The story behind the Ulysse Nardin Freak begins in the late 1990s, when the brand’s maverick CEO at the time, Rolf Schnyder, challenged his team to create a watch that would push the boundaries of traditional watchmaking. The team was given complete creative freedom, and they began experimenting with new materials and designs to create a truly unique timepiece. One of the key innovations that emerged during this process was the use of silicon in the watch’s movement. The team, led by watchmaking genius Ludwig Oechslin who famously restored the Vatican’s Farnese Clock, also experimented with unconventional designs, such as a rotating movement that would double as the minute hand.
The team’s hard work paid off, and in 2001, Ulysse Nardin unveiled the disruptive new timepiece at the Baselworld watch and jewelry show. Aptly named ‘Freak’ owing to its unconventional design and features, which were considered ‘freakish’ or unusual at the time of its release, the watch was a sensation and captured the attention of the watchmaking community. The Freak’s movement, which rotates once per hour and is used to indicate the time, was particularly innovative, as was its winding system, which is operated by rotating the bezel. Over the years, Ulysse Nardin has continued to refine and improve the Freak, adding new complications and incorporating new materials, such as gold and carbon fibre. Today, the Freak remains one of the most innovative and unique timepieces ever created, and it has become a symbol of the brand’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of watchmaking and technology.
At Watches and Wonders 2023, Ulysse Nardin unveiled the Freak ONE, a tribute to the 2001 original, a watch with no hands, no dial, and no crown, and where the movement is king. Positioned as the brand’s new flagship, the Freak ONE draws design inspiration from all models from the past two decades and features a new UN-240 automatic movement with an innovative ‘Grinder’ system that features four blades coupled to the oscillating weight. This design converts the slightest of wrist movements into stored energy and is apparently twice as efficient as conventional winding systems. It is also equipped with an inertia-optimised balance wheel crafted from a single piece of silicon and a lever escapement made of a patented form of diamond-coated silicon. The watch is mated to an integrated rubber strap, made of 30 per cent recycled rubber from production waste.
With the 2023 Freak ONE, Ulysse Nardin continues to challenge the traditional notions of what a watch should look like and how it should function.