Think Ulysse Nardin Replica Watches, and generally the first thing you think of is the Freak. Behind the Freak, however, is the fact that Ulysse Nardin was the very first company to introduce a watch with silicon components, and since the Freak debuted nearly 20 years ago, UN has been introducing silicon components in a wider and wider range of watches. The in-house caliber UN-320 uses a silicon lever and escape wheel – both in a proprietary configuration – as well as a silicon balance spring.

The SBDX014, which was shown to us under embargo at the SIHH in January, represents the first use by Ulysse Nardin Swiss Replica of its in-house UN-320 caliber in a diver’s watch. Ulysse Nardin says that the design is based on a diver’s watch made by UN in 1964 and this certainly looks like a classic mid-20th century diver’s watch – right down to the segmented minute hand, although some of the design decisions have a bit more of a postmodern flavor, including the round cyclops over the date, and the use of a running seconds sub-dial rather than a center second. The use of the latter is likely dictated by the layout of the UN-320 caliber which is set up as a seconds sub-dial movement.

The use of a seconds subdial is also consistent with the rest of Ulysse Nardin’s dive Replica watch collection, which uses this configuration across the entire family of watches. This is by far the most straightforward dive watch Ulysse Nardin currently offers, as well. It’s 100m water resistant, with the unidirectional bezel required by ISO 6425. With the silicon components, it’s going to be basically immune to the effects of any magnetic fields you’re likely to encounter outside a medical or lab setting, which is a nice feature to find in any tool watch. The stainless steel case is 42.2mm in diameter, with an engraving on the back of a spear-fishing diver wearing an old-fashioned looking double tank open-circuit scuba set – along with the requisite cloud of bubbles characteristic of open circuit regulators.

Typically, a watch brand will get a bit of grief for fielding a quote dive watch unquote, with only 100m water resistance, but it does bear mentioning that this is the minimum depth rating required by ISO 6425, and that recreational scuba diving generally happens at much shallower depths (30-40 meters, max) so 100 meters is more than enough for all practical purposes. However, if all that mattered in dive watches was “practical” there would a) be far fewer dive watches sold because 99% of us who buy them are never going to dive with them and b) certainly, far fewer dive watches would be sold with depth ratings that make them capable of tolerating pressures that would implode a military sub’s pressure hull. It doesn’t make a particle of difference in real terms whether a dive watch is 100m rated or 200m rated, but there’s no doubt that 200m is a bit of a better look.

So here’s the problem: this is a $9,600 watch. Now, it’s got an in-house, technically forward-looking movement, and some appealing styling, yes. However, the under-$10,000 segment in dive watches is one of the most densely saturated product categories I can think of and consumers are absolutely spoiled for choice. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, a no-date Rolex Submariner on a bracelet – an excellent bracelet, on a watch with an in-house movement and in-house balance spring – is a $7,500 watch. Add a date and the price jumps to $8,550. A high-end Seiko diver, like the Tuna Can SBDX014 Marinemaster, which is 1,000m water resistant and which, while bulky, is cooler looking than James Dean in a leather jacket on a Saturday night, is $3,300 bucks – again, with an in-house automatic movement.

So is this watch going to struggle to stand out from its competitors in what’s already the single most crowded category in watchmaking? Absolutely. Is there a case to be made for it as a viable option? Yes, but I think won’t hurt if you’re a Ulysse Nardin fan, and if the greater resistance to magnetic fields, and general technical qualities of the movement appeal to you. That this is a silicon-component dive watch – balance spring, lever, and escape wheel – should be taken into consideration as well; right now, few dive watches in this price range have that specific feature set. (An Omega Seamaster 300, antimagnetic to 15,000 gauss, with a co-axial escapement, and chronometer certification, lists for $6,600; the Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronoworks is $39,295, albeit it’s a chronograph).

As with any watch, ultimately you’re going to be sold, or not, on the Ulysse Nardin Le Locle Diver, on the strength of the whole package. A solid watch, but one with a lot of very tough competition.

The Ulysse Nardin Diver Le Locle: 42.2mm case, with caliber UN-320 manufacture movement; silicon escapement and balance spring with 48-hour power reserve. 100m water resistant, with sapphire crystal; sailcloth bracelet with tang buckle. Available in May. See the Ulysse Nardin diver collection at www.biao.org.uk.

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