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Review: A Beautiful Freak – The Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision

by Frank Chuo on October 22, 2018

Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision

Think about Ulysse Nardin and images of ships, anchors, enamel dials, and jacquemarts come to mind. This is the mild-mannered side of the brand that we are all comfortable with. But everyone has a freaky side, including Ulysse Nardin. Rather than suppress its freaky tendencies, Ulysse Nardin had let them go uncaged in the form of the Freak since 2001.

The very first Freak was a trailblazer for high-end modern watchmaking. It was the first watch to utilise silicon within its movement, which, as we know, has become quite common today. Its design was also completely novel and mind-boggling at the time. An entire movement that rotates like a carrousel and indicates the minutes? Get out of here! The reality is, the Freak has become Ulysse Nardin’s testbed for bleeding edge style and tech. Last year, the Innovision 2 concept watch (not commercially available) made its debut with no less than 10 groundbreaking innovations. Not a bad way at all to introduce yourself at SIHH as a newcomer. For 2018, Ulysse Nardin presents an all-new Freak incorporating some of the innovations found in the Innovision 2 in one form or another. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision.

 

 

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the Freak Vision measures a sizeable 45 mm in diameter; this is after all a showpiece, not a dress watch. Of all the iterations of the Freak, the Freak Vision has the cleanest, most modern-looking case. One would expect a watch like this to be encased in space age material, but Ulysse Nardin opted for platinum instead, the most noble of metals. The case is accented with blue inserts on the flanks and on the bezel. Those familiar with the Freak know that the bezel is used to set the time (note the absence of a crown); three titanium riders are in place for easy handling. And as is the case with the previous Freaks, turning the case back winds the watch. In contrast to the rest of the case, the case back of the Freak Vision is crafted in titanium.

 

The case of the Freak Vision is crafted in platinum, with a titanium case back. It is also equipped with a domed sapphire crystal.

 

The most fascinating part of the Freak Vision remains the dial – well technically, it doesn’t have a dial. What you see on the face of the watch is in fact part of the movement. Time is still indicated in the “Freak” manner, which sets the collection apart from the rest in the catalogue and, quite frankly, all of watchmaking. The bold construct you see on the “dial” in its entirety is what Ulysse Nardin calls the “baguette movement”. It acts like a flying carrousel rotating around its own axis at a rate of one rotation per hour. The majority of the gear train can be seen here, and supporting it is a carved upper bridge that is inspired by the hull of a boat, or if you like, a spaceship. Because the movement makes a full rotation every sixty minutes, the bridge doubles as a minute hand. The hours, meanwhile, are indicated by a pointer on a rotating disc that is fitted onto the main plate. Bottom line: the overall concept of Ulysse Nardin’s Freak is preserved in this latest edition – what’s new is the styling, materials and technical innovations (more in the movement section).

 

While the minutes are indicated by the upper bridge that supports the “baguette movement”, the hours are indicated by a rotating disc.

 

The Movement

Powering the Freak Vision is the in-house designed and manufactured Calibre UN-250. The automatic movement has a power reserve of 50 hours and beats at a traditional 2.5 Hz. It is wound by the novel Grinder Automatic Winding System, first presented in the Innovision 2 concept watch. According to Ulysse Nardin, Grinder surpasses existing systems for efficiency by a factor of two. Its oscillating rotor is linked to a frame containing four arms, which gives the system twice the torque – akin to having four pedals on a bike instead of two – while a flexible guidance mechanism drastically limits friction.

Then of course, there’s the brand’s well-known anchor escapement, which is indeed a constant force escapement. The escapement is made entirely of silicium and features a circular frame with a pallet fork that moves without friction. The pallet fork is fixed in the centre and supported in space on two minuscule blade springs. This allows the balance wheel to oscillate at a constant rate without influence of torque variations from the mainspring. And speaking of the balance wheel, it is made of ultra-light silicium as per Freak tradition. But what’s new is the fact that the balance wheel is welded with solid nickel mass elements – a patented first – and has silicium micro-blades to stabilise amplitudes and increase accuracy.

From a finishing perspective, the Calibre UN-250 is industrial and very contemporary, which is to be expected. While finishing has been upheld to a satisfactory standard, it is nothing to shout about. That said, if you’re too hung up on the finishing of a technically avant-garde movement testing the frontiers of design and watchmaking, you’re probably doing it wrong.

 

Ulysse Nardin’s Grinder technology achieves 2x the efficiency of conventional winding mechanisms.

 

The Competitive Landscape

To put simply, the Ulysse Nardin Freaks have no peers or direct competitors. They are truly one of a kind in watchmaking and this is what makes the them so special. The Freak Vision is priced at CHF95,000, and while that is a lot of money, in the context of fine watchmaking, it’s actually pretty reasonable if you think about it. How many tourbillon/carrousel watches can you think of today that cost under 6 digits in Swiss Francs? And of those, how many are this groundbreaking in design and engineering? Let’s not forget as well that the Freak Vision is encased in platinum.

 

The presence of the Freak Vision on the wrist is undeniable. The three-dimensional upper bridge is akin to a modern art sculpture.

 

While there are no Freak equivalents in the market, there are those that are similarly unique or avant-garde. One fine example would be the Richard Mille RM53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough. While in the Freak Vision, its movement is mobile, in the RM53-01, its movement is suspended by a system of cables and pulleys. Richard Mille’s goal was to enable the RM53-01 to survive the rigors of a polo match, which involves falling off a horse and taking on a mallet blow. The RM53-01’s cable suspension mechanism allows the movement (a tourbillon movement, no less) to withstand shocks exceeding 5000 g’s. This, combined with the ultra-modern and robust Carbon TPT case and laminated sapphire crystal, makes the RM53-01 an engineering marvel. All this is available for only USD900,000 (or one Freak Vision for each player in your favourite football team’s starting eleven). Hurry up though, as there will only be 30 pieces made, ever.

 

Wearing a million dollar watch to a polo match (as a player, not a spectator)? Well, now you can, with Richard Mille’s RM053-01.

 

If you haven’t got a million dollars just lying around, the Ressence Type 1 Squared might be a worthy consideration until you do. As is the case with all Ressence watches, the Type 1 Squared has no hands in the traditional sense, and has a main dial that rotates with auxiliary dials that revolve around the centre. The minutes are indicated by the main dial while the hours and seconds by their respective sub-dials. The final sub-dial indicates the day of the week, with the weekend displayed in orange. Making do without a crown, a lever at the back allows for the time and day to be set, as well as for the watch to be wound. If you think about it, it shares some similarities with the Freak in terms of design concept. At CHF16,800 (excluding taxes), this watchmaking unicorn is a fair bit more wallet-friendly and a decent alternative to the Freak Vision or the RM053-01.

 

The shape of the Ressence Type 1 Squared resembles that of the smartwatches of today. Its atypical, completely mechanical display is bound to draw confused looks from the uninitiated.

 

Final Thoughts

Watches don’t get much more exotic than the Freak. Ever since its inception, it has continued to be the flag bearer for modern watchmaking. The new Freak Vision is a vivid reminder that Ulysse Nardin isn’t just about traditional crafts and marine chronometers, but also cutting edge innovation and design.

 

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