The Ulysse Nardin Freak X Oozes The X-Factor
What makes a freak? We don’t mean it in the existential sense—although that is something you are free to contemplate—but in the horological sense. Ulysse Nardin’s Freak collection, created in 2001 under the auspices of late founder and industry legend Rolf Schnyder, has become one of the brand’s most defining timepieces. Given the watch’s unusual and distinctive nature—the original had no dial, hands or crown—the question of what defines a Freak must have crossed the mind of Ulysse Nardin CEO Patrick Pruniaux, who foresees the evolution of the Freak from one-off innovative pieces to becoming a full‑fledged collection in its own right. This is where the Freak X comes in.
Unveiled at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in January, the Freak X is the most affordable Freak to date, with its price coming in well below that of its brethren, including the Freak Out released last year. The Freak Out was supposed to be the collection’s entry-level model. The Freak X retains the distinctive no-dial-no-hands layout of the collection, but eagle-eyed watch connoisseurs would have already observed that it includes a crown at 3 o’clock where none had been present before. This is because the Freak X runs on the new UN-230 movement, which is a fusion of the manufacture calibre UN‑118—a less complicated automatic movement found in its Marine Chronometer Manufacture collection—capped with a time-telling module from the Freak Vision’s UN-250, which includes an ultralight silicon balance wheel.
With the change in calibre, the Freak X has a 72-hour power reserve, which is decent but shorter than the usual week-long power reserves of previous Freak models, most of which were manual-winding and had large mainsprings to store larger amounts of kinetic energy. The Freak X is also smaller than previous iterations, measuring in at 43mm rather than 45mm in diameter.
True to the collection’s heritage, the Freak X also introduces two innovations. The first is Carbonium, the new case material housing the Freak X, which is a super-light aeronautical-grade sustainable material composed of recycled carbon fibre. It has 40 per cent less environmental impact, and has a beautiful organic pattern owing to its construction process. The second is a new decorative technique for the watch dial that Ulysse Nardin calls silicium marquetry (silicium being French for silicon), which involves the artistic assembly of silicon wafers cut using a plasma accelerator. The technique has never been used in watchmaking before, and requires a delicate hand due to the fragility of the ultra-thin wafers. Even slightly stacking one wafer on top of another instead of precisely aligning them would be enough to chip one of the edges. The result is a gleaming cameo of brilliant geometrical fragments that adds a new artistic dimension to the Freak X.
BREAKING THE MOULD
Without a dial, hands or crown, the original Freak featured no elements that most would consider essential for any wristwatch, even today. Instead, the time is told using the movement itself, which rotates once around the dial per hour and serves as the minute hand. The Freak also eschewed the crown, with Ulysse Nardin engineering mechanisms on the caseback to wind and set the time on the watch instead. The 2001 Freak also represented the first instance silicon parts were used in watchmaking—in its Dual Direct escapement, to be exact. The use of silicon may be more common today, but it was revolutionary at the time.
In the years since its launch, the Freak has largely remained the canvas for Ulysse Nardin’s engineers to experiment with interesting watchmaking innovations—growing synthetic diamonds on silicon or creating an in-house tourbillon and pioneering the use of LIGA (lithography and galvanic plastic moulding) to create very precise horological components. These pieces were rare, released one at a time in very limited quantities a few years apart from one another. That is why the introduction of a new entry‑level model Freak is an interesting one, and we are certainly keen to see what else is next for the rapidly expanding Freak family.
(Related: Is This The Most X-Citing Skeleton Watch Yet?)