Driven by the unending quest for innovation, Ulysse Nardin made a surprise return to the brand’s miniature laboratory, the much-loved Freak wristwatch. So-called to announce the brand’s decision to break away from tradition, the Freak is a model that gets a lot of attention from collectors because of its potential for future innovations.
Its latest and most exciting model, the “Freaklab,” is an experiment that could have gone wrong so easily. Adding a new date indication has the potential of creating an unbalanced and cluttered dial. Instead, the FreakLab is lighter and more legible than ever before. But why take this risk? According to the brand, the decision to add a date complication is one that comes all the way from the top.
“Pierre Gygax [COO of Ulysse Nardin] and I wear the Freak quite often, and look at the piece at least 10 times a day,” said Patrik Hoffmann. “And we found that we were always searching for the date. So of course, we wondered if we could add one.”
The only issue is that a pusher, crown, or pushpin, whose absence in the design of the Freak defines Ulysse Nardin’s most forward-thinking wristwatch, is required to set a date. “Our technicians themselves initially said they needed a crown to change the date or it couldn’t be done,” admitted Patrik Hoffmann when we sat down with him during Baselworld 2015. “It required skill and imagination to reach the goal.”
The solution it turns out is as clever as it is simple. If there is no crown to turn, other elements inside a wristwatch, such as the FreakLab’s bezel, can rotate 360°: Clockwise to set the hours and minutes, and anticlockwise to set the date, while a safety clip between the horns at 6 o’clock holds it in place and releases it when re-setting is required. So there is no chance of changing those settings by accident.
As ever, the nautically themed Freak uses hands shaped like an anchor and a sail to indicate the hours and minutes respectively. But the new FreakLab features a redesigned “upper bridge” to increase its legibility and accommodate for the new date complication at 4 o’clock. The size of the gear train has also been reduced and the balance wheel re-centered, resulting in a watch that looks lighter than before. See the Freak Blue Cruiser with the former design below:
Presented in a 45MM case made out of white gold, the timepiece remains easy to handle because of the lack of crown. Instead, the only issue you might face is making sure you put it on the right way, since there is no reference point on the case to tell North from South. Inside, the FreakLab houses the brand’s new UlyChoc safety system, the latest generation of shock absorbers developed by Ulysse Nardin, a genuine world first which is the subject of a patent application.
Far from turning it into a monster, Ulysse Nardin has created a superb timepiece in the FreakLab. No wonder it was selected as a finalist by the jury of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2015. The Ulysse Nardin FreakLab is a limited edition of 99 pieces, and is priced at $ 95,000.