How Ulysse Nardin made its freakiest watch accessible for the public
The Freak X is still one of the most interesting and innovative watches on the market.
In partnership with The Hour Glass
Twenty-two years ago, the Ulysse Nardin Freak was easily one of the most outrageous things to have popped up on the watchmaking scene. And yet, despite the many technical advancements and aesthetic overhauls that the industry has witnessed since, the Freak still remains one of the most fascinating creations in the world of horology. Daring to defy convention, it was the first watch to use silicon components, and challenged the status quo by proving you didn’t need a dial, hands or a crown to call something a watch.
Ulysse Nardin, with the help of watchmaking savants Carole Forestier-Kasapi and Ludwig Oechslin, worked around these glaring absences through sheer engineering audacity. Its revolutionary design included a gear train placed atop a mainspring, concealed within a carousel that also served as a minute indicator, while a rotating disc anchored the hour pointer. Winding and setting the time were accomplished via a scalloped bezel, eliminating the need for a crown. The Freak wasn’t just a watch; it was a statement.
Fast forward to 2019, and Ulysse Nardin decided to make that statement more accessible in terms of price, wearability and coherence by releasing the Freak X. Most noticeably, the Freak X has a crown, making time-setting more convenient. It also adopts a bi-directional winding system to keep the watch efficiently wound while worn.
The baguette movement remains a carousel, with the minute indicator integrated into the bridge and the hour displayed using one of the gears, but the rest of the gearing is hidden beneath the hour disc for a more streamlined design. While this means that the Freak X basically uses a regular automatic movement with a Freak mechanism built into the base plate, it is still a Freak in spirit.
The movement employed here is the UN-230, which incorporates the extra-wide silicon balance wheel with nickel flyweights and stabilising micro-blades that first appeared in the 2018 Freak Vision, as well as a silicon balance spring and anchor. Together with its 43mm case size, slim bezel, shorter lugs, and a power reserve of 72 hours, the Freak X acts as a bridge between the brand’s more conventional collections and the daredevilry of the earlier Freaks.
The materials chosen for the non-limited models reflect the Freak X’s contemporary DNA. There are two versions in titanium (one with a PVD finish and another treated with black DLC) and one that combines rose gold and black DLC titanium. But Ulysse Nardin has also chosen the Freak X to be the first watch to showcase a Carbonium case. A high-performance, lightweight material traditionally used to make plane fuselages and wings, Carbonium is reported to be 40 per cent more sustainable compared to other carbon composites because of its use of offcuts from aeronautical pieces in its production. Its manufacturing process also gives the material a distinctive marbled appearance.
The evolution of the Freak from groundbreaking marvel to modern icon has been anything but dull, and serves as a testament to Ulysse Nardin’s commitment to innovation, design, and horological freakiness.