mesmeric experience as I described above. Also, as many watch collectors can understand, there is something indescribably swell about knowing that your wife is wearing a nicer watch than almost every man she meets.
<P>In conclusion, I’ll refrain from giving more of my opinions of the watch and recommendations to procure one for yourself and your significant other. Choosing a watch is such a matter of personal style that I do not have delusions that my histrionics here would have any impact on your decision to purchase (or not) a particular timepiece. So let my conclusion be a final tally of some of the tangible goodies that accompany such a purchase. The house of Ulysse Nardin ranks among one of the best in providing the little extras that make a pleasurable acquisition even more satisfying. Wooden and/or leather boxes accompany most models. The instruction booklets and warranty cards are of top-notch materials and printing. COSC certificates are presented in embossed leather folios and are even replicated in miniature. The usual complement of hang tags, leather pillows and outer boxes are included as well. In short, all the accessories are included and well presented. For more information visit the <a href=“http://www.ulysse-nardin.com" border=0>Ulysse Nardin website </a>.
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<BR><font color=gray>Text and images: ©2008 C. Bradley Jacobs and WatchCarefully.com, unless otherwise credited</font color>