Review: Ulysse Nardin Sonata Cathedral Dual Time
Every now and then a watch does something that is actually quite surprising. Whether it’s a feature or a function, a price point or a something plain outrageous, it stops you in your tracks and makes you take a second look. The Ulysse Nardin Sonata Cathedral Dual Time is one of those watches, but there isn’t just one thing to be impressed by—there’s five.
The Big Date
The big date complication is no new thing for wristwatches, the first appearing on A. Lange & Söhne’s 1994 Lange 1, but on the Sonata Cathedral Dual Time it’s the execution that makes it worthy of mention. First of all, the function is accessed through the calibre UN-67’s left-hand crown rather than the traditionally placed right-hand crown, bereft of other positions to get it confused with. Month rolled on with just 30 days? Left-hand crown, no messing about.
The Ulysse Nardin Sonata Cathedral Dual Time looks crazy, but it's very, very clever
Give it a pull and a turn and—in a snap—the date changes. But that’s not the best part; you can tell this is a brand that works harder to produce usable complications and not just showpieces—take the 1996 Ludwig Oechslin-designed perpetual calendar, for example, a world first in a wristwatch—because if you wind the date on too far, you can simply wind it back again, just like that. No winding on through all 31 dates again—it just goes where you want it to.
The GMT Function
If you can afford a watch like this, chances are you can afford a holiday in a country with a different time zone, and of course that warrants a whole song and dance where you have to take off your watch and fiddle with the crown to adjust the GMT display—if your watch even has one.
A collection of complications comes together to make a watch that's virtually foolproof
Of course, the Sonata Cathedral Dual Time—as the name suggests—allows the use of a second time zone, one that can be accessed with the simplest push of a button, no less. With the 24-hour display on home time duty, a press on the plus or minus pushers on either side of the case—elegantly blended into the crown guards—will advance or retreat the main hour hand accordingly. You don’t even have to take your watch off! And once you’ve returned back home again, suntan suitably topped up, all you need to do is press the other pusher and the main display will realign with home time.
The 24hr Alarm
Many watches that offer an alarm function are really only offering half an alarm function, because most alarms are used in two different ways: the first being a one-off reminder that doesn’t need repeating, and the second a daily alert that can be set once and forgotten. Most watches only offer the former, a 12-hour alarm that’s fine for reminding you to get the chicken out of the oven before it burns, but not the latter.
The Sonata Cathedral Dual Time, however, can do both. Pull out the right-hand crown, the same used for normal time-setting, all the way to the end—again, genius thinking from Ulysse Nardin, putting the most used of the time- and alarm-setting functions at the easier-to-access final position—and set the time on the alarm display. With the button on the left-hand crown pressed to turn the alarm on, the alarm topped up with the right-hand crown wound fully anti-clockwise to its stop, and the alarm will sound every day without requiring a reset. And because the alarm is 24-hour, it will only chime in the morning—or evening—depending on how it’s set. Added to that, if the time is adjusted using the GMT pushers, the alarm will continue to trigger at the set time—but now for the new time zone instead.
Twin sub-dials offer a unique approach to setting an alarm, and are very easy to use
The Countdown Timer
You may now be wondering how the user knows whether the alarm is set for AM or PM considering the alarm display only shows 12 hours, and this brings us on the next impressive feature of this watch. You see, just next to the alarm display is another marked ‘Countdown Timer’, which offers an alternative, and really very useful, way of viewing the alarm setup.
With this display, it’s possible to use the alarm to count down by a set duration, rather than being forced into working out what the time would be after adding that duration and setting it like that instead. It’s just so quick and simple to use, and can even be set to the minute. And as the countdown timer offers a full 24-hour range, you’ll know whether or not the alarm setting is AM or PM.
The Cathedral Gong
The final feature of this watch is one you can’t see—well you can, just—but really it’s best experienced. Many alarm watches use a buzzing sound to alert their users, a rather inelegant racket that, while functional, leaves a lot to be desired when sat next to, say, a Patek Philippe Sky Tourbillon with its cathedral gong chime. So, naturally, the Sonata Cathedral Dual Time has to have a cathedral gong as well, because—why not?
A cathedral gong, for the uninitiated, is very much like a typical minute repeater gong, a curved wire that circumnavigates the movement to provide a rich, clean sound, except the cathedral gong goes around twice for an even richer, cleaner sound. Granted, it won’t wake a heavy sleeper, but it sure does sound nice. If it’s good enough for Patek Philippe …
The in-house calibre UN-67 features a cathedral gong for Patek Philippe levels of sonic joy
With over 400 parts—109 of them jewels—it’s no wonder that the Ulysse Nardin calibre UN-67 provides such a complete experience within the Sonata Cathedral Dual Time, but it’s more than just superficial—a lot of work has gone into making this an intuitive thing to use, one that doesn’t need an instruction manual to figure out. There are many watches packed out with complications, but really it’s the user experience that impresses most here, making the Sonata Cathedral Dual Time a rather surprising thing.
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