ULYSSE NARDIN INTRODUCES THE FREAK ONE
The story of a FREAK
The 2001 Ulysse Nardin Freak was an unlikely iconoclast. It also pioneered maverick technologies that now define 21st-century mechanical watchmaking.
The Swiss watch revolution of the past 20 years has happened at an extraordinary pace. This has been a rich season of daring movement, material and design innovations. The cycle of invention is relentless.
But where did it start? With the Freak.
Ulysse Nardin introduced the Freak in 2001 under the headship of maverick owner Rolf Schnyder and genius watchmaker Dr. Ludwig Oechslin. It was a wild creation, a UFO in a land of convention and conservatism. Because it had no dial, no hands and no crown, Schnyder felt there was only one name for it: Freak.
The time was set by a system built into the bezel, and to wind it you had to use a device built into the case back. And it had no hands, instead using the rotating one-hour carrousel tourbillon to show the time.
Ulysse Nardin saw the Freak as a watchmaking laboratory. Dr. Oechslin used it as the first host for his Dual Direct Escapement, a work of genius.
Just as pioneering was that it appeared to be the first Swiss watch with a silicon escapement. Silicon is light and elastic, has low-friction properties as well as high resistance, and it can be produced to very fine tolerances. In 2001, adopting it in watchmaking was radical – and expensive. Fast-forward two decades and it’s now mainstream. Every contemporary watch with silicon parts owes a debt to the Freak.
Since 2001, Ulysse Nardin has filed more than 20 patents for the Freak, the watch with the iconic, crownless silhouette. But even so, it is still… a freak. Today, a newly independent Ulysse Nardin recaptures its unique story with the Freak ONE.
No dial, no hands, no crown
Since it rewrote high-end watchmaking codes more than two decades ago, the Freak’s iconic form has been defined by three signature characteristics.
NO DIAL Typically, mechanical watches hide their workings under a dial. But the Freak has no dial. Its movement doubles as its minute hand, while the hour hand is a pointer set on a rotating disc that sits under the movement.
NO HANDS The unconventional Freak has neither a big hand nor a little hand. Instead, its one-hour orbital carrousel tourbillon becomes the minute hand and the hour hand is replaced by a pointer on a rotating disc. A challenging design, but easy to read.
NO CROWN Best practice suggests that to adjust and wind a mechanical watch, you need a crown. The original Freak replaced the crown with a timesetting system integrated into the bezel and was wound via a mechanism in the case back.
In its two decades of life, the Freak has constantly reset the boundaries of watch design and engineering. Below are some of the milestones.
2001 – FREAK
The first Freak of 2001 was a landmark in Swiss high-end watchmaking. As well as having no dial, no hands and no crown, it was also the first mechanical watch in history with silicon escapement wheels.
Today, silicon is commonplace in watchmaking – but the Freak was the original pioneer.
2007 – FREAK DIAMONSIL
Ulysse Nardin continued to treat the Freak as a testbed for high-tech innovations. DIAMonSIL, a patented form of diamond-coated silicon, added further performance benefits. It’s still in use today.
2008 – FREAK BLUE PHANTOM
The Freak passed another innovation milestone with the Freak Blue Phantom, which introduced a silicon hairspring into the watch’s escapement for the first time.
This made it lighter, more durable, magnetic and resistant to temperature variations and more accurate.
2010 – FREAK DIAVOLO
A generational shift for the Freak came with the Freak Diavolo. It introduced a second carrousel tourbillon. This time it was a ‘flying’ carrousel tourbillon, dislocating the movement from the case’s inner edge.
The name came from the power reserve’s red horns, visible through the case back.
2018 – FREAK VISION
Another step change came with the Freak Vision, the first collection Freak with an automatic winding system, named Grinder®. It also had an oversized balance wheel with stabilising micro-blades, and a constant power escapement.
Three patented innovations were included in the Freak Vision.
Introducing Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE
More than two decades since it released the first Freak, Ulysse Nardin celebrates its joyously unorthodox watch with the new Freak ONE.
Even now, 22 years on from its original release, the Freak is still a challenging concept. It’s also one of the most advanced examples of contemporary watchmaking.
The original was a milestone watch brimming with cutting-edge tech and avant-garde design, and changed perceptions of what a mechanical watch should look like – and how it should work. This was the rebel mindset. A what-the-Freak watch…
This year and after a series of memorable executions that have built the Freak’s unique profile, Ulysse Nardin is introducing the Freak ONE, a watch that returns the watchmaker’s icon to its roots.
The Freak ONE is a new watch inspired by the first Freak featuring its three signature characteristics: no dial, no hands and no crown.
It’s regulated by a silicon hairspring introduced in 2008 and an escapement treated with DIAMonSIL, a trailblazing synthetic diamond and silicon plasma surfacing treatment first applied to the Freak in 2007 that makes the movement abrasion and shock-resistant.
The Freak ONE also synthesised the visual dynamics of previous generations of the Freak, from the notched bezel of the original 2001 Freak, to the open gear train of the Freak Cruiser of 2013, to the legibility codes of the 2018 Freak Vision. The black DLC-coated titanium and rose gold detailing echoes recent Freak iterations, such as last year’s Freak S.
The Freak ONE becomes Ulysse Nardin’s flagship watch and the company’s centre of gravity as it defines its new independence.
The Freak has always been ahead of its time, appealing to explorer collectors with a taste for the avant-garde. More than two decades on, the Freak ONE distils its story.
Interview Jean-Christophe Sabatier
Ulysse Nardin’s long-serving Chief Product Officer explains the unique role the Freak has played in watchmaking history.
‘You cannot overstate the impact of the Freak on Swiss watchmaking,’ says Jean-Christophe Sabatier, Ulysse Nardin’s Chief Product Officer. ‘The application of silicon in the escapement was a revolution. And its design was so disruptive: no dial, no hands, no crown. It was the industry’s first hyperwatch. To aficionados, in watchmaking there is only before the Freak – and after.’
Jean-Christophe believes the Freak’s creators were ahead of their time. ‘Rolf Schnyder and Dr. Ludwig Oechslin were, and I say this with great affection, freaks,’ he says. ‘They were totally independent in their thinking and courageous to the point of madness. They took a huge gamble, knowing they might be outgunned by players with greater resources. They don’t get all the credit they deserve. They were the Lewis and Clark of 21st-century watchmaking. Everyone since has followed the path they laid out.’
Two decades later, the Freak is Ulysse Nardin’s inimitable signature. ‘You can’t counterfeit the Freak,’ he says. ‘It’s just too difficult.’
Last year, Ulysse Nardin regained its independence. ‘Today, the Freak embodies our mindset,’ says Jean-Christophe. ‘The Freak ONE is a fresh expression of who we are. It’s a highly technical watch, but it also has intense emotional value. When you set the time with the bezel, you experience something vital. This is what makes the Freak so special and why true collectors love it.’
The mind of a Freak
The Freak ONE is loaded with advanced technology, but it’s easy to use, durable and designed to be worn every day.
- Bezel and locker
The Freak’s unconventional time-setting system is operated via the bezel. It is activated when the locker
at 6 o’clock is lifted, releasing the setting system. Turning the bezel rotates the entire movement, which doubles as the watch’s hands. Pushing the locker back down fixes the bezel in place so the time-setting system cannot be disturbed.
- Barrel cover
The black sunray-engraved barrel cover sits underneath the movement and doubles as the rotating hour disc. It makes a full rotation once every 12 hours, indicating the hour via a V-shaped pointer that is filled with Super-LumiNova® to aid low-light legibility.
- Minute bridge
The Freak’s distinctive minute bridge hovers under the sapphire crystal and carries the entire gear train, an oversized silicon oscillator and an orbital 60-minute flying carrousel tourbillon. The escapement is treated with Ulysse Nardin’s patented DIAMonSIL coating.
- Grinder® winding system
The Freak ONE’s automatic movement has a 72-hour power reserve. Its patented Grinder® winding system has been designed to capture energy with even the smallest of wrist movements. Its rotor is connected to a frame carrying four blades, which gives the system twice the angular stroke, a bit like a bicycle fitted eith four pedals instead of two. This makes it twice as efficient as typical winding systems.
- Integrated rubber strap
The Freak ONE also picks up on Ulysse Nardin’s drive towards a more sustainable future. Its rubber strap is made of 30 per cent recycled production waste by Ulysse Nardin’s Swiss partner BIWI. This new flexible and water-resistant strap further enhances the Freak ONE’s ergonomics and wearability.
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
About Ulysse Nardin
Ulysse Nardin is the Manufacture inspired by the Ocean, producing advanced timepieces for explorers in pursuit of freedom.
Founded by Mr. Ulysse Nardin in 1846, the company owes its reputation to its links with the sea: its onboard marine chronometers are among the most award-winning and reliable ever designed.
A pioneer in innovative technologies and the use of high-tech materials such as silicium, Ulysse Nardin is one of the few integrated manufactures with the in-house expertise to produce its own high-precision components and movements. In 2001, the Maison changed the face of contemporary watchmaking by launching the first Freak.
To underscore its commitment to its favourite environment, Ulysse Nardin is active in supporting the preservation of the Ocean, focusing on two major areas: encouraging upcycling to reduce marine plastic pollution and developing scientific knowledge concerning the preservation of the sharks, its emblem.
Today, in the Swiss towns of Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds, Ulysse Nardin remains devoted to its quest for watchmaking perfection in four collections: Marine, Diver, Blast and Freak.
As of 2022, Ulysse Nardin and sister Maison Girard-Perregaux have formed an independent collective of high horology Manufactures.
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