The Legend Returns: Presenting the Freak S by Ulysse NardinBy Israel Ortega
A little more than 20 years after its debut, Ulysse Nardin reinvents its Freak. The new-and-improved Freak S took a few learnings from the Freak Vision concept and made them into a new reality in a production watch that integrates double inclined oscillators connected by a vertical differential and an improved automatic winding system. These goodies come in a new case made of gold, titanium and ceramic, aesthetically reminiscent of the first Freak of 2001.
Without doubt, that first Freak by Ulysse Nardin represents one of the most critical chapters in the history of watchmaking. The original Freak was conceived by Carole Forestier-Kasapi — then the head watchmaker at Ulysse Nardin — and was brought to life by Ludwig Oechslin, the legendary master watchmaker of the Le Locle maison. The introduction of the Freak in 2001 marked a milestone from which developments and evolutions that transformed timekeeping were born. These included the use of silicon, the antimagnetic material with low mechanical friction and high durability that represented one of the most significant technological leaps in horology. In an era where the concept of “manufacture movement” was far from the calling card it is today, with most brands using the same suppliers for their watches, Ulysse Nardin took it to new heights by creating a caliber, in theory, bordering on madness. And yet, it made it possible, giving birth to the loquacious and perfectly named Freak. The Freak anticipated the partial dissemination of the use of silicon in movements. Fragile and brittle, silicon is difficult to manipulate, but Ulysse Nardin dominated the field and eventually led to its common application in “normal” movements and watches. In time, the brand’s distinctive UN-118 caliber, with its silicon escapement, became the ultimate representative of the technology.
Beyond the use of silicon in the escapement, Freak also broke any aesthetic paradigm. In practice, it lacked a proper dial; instead, it showed the carousel-type movement designed along an axis across the entire diameter of the dial, a gear assembly that rotated once every hour —serving as hour hand — and also signaled the minutes. In it, a double silicon escapement observed the rate of operation. The case itself, large and prominent, did not have a conventional crown but took advantage of the bezel to serve as a winding and time adjustment control. However, despite the unprecedented forms, the new silicon escapement consolidated the Freak at the legend level.
But let’s get back to the new Freak, shall we? The galactic look of the watch has everything to do with its mechanics, the new UN-251 movement with its double oscillator. Placed in two different planes — both inclined 20° — the oversized balance wheels made in DiamonSIL are the protagonists of the concept, along with its brilliant vertical differential that averages their speeds to stabilize the oscillation rate. DiamonSIL, a substance developed in 2007 and patented in 2009 by Ulysse Nardin in conjunction with Sigatec, is a combination of synthetic diamond and silicon. In general, each silicon component is coated with a tiny layer of diamond, which minimizes its mechanical resistance to friction and shocks. Both balance wheels are supported by their respective well-sculpted gold bridges, literally and figuratively raising the system above the baseplate, resembling a movie spaceship spinning nonchalantly under its large sapphire dome. The baseplate is covered with a black aventurine disk, a nice stellar canvas for the spacecraft spinning toward its conquest of time.
You will not find hands, crown, or any additional indications here. The movement marks the time utilizing two bridges that rotate every 12 and one hours to indicate the hours and minutes. The lower index —an arrow coated with SuperLumiNova— points the hours, while the golden prow of the spacecraft marks the minutes.
The other major innovative element that adds to the overall concept of the UN-251 is the “Grinder” winding system that debuted on the Freak Vision a few years ago. This assembly does not use a conventional oscillator to wind the watch; instead, it takes advantage of even the slightest movement of the wrist through a four-blade design that gives the device twice the angular force to the self-winding system. Ulysse Nardin likens it to a bicycle equipped with four pedals rather than two. The result is a doubled winding efficiency that ensures having the watch “charged” always close to its maximum autonomy of 72 hours.
The Freak S will again arouse debate about whether the watch can be considered a tourbillon since its balance wheels rotate around the dial once an hour. No, it isn’t. But that doesn’t matter. What really matters is that, once again, Ulysse Nardin reminds us why it is one of the most recognized houses associated with the field of innovation and the pursuit of ultimate chronometry. You have to have the spirit of a mad scientist to create something like the Freak in 2001 and the Freak S in 2022. The watch will be available in a limited edition of 75 pieces, 40 of which will be available this year.
Ulysse Nardin Freak S Ref. 2513-500LE-2A-BLACK-5N/1A
Movement: Self-winding caliber UN-251; 72-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours and minutes indicated by the movement’s rotation
Case: 45mm; 5N rose gold, titanium with black DLC and black ceramic; manual winding via rear bezel; time adjustment via bezel; sapphire case-back; 30m water resistance
Dial: Black aventurine
Strap: Combination of gold calf leather and black alligator, or black alligator
Price: CHF 130,000
Availability: 75 pieces (40 available in 2022)