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Review: Ulysse Nardin Freak X

She's a Super Freak (Or Not?)
by Robin Lim on February 2, 2019
Reviews

There are watches, and then there is the Ulysse Nardin Freak. The watch that arguably changed the watch industry forever, since its inception in 2001.

The Freak was Ulysse Nardin’s most audacious collection, to date. As the nomenclature suggests, the Freak was just not contented to being yet another timepiece. It goes beyond all that – it is an experimental collection that is transcends beyond status quo, and boldly tests the boundaries and limits that no one in the watch industry had done. An icon was certainly born.

The Freak

When the Freak was first launched in 2001, it certainly caught everyone by surprise. The Freak, for the lack of a better description, was literally a “freak”. It was so different from the conventional. Ulysse Nardin had completely went against the usual by omitting three key elements of a timepiece: the crown, hands, and dial. It does sound like a Frankenstein of some sort, if you may.

But it gets better. The Freak prides itself in the field of innovation, especially for being the pioneer in using silicon for its movement components. It is something that we have sort of taken for granted these days, but Ulysse Nardin was the first manufacture to utilise this material to experiment for its anti-magnetic properties.

These two qualities have cemented the Freak’s position in the horological world. It goes beyond its bold looks and unconventional style – it is more than that. It had rewritten the rule book.

The Freak X

The Freak X, according to Ulysse Nardin, is the “little cousin of its Freak antecedents”. Launched in the recently concluded SIHH 2019, the Freak X is the new entry-level collection to the well-respected collection.

The new model comes in four different references, each reflecting a different style and material used. However, the question lies: Is the Freak X still a compelling and provocative timepiece, just like its predecessors? Let us find out.

Case, Dial, and Hands

At the first glance, the Freak X is undoubtedly still a “Freak”. The watch retains its ultra contemporary design, especially with its “baguette” movement. The Freak X is slightly more toned down as compared to its siblings, with a cleaner and simpler design. The main characteristics still remains – it has no dial and hands. The central bridge of the carousel acts as a minute hand, while one of the wheels indicates the hours.

On that note, we will be addressing one of the elephants in the room. That is the presence of a crown, at the 3 o’clock position. One of the main iconic touches of the Freak is the lack of a crown, and the Freak X is an antithesis to that. Instead of using the bezel for time adjustments, Ulysse Nardin had decided to incorporate the conventional watch crown this time. Does that dilute the ethos that the Freak stood for? Maybe, but to a very minute extent in our opinion. If the critic is too fixated with the presence of the crown itself, then perhaps he or she might just be losing the entire picture of what the Freak embodies.

The other slightly significant difference of the Freak X is its case size. The Freak X is slightly smaller, at 43mm (as compared to its predecessors, which are cased at 45mm). As mentioned earlier, the Freak X is available in four different variants – each with a different case material.

Amongst the four variations, the Freak X Carbonium is perhaps the most spectacular model of the lot. For starters, Carbonium is a new super-lightweight and sustainable material that is used in the aeronautical industry, especially for the plane’s fuselage and wings. It is notable for its robustness as well.

Besides that, the Carbonium is also much more environmentally-friendlier than other carbon composites. Ulysse Nardin actually uses the offcuts from aeronautical pieces to craft the cases, in which it is said to cut down the environmental impact by a staggering 40%. Finally, the material provides the case with an interesting marbling pattern as well – which adds some icing on the top of the cake.

The Movement: UN-230

The Freak X is powered by Ulysse Nardin’s in-house produced UN-230. The movement, according to Ulysse Nardin, is a fusion of both the manufacture’s calibres UN-118 and Freak Vision UN-250.

The UN-230 is a self-winding movement, and it has a respectable power reserve of approximately 72 hours. The highlight of the movement perhaps lies in the flying carousel that is present at the front of the watch. It also features a super-light balance wheel in silicium, reinforced with nickel flyweights and stabilising micro-blades. First seen in the Freak Vision, the reinforcements helps to stabilise amplitudes and increase accuracy.

In terms of its finishing, the UN-230 is industrial and satisfactory. It might not be as spectacular as the other pieces in the Ulysse Nardin range, but it is decent for what it is.

The Competitive Landscape

This is probably the umpteen time that we had said that the Freak is peerless, but the Freak X brings it to the next level. Priced from US$21,000 (approximately S$28,350) onwards, the price proposition makes the Freak X even more compelling than ever.

As suggested by Frank in the Freak Vision Lab article, the Ressence Type 1 Squared might be an alternative if one is looking for an unusual timepiece. The timepiece shares similar design ethos in certain aspects, although the context might be slightly different now given that the Freak X has been fitted with a crown. Priced at CHF 16,800 (approximately S$22,780), it offers a slightly interesting take on watches.

For something more contemporary, the Heritage Corum Lab 01 (pictured above; image courtesy of Corum HQ) is an interesting option as well. The watch features a form movement, with an open-worked dial to provide an avenue to admire the calibre. The watch retails at CHF 13,800 (approximately S$18,712).

Finally, if one values a contemporary-looking watch with excellent finishing, then the Manufacture Royale ADN Spirit might have just ticked off the right boxes. It may not be hold up against the Freak in terms of technical ingenuity, but the ADN Spirit makes up for it with its impeccable finishing standards. It is also a conversational piece, with a very modern architectural touch. The ADN Spirit retails for CHF 25,500 (approximately S$34,576).

Concluding Thoughts

The Freak X is a great piece. We particularly like how Ulysse Nardin had introduced the community an entry-level piece for the Freak collection, so that it is relatively more accessible to a wider group of collectors. Yes, US$21,000 is not a small sum, but it is certainly a big drop as compared to its brethren.

Now, to the next question: Does the Freak X lives up to its namesake? Despite some differences with its bigger brother, we definitely believe that the Freak X is just as good as the rest of the pieces in the collection. It might not have any cutting-edge technology this time round, nor does it retain the “crownless” appearance, but the Freak X is still a damn good watch. In fact, it might gain some fans for its cleaner looks and simpler operation.

In short, the Ulysse Nardin Freak X is a brilliant piece. The Freak X is a good way for the brand to reach out to a wider audience, and we hope that this will help to bring the underrated brand back into the radar of the newer generation of watch collectors.

Technical Specification

References:
– 2303-270/03 // 2303-270.1/03
– 2303-270.1/BLACK // 2303-270/BLACK
– 2305-270/02
– 2303-270/CARB // 2303-270.1/CARB

Movement:                                            
– Caliber UN-230, self-winding movement

Functions:                           
– Flying carousel movement rotating around its own axis
– Exclusive central oscillator with large diameter
– 3 Hz Silicium balance wheel
– Index & bridges with Superluminova

Power reserve:
72 hours

Case:
– Titanium / Titanium with PVD finish
– Titanium with black DLC
– Rose Gold 5N / Titanium with black DLC finish
– Carbonium ® matte-finish / Titanium with black DLC

Diameter:                                                      
– 43 mm

Case back:
– Sapphire crystal

Water resistance:
– 50 m                   

Strap:
– Openwork veal or alligator strap with “point de bride” stitches.

Prices:
– Freak X Ti Blue : US$21,000 (Approximately S$28,350)
– Freak X Ti Black : US$21,000 (Approximately S$28,350)
– Freak X Rose Gold : US$30,000 (Approximately S$40,500)
– Freak X Carbonium : US$24,000 (Approximately S$32,400)

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