Ulysse Nardin Blast Moonstruck
In 2009, Ulysse Nardin organized a press trip to Nice, to visit the Nice Observatory, which is located on Mont Gros, 372 meters above the Mediterranean Sea. The occasion was the launch of Ulysse Nardin’s latest astronomical watch: the Moonstruck, designed by horologist Dr. Ludwig Oechslin. Oechslin had been an essential partner to Rolf Schnyder in the resurrection of Ulysse Nardin as a brand and had created (among other things) the famous Trilogy Of Time watches, each of which featured a different group of astronomical complications.
The Ulysse Nardin Blast Moonstruck was a somewhat cleaner design than the Trilogy pieces but was still a very complex watch. It was what’s called a tellurium – a watch that shows the positions of Sun and Moon relative to Earth, and it had an indication for the tides and the phases of the Moon, as well. The Trilogy Of Time Tellurium Johannes Kepler, its predecessor, showed a lot more information but nobody would ever accuse it of being an exercise in minimalism. In addition to the positions of the Moon and Sun, as seen from the Earth, you also got indications for the Head and Tail Of The Dragon (the two points in the sky where the orbit of the Sun and the slightly tilted orbit of the Moon appear to intersect) and you even got an indication for the day/night boundary on Earth’s surface, which shifts, thanks to the inclination of Earth’s axis, over the course of the year (and which gives us the seasons). It’s one of the most interesting watches of the last fifty years (if you ask me) but it does look like something that might have been worn by H. G. Wells’ Time Traveler.
The original Ulysse Nardin Blast Moonstruck was deliberately designed to be easier to read, and easy to use, despite the amount of information it displayed. The latest version of the Moonstruck, launched earlier this month, is part of the Blast collection, and it updates the original design with an angular, darkly modern 45mm case, in black ceramic and black DLC titanium – making for a lighter and appropriately nocturnal rendition of the original design.
The original Moonstruck watch had an extremely detailed, hand-painted enamel miniature of Earth, including the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, as seen from a point of view above the North Pole. In 2017, Ulysse Nardin came out with the Executive Moonstruck (which sounds a little like the title of a 1980s rom-com) which added a world time function. The rendering of Earth – still as seen from above the North Pole – switched to one on the dial itself, and in the Moonstruck Blast, Earth is etched directly on the underside of the domed sapphire crystal.
The crystal also carries a date ring, and on the outer edge, a cities disk with reference cities in 24 time zones. All these are fixed in position; neither the Earth nor the date ring or cities ring, rotate.
There’s no chapter ring for the hours and minutes, so you have to read the time from the position of the hands alone but despite that, this is probably the most legible rendition of the Moonstruck, with very large, sword-shaped hour and minute hands filled with Super-LumiNova. The hour hand can be set ahead or back in one-hour increments, with the two pushers set into the left-hand side of the case. The date is read off the fixed month ring, from a small white triangular hand, pointing inward.
The disk for the Sun carries numerals for 1 to 24 hours, and rotates once every 24 hours, with the Sun disk itself representing 12 noon at the city to which it’s adjacent, and the other hour numerals showing the time in the cities to which they are adjacent. The Sun disk has an outer and inner flange – the outer seems like a conventional day/night separation of a 24-hour disk, but I couldn’t quite figure out what the inner, darker flange was supposed to represent. I think, after some consideration, that its oval shape is supposed to represent the effect of the Sun’s gravitational field on the tides, as its shape matches that of the oval tide indicator on the Moon disk – about which more in a minute. The two pusher system for moving the hour hand forwards or backwards in one-hour jumps is one of the easiest ways to adjust the local time in a dual time-zone watch. While it adds a little to the bulk of the case, it also saves you the trouble of unscrewing or otherwise fiddling with the crown (Patek Philippe has used this approach on several occasions).
A standard world time complication works through the use of a pusher that changes the local-time city at the 12:00 position, while at the same time changing the position of the hour hand. Although the Moonstruck Blast’s system is different, it’s still a perfectly serviceable world timer.
The Sun is made of a lustrous semi-precious material called bronzite, which despite the name isn’t bronze at all, but rather, a bronze-colored type of naturally occurring magnesium silicate. Ulysse Nardin says this is intended to reproduce the mottled surface of the Sun, which has a somewhat grainy texture when seen through a telescope or from a satellite. This is thanks to upwelling monstrous columns of superheated gas called convection cells, and I think reproducing them in an astronomical watch is probably a watchmaking first of some sort.
Like the Sun disk, the Moon disk rotates around the Earth once every 24 hours, clockwise. Now, if you’re feeling sharp, you might be wondering how the heck the changing position of the Moon with respect to the sun, which is what gives us the phases of the Moon, can be represented if both disks rotate once every 24 hours? The answer is that while the Moon disk overall, rotates once every 24 hours, it also shifts counterclockwise slightly every day – “by an angle corresponding, in degrees, to 1/29.53 of a lunar month to occupy a new position in relation to the Sun,” says Ulysse Nardin. (Seen from the Earth, the Moon moves about 13 degrees along its orbital path every day.) This means that over the course of an entire lunar month, the moonphase aperture will display a new moon once every 29.53 days, which is a close approximation to the actual average synodic month (the time between new moons, as seen from Earth) of 29.53059 mean solar days. The fact that the Moon disk changes position slightly every day also means that you can use it to show the so-called “age” of the Moon. Usually “Moon Age” means the number of days since the last new moon. The Moonstruck’s Moon disk shows the number of days between each new moon and full moon, which can be read off from the number on the Moon disk, which is adjacent to the Sun. Normally the phase of the Moon is shown by disks rotating through an aperture on the dial. In order to represent both the phase of the Moon as well as its position relative to the Sun in a moving aperture, the aperture rotates over a five-lobed sinusoidal Moon disk placed underneath it – a smart, economical solution to a very complicated problem.
Tides come about as a result of the pull of the Moon’s gravity, which pulls up the water underneath it into a so-called tidal bulge. There is a corresponding tidal bulge on the opposite side of the Earth, as well, which seems counterintuitive – however when we last wrote about tide indications, Community member Orangespoon was kind enough to provide a link to a very concise explainer from NOAA (who should know, if anyone does). As with the other indications on the Ulysse Nardin Blast Moonstruck , reading the high and low tides is very simple once you know where to look. Right under the Moon aperture, and directly opposite it on the Moon disk, are two bulges that correspond to the actual positions of the high tide bulges in the Earth’s oceans. The low tides are shown by the flattened areas of the disk, at 90 degrees to the high tide bulges.
The relative positions of the Moon and Sun can even tell you if the high tide is a spring (unusually high) tide, or a neap (unusually low) high tide. If the Moon aperture is either adjacent to the Sun or opposite it, you have a spring tide; if they’re separated by 90 degrees, you get a neap tide.
Understanding the how and why of each of the indications and being able to interpret what they mean takes a little bit of indoctrination, but once you know what each of them represents and how they interact with each other, the watch really comes together as a single gestalt, rather than as an aggregation of complications. The unified experience it provides is one of the very, very big differences between it and many other astronomical complications. Okay, let’s see what we’ve got. The Moonstruck, above, is showing us the following: 10:10 local time (Caracas); noon in St. Georgia; the 13th of the month; age of the Moon, 11 days since the last new moon; high tides in Dhaka and Mexico City (if Mexico City got tides, which it doesn’t, at over 3,000 meters above sea level); low tides in London and Auckland. Astronomical complications are usually done in fairly traditional ways, broadly speaking – even the perpetual calendar, which is an astronomical indication inasmuch as its cycles depend on the mismatch between the mean solar day and the length of the year (which is to say, the rotation of the Earth on its axis and its orbit around the Sun) doesn’t generally get more frisky than a retrograde hand here and there. In fact, a lot of the time, the pleasure of an exercise in tradition is the whole point of an astronomical complication. In terms of design, Dr. Oechslin’s work for Ulysse Nardin Blast Moonstruck really stands alone, and not just in terms of design, either – his inventions are absolutely chock-full of ingenious mechanical solutions, which often remarkably simplify the mechanics of what a lot of the industry reflexively accepts as necessarily complicated.
The great Breguet collector, Sir David Salomons, once wrote that ” … to carry a fine Breguet watch is to feel that you have the brains of a genius in your pocket.” If you’re in a joking mood you could reply that that sounds like one hell of a dry cleaning problem but his point, taken seriously, is a big part of the joy of owning and using a uniquely complicated watch, as well. May Dr. Oechslin’s brains stay where they belong – but boy oh boy do you feel their power when you have a watch like the Moonstruck on your wrist.