Ulysse Nardin Buyers Guide
Sorry Rolex, but Ulysse Nardin might rule the roost of coolest maritime watches. Whether it’s historic Marine Chronometers or modern, transformative innovations like The Freak, UN is one of the best timepieces brands to own and trade. Let’s get to it.
This buyers guide is designed to:
- Provide an overview of available UN watches
- Allow you to speak authoritatively to buyers about UN’s history and heritage
- Show you the 3 best models to buy and which to avoid
- Give you the knowledge to determine pricing – with real world examples
- Teach some unusual strategies for finding good deals on UN
Ulysse Nardin is (was) a man from Switzerland. Before launching his own brand in 1846, he apprenticed under his father and other regional master watchmakers. The company has been in continuous operation ever since its inception and has inhabited the same headquarters in Le Locle since 1865.
In 1876, Paul-David Nardin took the reigns of the company after the untimely death of his father,
Ulysse, at the age of 53. Within just 2 years, he had guided the company to win a Gold Medal at the prestigious Paris Universal Exhibition for his chronometers.
In 1904, the Russian and Japanese admiralties became customers, and soon thereafter, Ulysse
Nardin was supplying over 50 of the worlds top navies with marine chronometers. In 1916, UN started making a new, smaller movement, perfect for a wristwatch.
In 1950, the Neuchatel Observatory (which rates accuracy in Swiss watch movements) announced that UN had broken 50 years of records for chronometer performances.
By 1975, Ulysse Nardin was regularly racking up awards. The Neuchatel Observatory published chronometer performance data from 1846 to 1975 and noted that that UN had obtained:
- 4324 certificates of performance for mechanical marine chronometers
- 2411 special prizes for marine chronometers, 1069 of which were 1st Place
- 747 First Prizes for deck watches, pocket chronometers, and wristwatches
- 14 Grands Prix, the Prize Medal, and the Progress Medal
- 10 Gold Medals
- 2 Prix d’Honneur
- 2 Silver Medals at International Exhibitions
In 1983, businessman Rolf Schnyder purchased the brand with a vision of producing complication timepieces with modern designs, modern manufacturing techniques, and traditional quality.
In 2014, the brand was acquired by the Kering Group during an era of consolidation. One of the best outcomes of this acquisition has been the amazing in-house movements that UN has been able to produce. Some of Kering’s other brands include:
- Saint Laurent
- Bottega Veneta
- Alexander McQueen
- Girard Perregaux
Ulysse Nardin’s designs range from elegant to sporty to haute horology. However, the sheer number of timepieces on offer is enough to confound any trader, so let’s take closer a look at how UN organizes their line.
UN offers five “collections”. Collections are generally grouped by the spirit of the design, for example the “Executive” collection is full of expensive tourbillons with high design, whereas the “Diver” collection are mostly stylish and sporty tool watches. Within each collection are “families”. Unfortunately, families are not so logically grouped.
The “Diver” collection is divided in to “chronometer”, “chronograph”, “Deep Dive (special edition)”, and “Lady Chronograph” families for example, while the Classic collection has a whopping 14 current families.
Within each family, the watches vary greatly in terms of design, complications, sizes, materials, and limited editions, each one with a unique model number that also unfortunately doesn’t follow the most logical naming convention. Let’s take a closer look at the 5 collections so we know what we are looking.
The 5 Collections
The aforementioned Classic collection – comprising 14 “families” of styles and complications – aims to represents a combination of traditional design and modern technology.
The Classico Classico 8152-111-2/92 and Classico Dual Time 3243-132/E1-BQ
The Executive collection is more bold and contemporary than the Classic collection and
contains everything ranging from a skeleton tourbillon to the “Moonstruck”, which shows the
position of the sun and moon relative to the Earth – as well as a map of the tides.
Executive Moonstruck 1062-113/01 and Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel 1760-176
The Marine collection is inspired by the design of UN’s famous navy and marine watches and is
of particular interest because the Marine Chronometer is one of the best watches to flip (and wear).
Marine Chronometer 1183-122-3/40 and Marine Chronometer 263-67
The Diver collection is my personal favorite in terms of value, design, and margins. These are ultra elegant, high performance diving instruments that surpass most similar offerings by Omega, Rolex, and Breitling in my opinion.
Diver Chronometer 1183-170LE-3/90-GW and older style Maxi Marine Diver 263-33
While not for everyone, the Freak collection is Ulysse Nardin’s most avant garde, innovative
collection to date, featuring the Freak movement and no hands or crown, available in several
color and material combinations.
Freak Out 2053-132/BLACK and Freak 026-88
Ulysse Nardin uses 2 types of movements: modified and in-house.
An example of a modified movement is the UN-26 which is based on the 289A2 movement made by third-party manufacturer ETA. Visually, it is differentiated from stock via swirled Cotes
de Geneve striping, circular graining, and a custom rotor. From a technical standpoint, the modified ETA is fitted with a custom movement module to display the power reserve, and the central seconds hand is repositioned to the 6 o’clock subdial. So while it’s not in-house, it’s far from stock.
As far as in-house movements, UN released 5 of them in 2013, such as the UN-690 – aka “The
Stranger”. This movement powers a watch that has a small music box complication across the dial which plays the first 16 seconds of “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra every hour.
For $116,000, one would hope that it can be played on demand (which it can). Ulysse Nardin released 4 other in-house movements in 2013 along with the Stranger, including the Jade for women, Skeleton Tourbillon Manufacture, the Marine Chronograph Manufacture, and the Freak Cruiser.
Best Models To Buy & Pricing
Because UN has so many models across their 5 collections, discussing all of them would require a novel. However, there is an easy top 3 for flipping with astonishingly simple rules.
The Marine Chronometer is one of the best flips around – and that’s for any brand on the market. For one thing, they are a pleasure to own and wear. Certain watches make you feel “some type of way”… and you just can’t help but feeling a little more refined with one of these on. They are extremely versatile and look great with a suit, business casual, or jeans and a t-shirt – in other words, a wide pool of buyers.
One of the best Marine Chronometer models is the 263-67. There are a number of varieties (denoted with trailing characters like 263-67-7M/42 for the black dial with stainless steel bracelet), but all start with 263-67 and all are 43mm. This model has depreciated to 25 to 35 cents on the dollar and sell for more on the retail market.
Newer models can be great too. For example, the 1185-126-3T/45 – a a newer model with a gold bezel and steel case – has a target price of about $6k on an MSRP of $15k, or 40 cents on the dollar. And that’s for gold, so be price-selective if it’s a newer model with stainless steel only.
– 43mm is the easier
– Any material: stainless steel, rose gold, or 2 tone
– Any bracelet: stainless steel, 2 tone, or rubber
– Box and papers are worth about 5-10%
– Best dial colors are blue, white, and black
The Diver is an amazing watch: design-forward, sporty, and at available at incredible bargains.
For $9k, would you rather wear the same Rolex Submariner as everyone else, or would you rather sport 200g of solid rose gold with an original MSRP of $23k? Although there are newer Divers, some of the best flips are the 263-33 (stainless steel bezel and case) and the 266-33 (gold bezel and case) known as the Maxi Marine Diver. The dial sport a cool waffle pattern, and the lume is like a McLaren: turns up to 11, but you probably only really need a 4. Just like the Marine Chronometer, these reference numbers confine you to 43mm which is a smart size for flipping if you’re new to the brand.
But of course there are other models to explore. For example, the 266-36LE-3A “Blue Surf” in rose gold has an MSRP of $32k and a target price of $12k. If these are too expensive for you, don’t fret: I’ve recently paid $2k-$3.5k for a Maxi Marine Diver. On the low end, expect it to be naked (no box or papers) and on rubber strap. On the higher end, expect a steel bracelet with box and papers. Keep in mind that the prices have been going up on these over the last few months (as opposed to Panerai and Omega). As I type this, the cheapest one on eBay is listed at $3k, so they’re out there.
So again, my recommendation for easy flips is to look for:
– 43mm case in stainless steel (263-33) or solid gold (266-33)
– Any bracelet: stainless steel or rubber
– Box and papers are worth about 5-10% max
– Best dial colors are white, black, and silver
As mentioned throughout, the appropriately named “Freak” has been one of the freakiest timepieces on the market since it was introduced in 2001. Both a series of movements as well as a collection of timepieces, the Freak has no hands and no crown.
The Freak is available in a variety of colors, materials, and versions, including the Freak Out, Freak Lab, Freak Lab Boutique Limited Edition, Freak DiamOnSil, and the Freak Vision. Here’s another funny thing about the Freak: they’re all good flips. Any color. Any version. Whatever. Just try to be as close to 25 cents on the dollar as possible or 33 cents for precious metals like gold. Before flipping a Freak, you might call around and see what other traders or jewelers might pay you for it. Recently, I was negotiating with a seller to buy a Freak for $25k. I asked a friend and trader what he’d pay me for it and he said $27k. Had I been able to get the watch for under $27k, I’d have no risk in trying to flip it (the seller changed his mind about selling the watch and the deal fell through).
So remember, flip:
- All Freaks
- At 25-33 cents on the dollar
Where to Find Bargains
Although UN is hugely known and respected worldwide, Americans just haven’t really heard of the brand here. For this reason, I’ve had good luck negotiating with jewelers; often they’ll take one in on trade and have no idea how to market or sell it.
I recently went to a huge retail dealer and asked the pre-owned watch manager if they had any UN. He said no and that they don’t see them much. I looked in his pre-owned display case and there was a UN Dual Time staring back at me. The manager didn’t even know what it was.
I’ve also bought multiple Maxi Marine Divers from jewelers who just didn’t know how to market a UN to the somewhat niche market in the US. In both cases, I was able to buy at 25-30 cents on the dollar and sell quickly for a healthy profit.
Likewise, there are some great bargains available from private sellers. Because some models require 4-5 weeks of hold time, some sellers will get nervous and start discounting their prices. I recently put up a “Want To Buy” post in several Facebook groups for a Maxi Marine Diver in rose gold. A gentleman contacted me and offered it for $9.5k I said I would pay 8.5, and he said he couldn’t do it but would keep me in mind. 2 weeks later, he messaged me saying he
was considering selling for 8.5 but wanted to try to get more money first. 2 days after that he messaged me and met my 8.5 price. I vetted the seller, wired the money, and had the watch the next day. I enjoyed wearing this stellar watch immensely while waiting for it to sell, which is did for $10k after about 5 weeks. I could have held longer since the cheapest on the market was Govberg at almost $12k.
What to Look For in a Pre-Owned UN
As when purchasing any luxury timepiece, it’s most important to conduct due diligence on the seller. Will they allow you an inspection period with a 100% refund if not satisfied? During that time, you may want to take the watch to a knowledgeable jeweler or watchsmith who can authenticate it. They should also have a machine that can tell you in under 30 seconds exactly how well your movement is performing.
Don’t be afraid to ask the seller detailed questions about the condition of the watch as well as what’s included (like the original box, and “papers”, which can include everything from the original manufacturer booklets to an original purchase receipt to an out of date warranty card basically anything that’s not the box. A Ulysse Nardin “full kit” usually includes a huge amount of paperwork, chronometer certifications, booklets, and so-forth.
It is extremely important that the crystal is clean and free of scratches. It’s common for a pre owned watch to have “swirls” or some normal wear, often from “desk diving”on the clasp and bracelet. Beyond that, you should find out whether there are any scratches, dings or wear you should know about. Leather and rubber straps are inexpensive to replace, so their condition is less important (unless it’s a limited edition watch with a special strap) – but still vital to ask about. If you’re purchasing a UN with a bracelet, make sure and ask the seller if it’s “fully linked”, meaning that it has all of the links that originally came with the bracelet. I’ve made the mistake of not asking this question and ending up with a watch with so many missing links that it could only fit a small child.
Usually the seller will not have any idea about the service history of the watch, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, especially if it’s a private seller and watch enthusiast. As always, ask for more pictures if you need to, and if something seems off with the seller, the watch, the price, or the deal, absolutely do not make the purchase.
Interview with Cal Knight
Cal Knight of Knight Watch LLC is a friend and fellow trader with vast experience trading UN, so I thought his take would be immensely valuable. Cal teaches a comprehensive online course on watch trading that has taught me a lot.
Learn more about his course here.
What makes Ulysse Nardin any different from all the other luxury brands?
Cal: I love the brand Ulysse Nardin because of their unique creativity when it comes to watch design.
The watch company has a rich marine based heritage, and all of their timepieces reflect the ode
to that marine lifestyle. They are unlike any other high-end timepiece brand, and I like that they
aren’t super mainstream in the USA. They are one of the highest quality make in my opinion.
What are you favorite models?
Cal: I really like Ulysse Nardin models with hints of rose or yellow gold. The Marine Chronometers and the Maxi Marine Diver in yellow gold (model 266-33) are my favorites to wear personally. I have a Ulysse Nardin Freak on my “Grail List” and hope to enjoy those soon. They are the pinnacle of timepiece engineering. For flipping, the gold models tend to move better than other UN models. Also, any Maxi Marine diver in steel (Model 263-33) at the right price will move for an easy 10-20%+ margin easily because people like them as their first Ulysse.
Are there any special materials or colors to looks for?
Cal: Steel or Gold models with white/ivory dial on navy blue strap or steel bracelet. People seem to love the white X navy combo and also the elegant steel on steel look of a maxi marine on UN bracelet.
I used to hear people say that UN takes longer to flip than most brands. This hasn’t been my experience. What’s your hold time like?
Cal: Hold time depends on a few factors. Ulysse Nardin is not one of the most sought after brands in the USA, so it can be more challenging to sell than say a Rolex or Omega. That said, if you buy at the right price, and with the desirable color combos and precious metals, it’s really not hard at all. Most buyers need a little guidance about how they feel/look because most haven’t worn them in person, but once you share that experience with them (either communicate it, video it, or have them try one on in a retail store), they totally get the allure.
Ulysse Nardin is a special brand with a huge following and very cool clientele. I’e enjoyed every model I’ve ever had – even ones that don’t fit our flipping model. The fit and finish is second to none at their price points, and whether it’s a sporty Diver, upscale Marine, or haughty Freak, they keep excellent time, last forever, and have an instantly recognizable, iconic look. I especially enjoy the profits they bring when purchased correctly, and I know you will enjoy them too.