Style / World of Watches (WOW)

Ulysse Nardin Freak Out is the best watch to start the New Year

A confluence of provenance, brain power of horology’s best minds and now, at prices almost half the original, Ulysse Nardin Freak Out is the watch to own

Dec 31, 2018 | By Jonathan Ho

The original 2001 Ulysse Nardin Freak

Rarely does a timepiece sit at the confluence of impeccable horological provenance but the Ulysse Nardin Freak and its subsequent “Freak Out” edition so happens to the product of some of the best minds in horology, as well as a pioneer of the “super-watch” age of watchmaking. Consequently, as we end 2018 and usher 2019, the Ulysse Nardin Freak Out is our choice to start the new year.

Introduced in 2001 by the late Rolf Schnyder, the Freak was the brand’s emblematic short-hand for innovation and experimentation thanks to its carrousel-tourbillon complication and that unique movement architecture which placed almost the entirety of the calibre into the rotating minute hand. I dare say, that was the very same year, that the introduction of silicon components into a never-before-done timepiece operated not by crown but bezel,  was the original muse and inspiration for classical watchmakers to look beyond traditional materials and techniques, thus ushering in the age of superwatches which looked nothing like your father’s watch.

Ulysse Nardin Freak Out is the best watch to start 2019

A revolutionary masterpiece such as the Ulysse Nardin Freak always owes its existence to a combination of several favorable circumstances – among them, it counts a young Carole Forrestier, who provided the genesis idea of “rotating movement within a case” aka her concept carrousel central, she served as Technical Adviser to Ulysse Nardin before heading to Renaud et Papi, eventually ending up at Cartier and Richemont manufacture; and of course, the eventual architect and builder of a vastly different timepiece with a similar thesis – Ludwig Oechslin.

Oechslin was about to finish his apprenticeship in watchmaking and antique timepiece restoration with Jörg Spöring in Lucerne when he met Rolf Schnyder, if was this chance encounter which meant that for years, the creative partnership was fueled by many of Oechslin’s outlandish ideas, each grounded in the deep history of classical watchmaking – from his apprentice restoration of The Farnese Clock which possessed special mechanisms for displaying sun and moon phases and positions birthed Schnyder’s first challenge to Oechslin –  the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei with astronomical complications the likes which the world had never seen on a wristwatch. The duo had eventually added Planetarium Copernicus and Tellurium Johannes Kepler, completing the celebrated Trilogy of Time series to much critical and commercial acclaim. But more importantly, this success allowed Oechslin carte blanche to pursue his craziest ideas, among them, a horological innovation of such revolutionary nature that it was named “Freak”, it was fitted with a carousel tourbillon transforming the rotation of its movement into a mechanism for displaying time. Today, under careful guidance of new CEO Patrick Pruniaux, it is here that the Ulysse Nardin Freak Out, descended from the evolutionary genius and genome of the two decades of inventive watchmaking excels.

Freak Out cos it’s awesome

Descended from the first Freaks with synthetic diamond escapements, to the Freak Diavolo with flying tourbillon indicating seconds, the new Freak Out in four distinct aesthetic flavours (Black, Black Gold, Blue and Blue Gold) comes equipped with the manual-winding in-house calibre UN-205. Returning, the same avant-garde features – no crown, time adjusting bezel, winding caseback, technically no dial (since it doubles up as the hour hand) or hands (since the movement itself completes a rotation in 60 minutes as a minute hand would) for that matter and a similar “flying carousel” tourbillon in a baguette movement (which doubles as a minute indicator) and replacing the traditional anchor and anchor wheel are two super light silicium impulse wheels in the centre.

The Ulysse Nardin Freak Out’s new architecture sees both silicium wheels with 18 engaging teeth, each activating an alternator that transmits its energy to the balance staff — first in one direction, then the other. Silicium has a low friction coefficient, thus requiring no lubrication, furthermore, by virtue of its architecture, that force is always released in the direction of the balance rotation thereby minimizing friction. Coupled with a relatively fast 28,800 vph or 4 hertz beat rate, the combination of low lift angle and supreme lightness means that its hard to affect chronometry of the escapement from knocks and vibrations.

Finally, located between the lugs above the lower strap, is a small lock is used to unlocked the rotating bezel to allow for time adjustment. Often, I’ve found crown adjustment slightly cumbersome since my less than optimal motor skills often mean I overshoot precise time indexes, the larger bezel, adjusting hours and minutes when turned in either direction, allows for literal, intuitive translation of the adjustment from bezel straight to the “dial” hour and “movement” minutes. Meanwhile, the 7 day power reserve is wound, thankfully not via crown (which would take longer than is pleasant to wind) but via rear caseback bezel mounted on bal bearings.

Given the confluence of its provenance, the joint brain power which has worked on the Freak concept since inception and now, at prices almost half (S$73,900 versus $150,000 – $200,000)  of what this groundbreaking Ulysse Nardin novelty is usually sold, the Freak Out is the one watch to start the new year if you can afford it.

Ulysse Nardin Freak Out Price and Specs

Movement Manual winding manufacture calibre UN-205 with 7 days power reserve
Case 45mm Titanium or Titanium with PVD black treatment case with 30 metres water resistance
Strap Sailcloth strap
Price S$73,900


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