The New Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE Adds Boost To The Brand’s Futurist Mission
If you don’t know Ulysse Nardin or the fact that the brand has a history dating back to 1846, what’s your first impression? Even a glance at the new Freak ONE will make you think of disruptive small independent takes on Haute Horlogerie from the likes of MB&F, Vianney Halter, or URWERK. And therein lies the charm of the Freak. In fact, it says a lot about Ulysse Nardin as a brand. In 2023, a storied Swiss brand with a rich back catalog will invariably tap into our love for vintage, but Ulysse Nardin takes a bolder path. The Freak is all about shaping trends, not following them, with a 22-year-old rotating wonder that remains a futurist vision.
There is a lateral automotive reference that ties in with the rotating wonder of the Freak. It is Mazda keeping the flame alive for the rotating brilliance of the Wankel engine, with no cylinders but a rotor revolving inside an oval-like epitrochoidal housing around a central output shaft. Still an internal combustion engine, its minimal volume performing at the level of six or eight cylinders, it won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ulysse Nardin’s strong faith in the Freak has seen it evolve (should that be “revolve”?) through many iterations. But the guiding principle is the same, with inherent complexity and an emphasis on innovative technology. Ulysse Nardin has taken deep pride in the challenge of each new reference. And even for Freak collectors, each variation on the rotating-tech theme brings something new. This is the strength of the Freak.
The new Freak ONE
With the debut of the Blast series a few years back and the X versions of the Ulysse Nardin divers, the brand is expanding on its contemporary lineup. Going the opposite way of vintage-nostalgia-baiting competitors is bold, and it appeals deeply to my contrarian nature. For the watch industry to survive, it needs to attract a stronger following of horology in general, and the visible nature of detailed micro-mechanics is the key. While the Freak will never be an affordable timepiece, its purpose as pure inspiration for a younger audience is of great importance. Not only can it serve as a personal grail piece, but it can also deepen the fascination for the craft of watchmaking, a profession in need of enlightened new souls joining the ranks.
A bezel of twistable desire
In 2001, the Freak debuted with a classical shape and a very prominent bezel framing the innovation. Ulysse Nardin’s silicon expertise and DIAMonSIL treatment of the Freak escapement has progressed, and so has the case. These days, there’s a closer relation to the Blast, both in terms of materiality and case design. The feeling of twisting a watch bezel to set the time is an event, and the faceted bezel design embraces and underlines this charming trait.
The distinct circular brushing of the rose gold is broken up by triangular notches, and wide, deeper cutouts that catch the light. Except for the traditional curved tab with its “FREAK” inscription between the lugs at 6 o’clock, the suave black DLC case has a purpose. On the “ballistic rubber” strap, the lower part of the 44mm case has a tough but quietly spoken presence, serving as an elegant base for the topside splendor.
Tech-forward into the future
As with many avant-garde watches, the dial is not a dial in its normal sense. The star-filled deep space of the aventurine dial in last year’s Freak S made the carousel movement look like a spaceship in flight, and this single-balance UN-240 caliber has the same effect. You can still make out the micro-industrial teeth in the rehaut, like an eternal monorail for the revolving movement to travel one full lap each hour. No matter how many times I have seen an iteration of the Freak, each year’s refinement of the design brings something new. The ever-sharpening angles on the bridges and the paper-thin presence of the silicon oversized oscillator and balance spring are mesmerizing details on their own. Like an alien craft, the flying carousel seems docked on a radially striated multi-level landing platform, slowly rotating around its axis.
An impressive conclusion
There is something very satisfying about easily concluding with a sense of uniqueness. Not many watches have so many features not seen in any other watch, from the proprietary tech details like the DIAMonSIL treatment to the escapement, the Grinder automatic winding system on the case back, or the dial itself. I love the fact that Ulysse Nardin ups the ante each year, maintaining the Freak’s otherworldly image. I’m not big on blacked-out watches, but the 5N rose gold bridges with solid doses of Super-LumiNova make it no less than a precious über-tool watch. The large 44mm case hides a movement of 229 components and 15 jewels, beating at a calm 21,600vph (3Hz) frequency. But the new Freak ONE is way more than the sum of its parts. Part laboratory for the wrist, part showroom for mechanical watchmaking in general, it’s a sign of a brand looking forward, not back.
Is the new Freak ONE now on your grail list, Fratelli? At CHF 65,000 (tax incl.) / €69,600 (21% tax incl.), it could certainly qualify. Me, I’m seriously drawn to this vision of the future, where watchmaking marries handcrafted details with next-level tech. Let us know what you think in the comments, and check out Ulysse Nardin’s website for more information.