The Ulysse Nardin Freak, with its wildly unconventional no-dial/no-hands time display, was the talk of the watch world when it burst on the scene in 2001, and Ulysse Nardin has used this trailblazing timepiece as the platform — some might say a laboratory — for a number of new innovations since then. The the aptly named Ulysse Nardin Freak Lab, unveiled at Baselworld 2015— continues the tradition, incorporating several world-firsts for both the collection and the industry. Here’s what you need to know.
It is — believe it or not — the first Freak Watch to include a date indication.
Over the course of its evolution, the Ulysse Nardin Freak has incorporated a number of the brand’s technological developments — the first silicon escapement in a wristwatch in the original 2001 version, a two-wheeled “Dual Ulysse” escapement made of proprietary DiamonSil (synthetic diamond grown on silicon) in 2005, among the most notable — but has never offered that most simple and practical of complications, a basic date display. This new model’s curving date aperture, placed at 4 o’clock and displaying the current date (indicated with a red pointer) as well as yesterday’s and tomorrow’s, was made possible because of the dial redesign, in which the time-indicating elements were moved from the edges (where they would obscure a date window) to positions closer to the center, more on which below.
The watch’s Dual Ulysse escapement represents a significant upgrade from traditional watchmaking technology.
Ulysse Nardin’s specially constructed escapement — the heart of Ulysse Nardin’s Caliber UN-210 — does away with the traditional pallet-fork-and-escape-wheel system in favor of two impulse wheels made of silicon (or silicium, in the brand’s Francophone parlance), each with 18 active, meshing teeth, which transmit energy directly to the balance staff — first in one direction, then another — by means of a stopper. The upshot is that the escapement requires no lubrication and constantly delivers force in the direction of the balance wheel, hence minimizing friction. The other good news? When fully wound, the movement holds a full seven days’ power reserve.
The floating “upper bridge” has been totally redesigned.
Legibility and lightness appear to be the mantras for Ulysse Nardin’s watchmakers in the construction of the Freak Lab. The size of the gear train has been reduced from that of previous Freak models, allowing the balance wheel and balance spring to be repositioned closer to the center of the movement, thus reducing the overall weight of the dial as well as making it easier to read the hours. (Compare it, for example, to another Freak model we recently covered, the Freak Phantom.)
A new, in-house-designed shock-absorber system makes its debut in the watch.
Ulysse Nardin has equipped the watch’s oscillating unit with a new type of shock absorber, called UlyChoc, which was designed, developed and produced entirely in-house at Ulysse Nardin’s manufacture in Le Locle, Switzerland. More conventional shock absorption systems in watch movements are comprised of five pieces — block, setting, jewel, counterpivot and spring. Ulysse Nardin’s patent-pending device replaces three of these elements with a single one-piece component made of silicon; fewer pieces means less friction, and the solution also allows the balance staff to be re-center itself perfectly after an impact to the watch.
Ulysse Nardin’s nautical heritage is on display in the design — albeit subtly.
The history of the Ulysse Nardin brand is inextricably tied to seafaring and nautical navigation. Since its founding in 1864, Ulysse Nardin has been renowned for its highly accurate marine chronometers, which at one point it supplied to more than 50 of the world’s navies. That heritage is evident today, in the brand’s “anchor” logo and in its Marine collection, many with nautical blue predominant in their dials, straps, and other elements. And while the Freak Lab is indisputably avant-garde and ultra-techie in its design, it also displays touches of the brand’s naval DNA: The hour-indicator pointer is shaped like an anchor and the minutes-indicator rotating bridge resembles a sail. The bidirectional rotating bezel, which is used to set the hours and minutes (clockwise) and date (counterclockwise) bears a sculpted ocean wave motif. (Yes, the Freak now has a date, but still no winding crown; as in previous models, a safety clip between the lugs at 6 o’clock secures the rotating bezel in place to avoid accidental re-setting.) Ulysse Nardin even refers to the two main pieces of its dial-mounted movement, which rotates on its own axis, as the “upper deck” (minutes) and “lower deck” (hours). The Ulysse Nardin Freak Lab, with an 18k white gold case and is priced at $95,000. (Below is a live photo of the Freak Lab taken at JCK 2015.)
Ulysse Nardin is one of a select few Manufacture watch companies that really knows how to create a totally distinctive timepiece which can tell time in a very different way but yet still be amazingly legible. I absolutely adore their horological accomplishments and advancements. They were also the first company to use silicon components in their movements. I pray that Ulysse Nardin remains a totally independent watch manufacturer.
The Freak Lab is a stunning watch. Ulysse Nardin is one of the few watch makers that seems to always get the design of their watches right. Their entire line is identifiable as UN, well executed, and simply gorgeous.
Ulysse Nardin Freak Lab is truly an outstanding timepiece, unfortunately it is much too expensive for me.