The Freak is undoubtedly one of the most striking concepts of the 21st century (so far), and one of the most recognizable Ulysse Nardin watches ever. A concept watch made in series, it was also, back in 2001, a precursor in the field of silicon. Twenty years later, the concept is still alive, with the same innovative spirit and bold design. Bucherer has selected The Freak as its latest candidate for the Bucherer BLUE treatment and is based on the slightly more realistic Ulysse Nardin Freak X watch. An overview of an icon of modern watchmaking, the Bucherer way.
A sneak peek at the Freak
We have to move back to 2001 to recast our minds to a totally different context operating in the watchmaking industry. Twenty years ago, the watchmaking industry was not what it is today. The independent scene barely existed and concept watches, UFOs to be worn on the wrist, watches with original displays and innovative movements, were almost non-existent; production was mostly concentrated on traditional elegant or sports models.
2001 marked a turning point when a well-established brand, Ulysse Nardin, created a watch that looked like nothing we’d seen before, which displayed the time like no other watch and utilized a material that, until then, was used in laboratories only. The Freak was and still is one of the most disruptive models of the last 20 years. In 2001 the Ulysse Nardin Freak was the very first watch to incorporate an escapement made of silicon. A non-magnetic, non-lubricated and efficient material that would definitively change the industry. This material also implied new manufacturing technologies, such as LIGA or 3D printing (in the most recent developments).
The look of the watch and the way it displayed the time were also unprecedented and almost shockingly bold. Most of the movement – regulating organ and wheel for the time display – were positioned dial-side, in a baguette-shaped carrousel – a sort of one-hour tourbillon – which also served as a minute hand. The watch was also crown-less, complex in shape, large, provocative… This watch became a UN flagship to display its new technologies – something that was possible thanks to Ludwig Oechslin. The Freak also inaugurated the Dual Ulysse escapement, the Dual Ulysse silicium escapement, the Dual Constant Escapement (as a concept), the Grinder Automatic Winding System and the Anchor Escapement, or the Freak NeXt 3D Flying Oscillator.
In 2019, the brand decided to offer a more accessible – but certainly not watered-down – version of the Freak concept, with the Freak X. Smaller, slightly simpler mechanically speaking, automatic and equipped with a conventional crown, it was nevertheless a very powerful watch with a cutting-edge regulating organ… and of course a myriad of silicon parts.
The Ulysse Nardin Freak X Bucherer BLUE
The Freak X is a slightly more realistic vision of the original Freak concept, and if it makes some technical concessions, it retains what’s most important (the baguette movement, the innovative materials, the overall look) and adapts some parts to make it both easier to live with and (quite important) more accessible.
While previous Freak watches relied on specific base movement architectures, the Ulysse Nardin Freak X takes the best of both the calibre UN-118 (UN’s classic automatic movement) and the Freak Vision Calibre UN-250 (used in the 2018 Freak Vision). This means the elimination of the Ulysse Nardin Anchor constant escapement, the grinder automatic system and the silicon gear train. Still, it retains a very complex silicon balance wheel, the unique display with a one-hour carrousel indicating the minutes and, first time for a Freak, it has a crown to wind/adjust the movement.
The heart of the calibre UN-230 is the signature element of all Freak watches, the baguette-shaped carrousel, which comprises the balance, the escapement and a series of gears to result in a unique time-indicating device. This element rotates on itself once per hour and is used to display the minutes. Certainly, the concept has been slightly simplified, but it isn’t simple either. Oversized and ultra-visible, the balance wheel has a unique design. It is crafted from silicon and features nickel flyweights and stabilising micro-blades, optimizing chronometry and reducing aerodynamic perturbations. Its lightweight shape and the purple/blue reflections over the silicon are simply fascinating and add to the technicality of this watch.
The rest of the display consists of a large wheel positioned over the movement’s mainplate, this time used to indicate the hours. To provide energy to this complex architecture, Ulysse Nardin relies on its cornerstone base movement, the calibre UN-118, which is used to provide energy to the carousel. This movement is automatic, with a classic central rotor and is operated traditionally, with a two-position crown. With 72 hours of power reserve, it is powerful enough and its architecture makes it easier to maintain in the long run.
Now that we’ve seen the basics behind the Freak X concept, it is time to look at the watch in question, which is a new member is the growing “Bucherer BLUE” family. Bucherer, the world’s largest watch retailer, with presence all over Europe and recently in the US, has long-term partnerships with multiple brands and as such, has the ability to create its own, blue-coloured versions of well-established models.
The recurring theme for this Bucherer BLUE collection consists, most of the time, of blue dials. But here, it’s a Freak, meaning no dial per se. Blue is thus used as a contrasting colour to highlight certain elements of the watch. For this Ulysse Nardin Freak X Bucherer BLUE, both parties went for a bold and technical-looking case, mixing Carbonium (for the lateral elements) and black DLC-coated titanium (for the central case).
Carbonium is a next-generation carbon composite that is robust, resilient, super-light and sustainable; it has 40% less environmental impact than other composites and is produced using “discarded” materials from the aviation industry. The production is done at high pressure and temperature, creating a non-uniform and non-geometric pattern, with a marbled surface – almost organic-looking. Furthermore, this pattern will be unique to each watch.
Despite the robust dimensions of the case, measuring 43mm in diameter, this Ulysse Nardin Freak X Bucherer BLUE is not only extremely comfortable on the wrist – Carbonium is light and pleasant to the skin – but the case is well designed making this watch more compact than you’d expect. The profile is slender and slimmed down thanks to a box-shaped sapphire crystal (absorbing most of the movement’s height). The watch is worn on a perforated black leather strap with folding clasp.
The black-and-blue colour scheme, unique to this Bucherer edition, works perfectly in this technical and modern context and can be seen all over the watch, as the movement is also black coated and has multiple blue elements. All in all, Bucherer and Ulysse Nardin might have created the best-looking Freak X to date.
Availability and price
The Ulysse Nardin Freak X Bucherer BLUE is a limited edition of 88 pieces available exclusively from Bucherer both in stores and on the retailer’s e-commerce website. It is priced at CHF 24,900, GPB 22,650 or EUR 24,900.
For more information visit www.bucherer.com.