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DESIGN

Erotic Automation, Freak Vision + Damien Hirst from Ulysse Nardin

DESIGN

Erotic Automation, Freak Vision + Damien Hirst from Ulysse Nardin

An installation and two new timepieces from the Swiss luxury brand all defy expectation

by David Graver
on 19 January 2018

If asked to picture a room housing millions of dollars worth of Ulysse Nardin Swiss watches, or Swiss watches in general, what does your mind see? It's unlikely that you, or anyone, immediately imagines a dark-walled booth in Geneva, with oscillating oceanic colors filtering through the air and artist Damien Hirst's controversial Venetian "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" artworks at the entrance—there to set the tone. Further, did you see a guard just to the right, ushering guests beyond a peep-holed door and into a petite red room with leather sex accessories and a pedestal? Also unlikely. This, however, was the scene at SIHH, where the brand built out their space as "Maison Close," hosted a fairly transgressive party, and encouraged guests to the booth and the event to use the hash tag #FREAKMEOUT.

You might think this acts in defiance of the slow-moving and buttoned up Swiss luxury industry, but that isn't in fact true. Erotica has a centuries-long history in the watch wold, though often tucked away. Ulysse Nardin put it front and center, on the aforementioned pedestal, with their Classic Voyeur automaton minute repeater. And as for the Hirsts and the hashtag, they allude to the brand's latest piece in their Freak Collection. More than items with shock value, they feature real technical merit.

Beginning with the tamer of the two pieces, the Freak Vision (and the collection its in) gets its name from the odd manner with which it tells time—and the fact that it does away with crown and dial. This year's addition is the first automatic watch among them. Time is told (there are no hands here) through the baguette movement itself, referred to as a "flying carousel" as it rotates around its own axis. Just about everything else is new: 3D-carved upper bridge inspired by a boat's hull, box-domed sapphire crystal, and a new case, horns and bezel. Inside, there's a super-light silicium balance wheel featuring nickel mass elements with stabilizing micro-blades. And, altogether, it's thinner than others released in the collection thus far.

Describing the Classic Voyeur enters to NSFW territory. The dial features two couples, both engaging in consensual sexual activity. Two figures perform a more traditional sexual act while the other two watch on behind a curtain, the woman behind the man and reaching around to stroke his erect penis. This is important to mention because the timepiece is a minute repeater—meaning it chimes on the hour, quarter hour and at the press of a button. When the button is pressed, the characters begin to move in their respective sexual acts and the chime aligns with, well, impact. This is known as a Jaquemart repeater, which the brand states "traditionally feature[s] an automated figure striking the hours and minutes on a clock tower bell" rather than having intercourse. It's also extremely challenging to produce.

The diameter, despite all complicated components within, maxes out at a reasonable 42mm. The couples have been crafted from, depending on model type, either 18-carat pink gold or white gold and fall on an anthracite grey dial, depicting an engraved Louis XIV salon detailed down to the canapé and carpet. It's really quite beautiful, and carries an elegance peppered with comedy. It's not freaky, but it's sure to startle the prudish.

Ulysse Nardin intends to limit Classic Voyeur production to three-dozen, with pink gold and platinum models retailing for $295,000 and a platinum "Princess" edition with 60 baguette diamonds reaching $373,000.

Images courtesy of Ulysse Nardin

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