SIHH 2019: Ulysse Nardin’s Freak X-FactorBy Joy Corthesy
Before the end of last year, as the watch world geared up for SIHH 2019, Revolution took a look at what these watch brands had unveiled during the year — a way for us to reflect on a year full of beautiful watches and an attempt to suss out and predict what the new year had in store for the industry. Ulysse Nardin is one of these brands that, in 2018, showed us the full breadth of what the brand could do: beautifully crafted unique pieces, seriously impressive dive watches and boundary pushing innovations. This week at SIHH 2019, Ulysse Nardin is doubling down on its “X-factor” and what sets it apart from the industry, all at a more competitive entry price than ever before. So, let’s dive in:
The Freak X
Since its introduction in 2001, the Freak Collection has consistently been Ulysse Nardin’s impressive battle cry — very few watches in the industry get to be consistent in innovation like the Freak has been. And this year’s no different with the all-new Freak X.
Two main aspects of the Freak X set it apart from its predecessors: the introduction of Carbonium as a case material—a first in the industry—and its entry price point. The movement has been reworked slightly, a blend of the manufacture calibers UN-118 and Freak Vision UN-250, to become simpler with fewer wheels, but remains in its essence what we’ve always loved about the Freak collection: a baguette movement that is still a carousel, turning once on itself every hour. And, remaining true to the Freak ethos, the movement also serves to visually indicate the time, with the central bridge indicating the minutes and one of the wheels indicating the hours — no dial, no hands, no fuss.
All of this is in a smaller case—43mm instead of 45mm like with previous models—and the Freak X now has a crown to set the time (previous Freak models were crown-less, setting the time with a bezel instead). The design remains bold and is available in titanium, titanium with a DLC/PVD finish, rose gold, and the newly introduced Carbonium, a super-light and sustainable material typically used in the latest generation of airplanes for the fuselage and wings. Along with being more environmentally friendly than most other carbon composites, Carbonium has an incredibly interesting look to it—the carbon fibers create an almost camouflage pattern on the case, giving the Freak X a stealthier look than previous versions.
Starting at USD 21,000 for the Freak X in titanium, this is the most affordable Freak model Ulysse Nardin has introduced—amazing value for the amount of watch you’re getting. Clearly, the Freak X is here to stay.
Caliber UN-230, self-winding, flying carousel baguette movement rotating around its own axis, with silicium balance wheel
43mm, available in titanium, titanium in DLC/PVD finish, rose gold, and matte-finish Carbonium
Openwork veal or alligator strap
From USD 21,000
The Skeleton X
Another unveiling of note for Ulysse Nardin at SIHH this week is the Skeleton X, an addition to the brand’s highly distinctive Executive Collection. The case has been slightly reshaped and now comes in 42mm, which follows the industry’s trends towards smaller case sizes in the last few years. The design remains beautifully angular and geometric, with four indices forming an X inside the dial.
The movement has been updated as well—the new UN-371 movement is based on the UN-171 movement, but redesigned using a silicium balance wheel with nickel flyweights and stabilizing micro-blades (an innovation that was developed for the Freak Vision) and a power-reserve display on the back. The Skeleton X remains masculine and commanding, fitting in right at home with the rest of the Executive Collection, and comes in four different versions: titanium blue, titanium black, rose gold and a matte-finished Carbonium ® Gold. Like with the Freak X, Ulysse Nardin introduces Carbonium ® into watchmaking, but here fuses the material with gold, giving the Skeleton X a shimmery look of black and gold waves (and really worth seeing in person).
Caliber UN-371, manual winding manufacture skeleton movement, with silicium balance wheel, 96-hour power reserve
Available in 42mm titanium, titanium black DLC, rose gold, and 43mm Carbonium Gold
Available in rubber or alligator strap for titanium and rose gold models; rubber or grained calf-leather for Carbonium Gold model
From USD 17,500 for titanium model
Ulysse Nardin & Milo Manara
Last (but definitely not least), Ulysse Nardin revisits erotic dials in a new and contemporary way this year in a partnership with acclaimed Italian graphic novel artist Milo Manara. With over 50 years of experience as an illustrator, Manara has published erotic graphic novels with his own unique artistic style since the ‘70s. Adapting his style to Ulysse Nardin’s brand was an easy task for him, as he explained to Revolution: “This work interested me very much because the DNA of the brand echoed with my personal life and interests. Indeed, Ulysse Nardin is the “watchmaker of the ocean”—they have supplied most of the navies in the world with their marine chronometers since 1846 and they even bear an anchor in their logo! I liked the idea of having my drawings miniaturized on a circle with a 4-centimeter diameter. The micro painting artisans at Ulysse Nardin are really talented because they stayed true to the original colours of my drawings and shapes of the bodies. I am very happy with the result.”
Manara produced ten original drawings depicting the story of a woman, Nadia, falling in love with a mermaid, Ulyssa. These ten drawings were then reproduced by Ulysse Nardin’s talented team of craftsmen, as miniature paintings on 40mm dials, which took over 50 hours of work to do. Each illustration was produced in 10 pieces in stainless steel and 10 pieces in rose gold, making the entire collection a limited edition of 200 pieces.
Familiar with erotic imagery as an art form, Manara relished the idea of working with a brand like Ulysse Nardin: “I know quite well the history of erotic watches and they always have fascinated me. Often going against the grain of certain moral or ethical codes, these watches were sometimes banned or confiscated during more repressed times, and they still have the power to fascinate today, even if the access to erotic images has been facilitated with the rise of the internet. Ulysse Nardin is one of the last watchmakers to perpetuate this tradition. As an erotic comic book illustrator and writer, I felt honoured to participate in this watchmaking tradition.”
Caliber UN-320 manufacture automatic movement
Available 40mm stainless steel or rose gold, each unique piece with a Manara micro-painted dial
Blue alligator strap
From CHF 26,900 for stainless steel models, CHF 34,400 for rose gold models