A Laboritory On The Wrist

The Freak (S Nomad), introduced by Ulysse Nardin at Watches and Wonders Geneva 2024, continues to showcase the innovation, creativity and imagination of the Swiss watchmaking industry.

In 2001, when the Ulysse Nardin Freak was introduced, it was a watch that broke all the rules. Not only did it not have conventional hands, nor a dial, nor even a crown, its beating heart was built around the use of high-tech silicon, a cutting-edge material employed to combat the stresses placed on a watch’s moving parts. Everything about the Freak was daring, groundbreaking and, frankly, freaky.

The Freak whipped up a storm. Here was a watch that breathed new life into high-end watchmaking, without relying on the old tropes. Out with the smooth round yellow gold cases, enamel dials and tourbillons. In with a free-spirited watch with fresh aesthetics and avant-garde technology.

In the two decades since, the Freak’s unconventional profile has made it the Ulysse Nardin flagship. A rule-breaking totem for an independent company hellbent on creative and mechanical experimentation. Since 2001, the manufacture has filed more than 20 patents for the Freak and only last year, the Freak One was awarded the Iconic Watch Prize at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.

At Watches and Wonders Geneva 2024, Ulysse Nardin’s focus falls on the Freak S Nomad, a sand-coloured expression of the Freak that whips up a desert storm all of its own. Again, it has no dial, no hands and no crown. In fact, it’s a laboratory on the wrist.

The Freak S Nomad proves one thing. There’s still nothing quite like the Freak!

The Freak S Nomad is the next chapter in the story of the Freak, unconventional and yet traditional, it reflects the brand’s independent spirit and its quest to explore new territories by pushing boundaries.

The new 99-piece limited edition watch is defined by its unique movement, which, at first glance, carries echoes of a fantastical spaceship.

That look comes from the architecture of the Freak S’s Calibre UN-251 Manufacture movement, a flying carousel that rotates around its own axis. It features two oscillators with silicon balance wheels inclined at 20 degrees (that look like launch pads) and escapements treated with high-tech DIAMonSIL for added precision and durability. These are linked by a vertical differential system mounted on ball bearings. Winding is taken care of by Ulysse Nardin’s innovative Grinder winding system, an automatic system that’s twice as efficient as a traditional automatic system.

The movement’s bridges are coated in anthracite PVD, while what becomes the minute hand is filled with luminous Super-LumiNova that glows light blue in the dark. In all, there are 373 components and 33 jewels in the movement.

Surrounding that is a 45mm case that brings together an experimental mix of materials: titanium for the main body; an anthracite PVD-coated titanium bezel; and carbon fibre flanks that also serve as the watch’s lugs. These meet a choice of two straps, one anthracite rubber ‘ballistic’ and a second in matt anthracite alligator that’s open-worked to reveal sand-coloured calfskin leather accents.

The Freak S Nomad is a design and technical maverick, no doubt. But it’s also a paradox. Because at the same time, it also testifies to Ulysse Nardin’s deep love of haute horlogerie, métiers d’art and the rare handcrafts and finishing techniques that define only the most exquisite luxury watches. No element in the Freak S Nomad better illustrates this passion than the hour disc that sits behind the carousel ‘spaceship’ movement.

It features a diamond guilloché pattern finished in sand-coloured CVD, a nod to waving sand dunes. Produced one piece at a time by a skilled artisan, the painstaking method behind it takes years to learn and perfect. It involves a rare 18th century rose engine, turned entirely by hand, with no electronics and no laser guidance.

Each dial is a beautiful sequence of intersecting curves, requiring 240 continuous movements over a three-hour period. Because the pattern is the result of one continuous movement, the guillocheur must not lift their hand or even flinch so as to ensure the seamlessness of the pattern. No comfort breaks. No time for coffee. It requires a freakish level of concentration, skill and patience.

Why undertake this by hand? For three reasons. First, because of the romance and beauty in handcraftsmanship. As machines become smarter, faster and more detached, so they become less emotional, and so the value of handcraftsmanship becomes more eternal. Second is that because there are no machines involved, there are no vibrations, which makes the finish smoother and more accurate. And finally, because each plate is crafted by hand, no two are exactly the same.

The juxtaposition of this ultra-traditional finishing technique with the Freak S Nomad’s state-of-the-art movement and avant-garde material mix is the perfect symbol of Ulysse Nardin’s uncommon watchmaking approach: at once pure and rooted in the savoir-faire of high-end Swiss watchmaking and yet also in brave pursuit of absolute novelty and innovation.

As the Freak S Nomad explains: Ulysse Nardin’s spirit of exploration knows no boundaries.

For more information, please visit www.ulysse-nardin.com

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