The Mermaids That Have Everyone Talking, Ulysse Nardin’s Sexy Sea Story
UN teams up with comic book legend Milo Manara for this limited edition Classico Erotic Collection.
Ulysse Nardin started reviving the tradition of making highly complicated erotic watches about two decades ago. In the past, these watches provided more than cheap thrills. With their sculpted figures, hand painted dials and masterful mechanisms, they found a niche with collectors who appreciated savoir-faire and sexiness.
Every year, UN launches limited edition erotic watches, but at SIHH 2019, instead of producing a timepiece featuring their (un)usual clockwork animation, the brand teamed up with Italian illustrator Milo Manara to create 10 different Classico models with dials which tell the seductive story of a woman, a shark, and a mermaid.
Technology has always been used to produce erotica. Visit any watch museum, and you'll find 18th-century pocket watches with automated lords leaping ladies. "We invent the camera, and it's immediately used for eroticism," says Manara, speaking in Geneva at SIHH. “It’s a dimension of humanity that cannot be repressed.”
So what’s the difference between dirty pictures and erotica? Manara approaches erotica as a form of storytelling. "Our most important erotic organ is our brain," he says. "And comic book Illustration is perfect because it's a representation of sex, but it's not sex."
Still, these watches are definitely sexy. Manara got his start in the graphic arts drawing crime-based comics. His work has appeared in magazines like Heavy Metal, and he has collaborated with the likes of Neil Gaiman. He has illustrated covers for Marvel comics. But he is best known for creating stories that revolve around elegant, beautiful women caught up in erotic fantasies.
Such is the story of Manara’s collaboration with Ulysse Nardin. Instead of cartoon panels, Manara uses the watch dials to tell the story of Nadia, a young lady who jumps into the ocean where she encounters a shark. She is saved by Ulyssia — a mermaid — and the two begin a lesbian love affair while the shark watches.
“My intention is to represent two worlds,” says Manara. “The underwater world and the earthly world.” He was also inspired by Ulysse Nardin’s history with producing nautical instruments and the romance of the sea in general.
“I’m thinking of The ancient Ulysses, Dante’s Ulysses, James Joyce and 2001: A Space Odessy,” Manara says. “The siren calls on us to abandon routine. It represents freedom.”
For 2019, Ulysse Nardin's overall theme is "We Xplore. We Xcite. We Xist. We are Ulysse” (their other big SIHH launch is the sexy but in a different way Freak X, read HERE). And the Classico Erotic watches are definitely triple X.
“I’ve tried to represent eroticism through a kiss,” says Manara. “It could be a sapphic kiss. It doesn’t have to be a kiss on the lips.” Just two days after launching, the Internet was full of wry comments about the nautical erotica. Just visit our Instagram page to read a few.
Yes, the watches are titillating (and I use that word knowing that it will provoke juvenile giggles), but they are also beautiful. Each of Manara’s illustrations was miniaturized and then hand painted by Ulysse Nardin’s artisans, sometimes using brushes the size of one human hair.
And while the Classico Erotic watches don’t feature mechanic reproductions of people getting it on, Manara’s illustrations have a lot of movement and life. “And,” he adds, “it’s difficult to be vulgar when you use watercolors.”
The Classico Erotic collection consists of ten pieces per drawing and will be produced in stainless steel as well as ten pieces in rose gold. The series is limited to 200 pieces in total. If you can't get your hands on all ten versions, says Manara, “my aim was to create a narrative but also to have each piece stand alone.”
The pieces are available for sale now. So far, the collaboration has been turning buyers on. “I’m told the collection has been well received,” says Manara. He is not surprised because he feels there is a similarity between high horology and erotica. “Telling time and telling stories — they are both a reproduction or representation of reality.”
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)