08/16/2023
 5 minutes

The Ulysse Nardin Freak Finally Makes Sense to Me

By Barbara Korp
Ulysse-Nardin-Freak-2-1

I will never forget my first encounter with the Ulysse Nardin Freak. It was different, to say the least. The timepiece was not what I’d come to expect of a watch in the classic sense. There seemed to me to be too much missing, and yet, at the same time, much to fascinate me. So what’s so special about it? Why is it so thrillingly different? And what makes the Freak not only one of the craziest timepieces ever, but also one of the most important?

The History of Ulysse Nardin

Ulysse Nardin has a long and distinguished history. Founded in 1846 by watchmaker Ulysse Nardin in Le Locle, Switzerland, the company quickly began specializing in marine chronometers. The anchor in its logo attests to the brand’s origins. Pocket watches with various complications like moon phases and perpetual calendars were also part of their catalog at that time. Then, on the occasion of the 1936 Olympic Games, the brand achieved another significant milestone: the launch of an automatic chronograph made of stainless steel! Given this history, I think it is fair to say that Ulysse Nardin has always been ahead of its time.

The quartz crisis hit the company hard, so hard that, in the 1980s, Ulysse Nardin was on the verge of bankruptcy. But under new management, the company made an unprecedented turnaround, recommitting itself to its brand values and rebooting the production of watches with special features and a maritime connection. From classic dress watches to diving watches to special chronographs for seafarers, the catalog offers a bit of everything. But all these great timepieces were suddenly overshadowed in 2001, with the Freak first saw the light of day. As the name implies, the watch is a freak: different, exciting, revolutionary.

Ulysse Nardin: Birth of the Freak

What does it for you when it comes to a watch? Is it the dial? The hands? I’m guessing you’d answer that question with “the movement,” even though it’s the most hidden aspect of most timepieces. Not so with the Freak. With the Freak, Ulysse Nardin pursues a completely deconstructivist agenda in terms of displaying the time: the movement tells the time! That’s right: the Freak has no hands. The movement itself shows the minutes, and the hour hand has been replaced by a small arrow on a rotating disk. As strange as this may sound and look at first, reading the watch is easy once it’s on your wrist.

Of course, the lack of hands also means the absence of some other, rather essential parts. There’s no crown, for example. Instead, a system for setting the hands is integrated into the bezel, and the winding mechanism is located in the case back. The Freak doesn’t have a dial, either – at least not in the usual sense. A dial would be superfluous, as the whole watch acts as a plate for the movement. And yet despite this, the Freak manages to avoid looking minimalist, as the elaborate movement draws your eye. The art of watchmaking is foregrounded here in a striking way, reminding us to rethink our preconceived ideas from time to time about what a watch can be.

Der Freak unter den Zeitmessern
The freak among timepieces.

A Freak, Through and Through: Revolutionary Tech

The introduction of silicon, a material that is now an indispensable part of haute horlogerie, set a trend for the entire watchmaking industry. This raw material is anti-magnetic, extremely stable, and light, making it ideal for the manufacture of watch movements. Thanks to a special technique, the most precise micromechanical parts can be made from silicon. Since the Freak doesn’t hide its movement under a dial, but rather makes its movement the star of the show, its cutting-edge technology is continually on display. The bluish silicon components are not only revolutionary, they’re also very appealing visually.

Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision – Silizium als Eyecatcher
Silicon seduction: the Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision

Every Freak movement is revolutionary. At the heart of each caliber is a unique oscillator that powers the flying carousel and also serves as a hand. Whether it’s an elaborate feature like a tourbillon, or something simpler, the art of watchmaking and the fascination of the viewer are always center stage.

Is the Ulysse Nardin Freak high-end?

Although it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of the Freak, many a watch lover will hesitate when it comes to buying one. Not only is the watch’s unconventional, eye-catching design potentially too extroverted for some social situations, the price also plays a role. But for those who waver, there’s a more quotidian Freak, the Freak X. This model also displays the time using a rotating movement, but has a more understated look and lighter price tag. With a diameter of 43 mm, it’s also more accessible than some of the larger models. Unlike the original Freak, the Freak X also has a crown, making it easier to set the time. The X combines the best of the classic Freak with everything we want in a daily wearer!

Alltagstauglicher: Ulysse Nardin Freak X Rose Gold
The workaday Freak: the Ulysse Nardin Freak X Rose Gold

As is so often the case with a broad portfolio, the sky’s the limit. The Freak Diavolo collection, for example, offers models with tourbillons that are both eye-catching in terms of design and eye-watering in terms of price. Prices for timepieces in this line begin at just over $100,000, but what you get for your money is unparalleled. The Freak S collection is also in a class of its own, featuring a movement that looks like a rocket, rotating against a background of stars. If the sky poses no limit for you, this spacey model may be the perfect fit. And if you’re interested in buying a statement piece that expresses your love of watchmaking, exploring the various Freak collections is definitely worth your time! These watches are as unique and varied as we are.

In Short

The Freak has accomplished the deconstruction of the watch – nothing more, nothing less – which is exactly why every enthusiast needs to explore the entire Ulysse Nardin catalog. After all, it’s not a question of whether you like these timepieces; nor is it a matter of whether you’d consider buying one. No, the Freak exists to make us change the way we think. What is the essence of a watch? And what do we find so fascinating about watches? The Freak is the kind of timepiece that encourages us to philosophize about watchmaking, time, and the essence of things, and to engage with our passions in fresh, new ways.

Have we piqued your interest in unusual watches? If so, check these articles out:

Top 10 Craziest Watches

HYT Watches and the Future of Watchmaking

Jacob & Co.: Haute Horlogerie Meets Bling


About the Author

Barbara Korp

The moment I learned that watches were a lot more than just simple jewelry, I was hooked; I become enamored with the elegance of timekeeping. But there was one small hitch: most models were just too big for me to wear! That didn't discourage me, however. In fact, I developed quite a niche interest.

Read more

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