How do you choose your favourite/perfect watch? – a question that many of us have often in mind. Is the shape, the complication, the loved brand? Is that a love at first sight, or is it an acquired taste? Maybe all of them, maybe none. What happens when an established brand with a handful of creative minds perfects, again and again, one of the best recipes? The Freak reign started with a revolution 23 years ago. The latest in line, the Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE, is a fantastic mix of hyper-horology, innovation and reasonable price.
The classic wristwatch consists of three layers. The first is the movement, which may or may not be visible through a transparent case. The second layer is the dial – the decorative and marked layer that serves as an interval indicator on which the third layer – the watch hands – hoover to point to the hour, the minutes and any other indication. The movement and the hands are wound and set by a crown traditionally positioned at 3 o’clock. Twenty-three years ago, Ulysse Nardin broke the norms of classic watchmaking by removing all three layers and the crown – with the Freak, where the movement directly told the time. In 2023, Ulysse Nardin continued its revolutionary path with the new Freak ONE.
A modern case
For the first time in the history of watchmaking, the Freak’s case becomes one of the active components of the watch. The absence of the classic crown lent the case perfect visual balance and symmetry but required innovation and know-how to add the winding and time-setting functions.
The Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE benefits from all the brand’s know-how in terms of materials: a large 44mm case (1mm smaller than the previous hyperlative, the Freak S) with enough estate to display the mechanical wonder. The material of choice is titanium, with a combination of matte and brushed finishes and a black DLC (DiamondLikeCoating): light and extremely resistant to all external aggressions.
The bezel is made of gold: an industrial, simple look with a fine circular brushing on the top and polished etches and five deep-cut grooves for easy handling. The lock at 6 o’clock releases the time-setting system. When the lock is lifted, the bezel is free to rotate – thereby activating the entire movement. Since the movement itself displays the time, a maximum of six complete rotations of the bezel are required to display the desired time. When the lock is pushed back down, the bezel is fixed in place so that the time-setting system cannot be disturbed by accidental friction.
The Freak One is fitted with a rubber strap made from 30% recycled production waste from Ulysse Nardin’s Swiss partner BIWI. When it comes to the environment and sustainability, the brand is one of the leading players in the industry.
Since the movement is presented and active on the front of the watch, the back does not have the usual look. Instead of the classic view of the movement, the Freak ONE presents a see-through caseback. It is not fixed and serves as a winding gear/wheel – by rotating in the direction indicated by the engraved arrow, the movement can be wound entirely manually. Impressively, with all the rotating parts, the case still offers water resistance, albeit a minimal 30m, yet enough to protect the marvel against accidental water damage.
Visible on the back, under the crystal, is the UN-patented Grinder® winding system. The Grinder®’s rotor is connected to a four-blade frame. The silicon blades capture every slight movement of the wrist and convert it into energy in the mainspring with twice the efficiency of a traditional automatic winding. The use of silicon blades (which have extremely low friction and do not require lubrication) instead of gears has eliminated the traditional mechanical stress and has reduced the amount of general movement required to obtain the same kinetic energy stored in the barrel.
Displaying the time
After all these introductions, it is now easier to understand how the time is displayed on the Freak ONE. The barrel cover plate completes one revolution every twelve hours. The large surface is decorated with a black engraved sunray pattern and bears a huge gold “wing” with Super-LumiNova® pointing towards the chapter ring. Four printed numerals and eight applied indexes ensure legibility.
Most of the movement is housed on the upper rose-gold bridge. Instead of the classic typology with gears around a central axis with hands, the one-hour tourbillon uses its body, with the gears lined up to point towards the edge of the dial. The energy is released via the DIAMonSIL escapement through an oversized oscillator and balance spring, both silicon.
With each time reading, one can observe how the balance wheel and spring release energy, step by step, at 21,600 vibrations per hour (3Hz), and the gear train translates the local rotation into a global carousel rotation via the last gear running against the inner bezel.
Revolution & evolution
Twenty-three years ago, Ulysse Nardin demonstrated in the most disruptive way that it was possible to leave traditional thinking behind and do something extraordinary. It was not easy (it never is) but it was a landmark and an encouragement for many to be creative, to think outside the box and to use unconventional materials or ways of telling time. They did not stop the development after the first success, more than a dozen movement variants and fifty watch models have seen the light of the day.
We don’t know how much work was involved; we do know that Ulysse Nardin will not stop here. The Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE Ref. 2405-500-2A/3D is available for CHF 65,000 (tax included), GBP 60,330 (tax included), EUR 69,600 (21% tax included) or USD 68,600 (tax excluded).
A judgement call
Those who know me closely know my soft spot for Ulysse Nardin. The first watch that I had in my hands from this now-independent manufacturer was the Tellurium Johannes Kepler – a heavy-weight/hardcore example of what two incredibly creative and open minds, Rolf W. Schnyder and Ludwig Oechslin, can realise together. A better introduction than that one could never be… But I take pride in being very picky, having high expectations, and being quite frank with the watches I keep close to my heart.
The Freak ONE results from many years of research and development and contains many innovations never seen elsewhere. The entire approach is heading towards high-end practical horology. The ONE is perfectly capable of sustaining a complex lifestyle as an only-watch collection or part of a curated selection. Although the balance weighs a bit more onto the sporty side, with this piece on the wrist, one could never fear that it will be looked down on by any purist, regardless of the attire requirements.
Clearly, a conversation starter, the Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE will not go unnoticed (this might be an issue in particular ill-famed locations). Making a quick search on the active market, one can easily notice that the price point is excellent. So, the look, the brain and the price – what not to love?
Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE Technical Specifications
Ref. 2405-500-2A/3D – 65’000 CHF (tax incl.), 60’330 GBP (tax incl.), 69’600 EUR (21% tax incl.), 68’600 USD (tax excl.)
- Caliber UN-240 Manufacture
- Automatic movement, 72-hour power reserve
- Hours, minutes
- Flying carrousel movement rotating around its own axis
- Silicon oversized oscillator and balance spring
- DIAMonSIL treatment to escapement
- Grinder® automatic winding system, blades technology
- Rose-gold bridges 5N with Super-LumiNova®
- Black engraved sunray pattern on the barrel cover
- 229 components, 15 jewels
- Frequency 3 Hz, oscillations 21’600 V/H
- 44mm black DLC-coated titanium case with satin finish,
- rose gold 5N bezel,
- black titanium case back with sapphire insert,
- water-resistant to 30 m,
- height 12 mm
Strap & Buckle
- Black rubber ‘ballistic’ textured strap (2405-500-2A/3D)
- Black matt alligator leather strap (2405-500-2A/3C)
- Two-tone rubber strap (2405-500-2A/3A)
- Black DLC-coated titanium deployant buckle
- Rubber straps made of 30% recycled rubber from production waste by BIWI, Switzerland