There is something extremely tricky about being a Swiss watch brand and using very progressive, close to experimental technology in the wristwatches that you actually sell to the public. Even when extensively tested, the technology can malfunction in the client’s watch, and even when fixed, reputations often remain damaged. Yet this didn’t stop Ulysse Nardin from launching their ‘Freak’ model in 2001. It would be the first of a lineage of watches that is now close to two decades in the making. It was and still is, a watch in which Ulysse Nardin boldly brought cutting technology to the wrists of their fans.
The first Freak introduced us to the use of silicon in the watch movement, a material which has now been adopted by many other brands as well. While the Freak was, and still is, profoundly progressive and avant-garde, it remains a mechanical watch at heart and in that honors the rich past of watchmaking. It also has a few unique characteristics that would become hallmarks of the Freak up until this year. As the watch lacks a crown, winding the mechanical movement is done by turning the case back, while setting the watch is quite easy thanks to an inventive and intuitive system which you operate by turning the bezel.
For Ulysse Nardin, the Freak collection quickly became a laboratory for on the wrist. In 2005 the Freak Diamond Heart used synthetic diamond on some escapement parts, while Ulysse Nardin developed this further and launched in 2007 the Freak DIAMonSIL, in which the silicon parts are coated with synthetic diamond for even more superb performance.
Ulysse Nardin further up their game in 2010 with the introduction of the Freak Diavolo. This watch was fitted with a flying tourbillon. An interesting complication to add to the Freak because as the escapement also takes on the role of the minute hand, it is by design only once every hour in the same position. Something which is also referred to as a ‘flying carrousel system.’ Because of the one-minute flying tourbillon was the Freak Diavolo the very first in the collection to display the seconds.
The Freak has always been an aesthetic highlight in the world of watches as well. In 2013 Ulysse Nardin redesigned the bridges and ‘hands’ of the watch to connect to the maritime world in which the brand also holds quite a reputation. 2015 marked the introduction of the FreakLab, the very first watch in the collection, which has a date function. While this doesn’t sound so exciting, the watch is still has no crown, so Ulysse Nardin had to develop a unique mechanism that allows you to set not only the time but also the date through the bezel. Less noticable but equally important, is that Ulysse Nardin also equipped this watch with UlyChoc, a shock-absorber system, which the brand not only developed in-house but also makes in their manufacture.
Up until 2018, have all the Freaks been manual wind, yet that would change with the introduction of the Freak Vision. This watch featured the innovative Grinder winding system, which Ulysse Nardin pioneered in another one of their groundbreaking watches, the InnoVision 2. An ingenious construction that includes a centrally mounted rotor with ball-bearings and three smaller ball-bearings along with a filigree frame with two pairs of springs ensure that even the slightest motion of the wrist is converted into energy for the movement.
By this time, the Freak has evolved from a daring experiment to an innovation icon. This let Ulysse Nardin to introduce this year the Freak X. This is the very first Freak that features a crown. While it still has the carrousel-type movement, it is less complicated than the previous Freak models. This Freak nevertheless carries the innovative nature of its predecessors, as is testified by, for example, an ultra-light balance wheel made out of silicon fitted with micro-blades and nickel flyweights for stabilization. Yet packed in a sleek, 43mm large case, it is now perhaps even more than ever suitable for everyday wear.