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 this be, when it is said that the watch was the one to bring watchmaking into the 21st Century?
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 look was filled with revolutionary technologies which enabled it to be void of wristwatch essentials: a dial to conceal the intricate inner workings, hands to indicate the hours and minutes and, most astonishingly, a crown to wind or set the clock.
When it was first introduced, the escapement wheels were made of silicon. At that time, this material had never before been used for watchmaking and caused quite a stir. It is fair to say, that Ulysse-Nardin has won the day. Today, silicon is the material of choice because of its many fantastic properties. Brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe use it in their watches to improve performance and reliability.
Twenty-two years on, the Swiss watchmaker is still laughing off 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.
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). It would be a mistake to consider the Freak One merely 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. The Freak One is not a Frankenstein’s monster, but a collection of well-thought out highlights.
Form and Function
The Freak One, like its predecessors, strips away all the extraneous parts to put its movement in the centre of the watch for the purest expression horology.
Under its movement is the black engraved cover of the barrel that rotates a full 12 hours. The SuperLuminova pointer can be used to indicate the time with this barrel cover. Above the minute bridge is the flying carrousel orbital tourbillon, which supports the exposed gears, the dramatic silicon oscillator. 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.
The minute bridge holds most of these wheels, which are suspended above the barrel. It is possible to see how the system works just by observing the minute hand.
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. This promise has been kept. 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 originally published in WOW Autumn Issue 70.
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