Style / World of Watches (WOW)

Ulysse Nardin Gets Their Freak On

The embodiment of 22 years of technological innovation, Ulysse Nardin’s Freak One timepiece presents the very best of the collection’s legacy in a 44mm titanium case

Nov 23, 2023 | By Ashok Soman
 Ulysse Nardin Freak One timepiece 

As Ulysse Nardin’s Chief Product Officer Jean- Christophe Sabatier noted in a conversation with us: “The Freak is not a mainstream product, and it’s not for mainstream people. The type of people who are interested in the Freak are people who are, from time to time, alone in terms of taste, a bit avant- garde, and they dare to be different.” While Sabatier’s words could fit in quite nicely in an advertising campaign, they are not hyperbolic in the least. How can they be when the watch is reputed to have singlehandedly ushered in a new era of watchmaking, thrusting it into the 21st century?

 Ulysse Nardin Freak One timepiece 

Introduced in 2001, the aptly named Freak was the brainchild of Ulysse Nardin’s late owner Rolf Schnyder and prodigious watchmaker and physicist Dr. Ludwig Oechslin, and it made headlines for turning centuries-old horology conventions on its head, resulting in something that the world had never seen before. Its avant-garde looks brimmed with revolutionary technologies that allowed it to be bereft of the very things that made a wristwatch: There was no dial to hide the complex inner workings of its movement, no hands to point out the hours and the minutes, and, most astoundingly, no crown to wind the watch or set the time.

 Ulysse Nardin Freak One timepiece 

Then, there was the matter of its escapement wheels, made out of silicon, a then-unprecedented material in watchmaking that caused quite a bit of stir and pooh-poohing from sceptics upon its world debut. In light of its reputation today as the material of choice for its various fantastic properties, with brands from Rolex to Patek Philippe highlighting its use in their watches for improved performance and reliability, it is safe to say that Ulysse Nardin has had the last laugh.

Twenty-two years later, the Swiss watch manufacture is still laughing at the face of convention. This year sees Ulysse Nardin continuing the legend of its horological oddity with a fitting new chapter to encapsulate the collection’s rich heritage: The Freak One, which presents the best of its two-decade-long history in a 44mm titanium case.

The Originators

Touted as the direct descendant of the original Freak of 2001, the Freak One is Ulysse Nardin’s first launch since it officially regained its independence from the Kering Group at the end of May last year, and it signals the brand’s return to its visionary roots (Sabatier says the company will continue to focus on the Freak in the near term). However, it would be remiss to think of the Freak One as just a remake. Ulysse Nardin has filed more than 20 patents in the last 20 years or so of the collection’s existence, and this latest creation embodies the best of that heritage.

The Freak One is regulated by a silicon hairspring that was introduced in the Freak Blue Phantom of 2008, and features an escapement that has been treated with DIAMonSIL — a patented synthetic diamond and silicon plasma surface treatment that was introduced in 2007’s Freak DIAMonSIL — for heightened performance.

From 2018’s pivotal Freak Vision comes the patented automatic Grinder winding system with a 90-hour power reserve and added energy-capturing efficiency, thanks to the oscillator’s connection to four blades that transform even the slightest wrist movement into energy. The Freak Vision’s comparatively minimalist face and clean legibility codes also acquit themselves favourably here, accompanied by the open gear train of 2013’s Freak Cruiser, and the 57-component case construction of last year’s Freak S.

As piecemeal as this may sound, a quick glance is all it takes to convince that the Freak One is no Frankenstein’s monster. Instead, it is a palimpsest of highlights with well-thought-out proportions and exceptional finishes resulting in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Form and Function

Much like its precursors, the Freak One strips away the superfluous to place its movement at the very centre of its creation for the purest expression of horology.

Beneath its movement lies the black engraved barrel cover that makes a full rotation every 12 hours. This allows it to double up as the hour indicator with a SuperLuminova pointer. Above this lies the minute bridge that supports the exposed gear train, the dramatic silicon oscillator, and the orbital flying carrousel tourbillon. The latter makes a complete revolution every 60 minutes and serves a dual function as the watch’s minute hand with SuperLuminova to light the way.

 Ulysse Nardin Freak One timepiece 

The entire movement gear train effectively indicates the minutes, with the minute bridge holding most of the wheels suspended over the barrel. One can see for oneself how the entire system works by simply observing the watch as it marks the minutes, which is a marvel for enthusiasts of mechanical systems.

As for the watch’s groundbreaking time-setting system, it is operated through the bezel, which rotates the entire movement when it is turned. A lock at the 6 o’clock position prevents the bezel from unintended movements: Lift the lock to release the setting system before pressing it back down to lock it into place once the time has been set.

As Sabatier tells us, the Freak One was so named because the brand intended it to be “the one” that epitomises the Freak legend with 20 years of innovations to its name. The brand has made good on that promise. Considering the Freak’s role in thrusting Ulysse Nardin into the public’s attention in 2001, Freak One is a fitting timepiece to mark Ulysse Nardin’s regained independence and the brand’s coming full circle once more.

This article was first published on WOW Autumn Issue #70

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