Portrait of Ludwig Oechslin
A masterpiece always owes its existence to a combination of several favorable circumstances. The success of Ulysse Nardin over the last 30 years is largely due to a chance encounter between two men with an absolute passion for mechanical watchmaking. Rolf Schnyder, a businessman and visionary, provided Ludwig Oechslin, a brilliant horologist, with the perfect conditions in which to practice his art. The collaboration of these great friends produced watches that were nothing short of legendary.
A genius with unprecedented talent, Ludwig Oechslin had spent part of his apprenticeship at the Vatican studying a clock made in 1725 for the Duchess of Parma and Piacenza.
When Ludwig Oechslin met Rolf Schnyder, Oechslin was about to finish his apprenticeship in watchmaking and antique timepiece restoration with Jörg Spöring in Lucerne.
This timepiece, known as The Farnese Clock, possessed special mechanisms for displaying sun and moon phases and positions.
For four years, he dismantled, restored and then reassembled this object, piece by painstaking piece. Oechslin, who had an academic background in archeology, ancient history and Greek says, "I applied what I had learned in archeology," he says. "Examining a clock like this one is like unearthing a treasure, one layer at a time."
This was the start of a remarkable career. His thesis on the subject of the Farnese Clock earned him a doctorate in philosophy and history of applied sciences from the University of Berne. At the same time, he traveled through Europe in search of astronomical clocks made by 18th century monks, disassembling them, and making careful measurements, calculations and interpretations. No man had ever carried out such a monumental undertaking before.
An astronomical clock, inspired by Oechslin's work on the Farnese Clock, stood proudly in Jörg Spöring's workshop.
Before he met Ludwig Oechslin, Rolf Schnyder fell in love with this astrolabe, one of Oechslin's earliest creations.
With its rare complications the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei refocused the world's attention on Ulysse Nardin and its dazzling watchmaker.
It was Schnyder's determination to miniaturize the astrolabe, incorporating it into one of the most complicated wristwatches in the world that led to the two men's long partnership.
Oechslin took up the watchmaking challenge and in 1985 the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei was born. With its rare multiple complications it refocused the world's attention on Ulysse Nardin and its dazzling watchmaker. Within several years, the duo had added Planetarium Copernicus and Tellurium Johannes Kepler to complete the celebrated Trilogy of Time series, greatly impressing watch afficionados and confirming Ulysse Nardin as one of the greatest names in Swiss watchmaking.
This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. For over twenty years, Ludwig Oechslin was given carte blanche, masterminding the creation of several watches that figure as milestones in watchmaking history. One was the GMT± Perpetual, boasting an unusual perpetual calendar with a second time zone that can be adjusted forward or backward. Another was the Sonata, which features an alarm that can be set for within 24 hours, a world premiere for a mechanical watch. And the revolutionary Freak, whose carousel tourbillon transforms the rotation of its movement into a mechanism for displaying time, was yet another invention that continues to evolve with every passing year.
"In the course of my extensive research, I came across ingenious, long-forgotten ideas and technical solutions, such as epicycloidal gears. This wealth of know-how, which permeates dozens of projects that I left for Ulysse Nardin to carry out, is part of the brand’s DNA."
Oechslin was behind the revolutionary Freak, whose carousel tourbillon transforms the rotation of its movement into a mechanism for displaying time.
With each breakthrough, the watchmaker and scholar, backed by Rolf Schnyder and the company, took watchmaking expertise to its limits. Oechslin drew his inspiration from history. "In the course of my extensive research, I came across ingenious, long-forgotten ideas and solutions, such as epicycloidal gears. This wealth of know-how, which permeates dozens of projects that I left for Ulysse Nardin to carry out, is part of the brand’s DNA." And it is this constantly expanding knowledge, holding the promise of new creations for years to come, that is the lasting legacy of Ludwig Oechslin.