Ulysse Nardin, which shook up the watch world with the release of the first Freak watch way back in 2001, flew its Freak flag high again in 2018 with the introduction of the Freak Vision, the first in the unconventional series equipped with a self-winding movement. For those wondering what the brand would do for an encore, the answer came today, the first day of the 2019 SIHH watch salon in Geneva: the new Freak X is not only positioned as a more streamlined, entry-level “little brother” to the existing (and for many, prohibitively priced) Freak models; it also introduces an all-new case material to watchmaking.
Like its predecessors, the Freak X is outfitted with a carousel-type, baguette-shaped movement that turns on itself once every hour to indicate the time in the now-famous “freakish” manner — i.e., with no dial and no hands, the hour indicated by a moving wheel and the minute by the movement’s dial-side-mounted central bridge. From there, however, the differences between the Freak X and its predecessors become apparent: unlike the latter models, which are notable for lacking a traditional winding crown and utilizing the watch’s bezel for setting and correcting the time, this watch includes a crown for these operations. The case size is also slightly more modest — 43 mm rather than 45 mm — and the movement, the new Caliber UN-230, slightly more stripped down, with fewer wheels. Described by UN as a “fusion” of its existing Caliber UN-118 and UN-250 (the latter of which powers the Freak Vision), this self-winding movement incorporates an extra-wide, ultra-light balance wheel made of silicon, which beats at 3 Hz and is stabilized by nickel flyweights and micro-blades. Fully wound, it provides the watch a power reserve of 72 hours.
The showcase piece of the three Freak X references, at least from a technical standpoint, is the Freak X Carbonium, whose case is the first in watchmaking to be constructed of Carbonium, a high-performance, super-lightweight material used in the production of airplane fuselages and wings for the aeronautics industry. Carbonium is also noted for its sustainability: its production process, which uses high pressures and temperatures to compress carbon fibers into a robust, resilient material, has 40 percent less environmental impact than that of other carbon composite materials due to its use of offcuts. The process yields for each finished watch case not only an impressive resistance-to-lightness ration but a distinctive marbled pattern that makes each one unique.
In addition to the Carbonium versions, the Freak X is also offered in both a titanium case with DLC and PVD finishes and in a 5N rose gold case. All the models are mounted on calfskin or alligator leather straps with safety clasps. As alluded to above, Ulysse Nardin has also made the Freak X’s relative accessibility a talking point: Prices will start at $21,000 for the titanium models (in either black or blue colorways), go up to $24,000 for the Carbonium model, and top out at $30,000 for the watch in rose gold — all a far cry from the $95,000 price point of the platinum-cased Freak Vision. Will a more sedate Freak send the watch community into a freakout mode in 2019? Stay tuned.