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Ulysse Nardin Freak X

The Ulysse Nardin Freak X can trace its lineage to the groundbreaking Freak of 2001. However, this new model, unveiled at SIHH 2019, forgoes some of the costly elements found on its avant-garde forebear. This latest version provides the most affordable route to Freak ownership.

This detailed review of the Ulysse Nardin Freak X includes images, specification details and pricing.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X

Ulysse Nardin Freak X with Carbonium case (Ref. 2303-270/CARB//2303-270.1/CARB)

In 2001, Ulysse Nardin launched a revolutionary watch, the ‘Freak’. Its name provided a clue to its non-conformist specification. The avant-garde timepiece eschewed a conventional case, crown, dial and hands.

Endowed with a ‘tourbillon-carrousel’, the gear train and the escapement spanned the ‘dial area’, rotating 360° every 60 minutes and acting as an oversized minute hand. The mainplate served as the dial as well as the hour hand, rotating once every 12 hours. Quite simply, this watch tore up the rule book when it was launched and it still remains highly novel today.

The watch featured a sandwich-type construction with the barrel positioned above the caseback, spanning the full width of the watch. The mainspring was energised by rotating the periphery of the caseback. The mainplate sat above the barrel and, as stated earlier, acted like a dial with many of the movement parts positioned above.

In order to set the hands, a latch, positioned between the horns, was lifted, unlocking the bezel which would then be rotated in either direction to facilitate adjustment.

Ulysse Nardin has always been at the forefront when it comes to innovation and the inaugural Freak of 2001 was no exception. The watch had a patented Ulysse Nardin system featuring a double direct impulse on the balance, which incorporated two escape wheels. Both the escape wheels and balance spring were made of silicon (silicium in French). This non-magnetic, lightweight material is widely used today, however, Ulysse Nardin was the first company to employ the glass-like material.

The legacy continues

Over the years, the Ulysse Nardin Freak has evolved, spawning a number of variants. For example, the Freak Blue Phantom (2008) incorporated blue-hued movement components. The Freak Diavolo (2010) was the first member of the Freak family to feature a seconds display. The Freak Cruiser (2013) respectfully doffed its hat to the brand’s naval history, integrating maritime-themed bridges and hands.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X

Ulysse Nardin Freak Out (Ref. 2053-132/03.1)

Whether it’s employing lightweight materials, such as forged carbon, or incorporating additional indications, such as a date display, Ulysse Nardin has never sat back. Indeed, at the heart of the brand’s culture there seems an overriding urge to innovate.

While I have always appreciated the ingenuity manifest with the Freak of 2001, I have never yearned to own one. Somehow, it has always felt too complex for everyday use. However, now the Swiss firm has unveiled the Ulysse Nardin Freak X, a model imbued with a welcome dose of practicality. Moreover, this new watch is the most affordable incarnation of the Freak and, to my mind, represents excellent value for money. Allow me to elaborate further.

The dial

The Ulysse Nardin Freak X is available in four versions, three of which feature a black ‘dial’ (mainplate). However, I am drawn to the Freak X Ti Blue. The shade of blue employed is delightful.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X

Ulysse Nardin Freak X with titanium case (Ref. 2303-270/03//2303-270.1/03)

Each hour is denoted with a white luminescent index. The indexes span the mainplate, joining the minute track to a centrally positioned toothed-circlet. The Swiss firm’s name and logo are proclaimed at noon, tastefully employing blue and white shades.

While the Ulysse Nardin Freak X is the most accessible version of the iconic watch, it shows few signs of penny-pinching. The watch retains the carrousel found on its ‘antecedents’. The ‘baguette movement’ is conjoined with the luminescent minute hand, rotating 360° per hour.

A small wheel interfaces with the aforementioned toothed-circlet, following a circular trajectory. Located opposite the small wheel is the hour hand, again featuring a liberal application of Super-LumiNova.

When contrasted with its forebears, the baguette movement appears simpler, augmenting readability.

The case

Historically the Freak has always been a large watch, measuring 45mm in diameter. The Ulysse Nardin Freak X has shrunk in the wash, now measuring 43mm and, in my opinion, it is much better for it. 

Ulysse Nardin Freak X

From a personal perspective, I found the Freak X incredibly comfortable to wear. The watch head sits flush with the wrist and there is no hint of annoying rotation on the arm.

Ulysse Nardin spoils the would-be purchaser with a choice of titanium, rose gold and Carbonium case options. This latter material is incredibly light and widely used in the aerospace industry. It seems this Maison’s predilection for innovation shows no signs of abating. Nevertheless, if I were spending my own hard-earned cash, I would always plump for the blue dial, titanium case version.

Unlike other Freak models, the Ulysse Nardin Freak X is equipped with a conventional crown, shunning the legendary rotating bezels fitted front and back. This clearly delivers useful cost savings, allowing the Swiss company to offer the Freak X at a lower price point. In my opinion, the conventional crown is simpler to operate and confers a cleaner appearance.

Where the latch of the original Freak sat between the lugs, now there is a neat, titanium plinth presented in blue PVD on my favoured model. This ‘less is more approach’ confers palpable progress.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X

The sapphire crystal, positioned front of house, is the box glass variety, allowing light to flood the dial plane. The rear of the case is fitted with a pane of sapphire crystal, framed with a ring of blue PVD treated titanium.

The movement

The Caliber UN-230 is a new movement, harnessing some of the know-how found with the Caliber UN-118 and the Freak Vision’s movement, the Caliber UN-250. The new movement forgoes the ‘Grinder’ system, the Ulysse Nardin anchor constant escapement and the silicium gear train seen on the costlier Freak Vision.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X

By viewing the Caliber UN-230 from the rear, the wearer will notice a blue openworked oscillating mass, thermally blued screws and partial views of various wheels.

The balance wheel is made of silicium. This lightweight material does not corrode and is not influenced by magnetism. In addition, the balance wheel has a notably large diameter. Usually, a large diameter balance will confer a greater rotational inertia, enhancing precision. Ulysse Nardin does not state whether this is the reason for using an oversized balance wheel, but I suspect it is. The downside of a larger balance wheel is that its increased mass usually increases energy consumption. However, by using silicium, this latter issue is clearly not a problem, a fact illustrated with the impressive 72 hour power reserve demonstrates.

The balance wheel is also fitted with ‘nickel flyweights and stabilising micro-blades’. Furthermore, the balance has a frequency of 21,600 VpH (3Hz) and the movement contains 21 jewels.

Closing remarks

Certainly, the Freak of 2001 was incredibly complex and a paragon of innovation. The use of silicium was truly groundbreaking at the time. Indeed, there are many firms now, some 18 years later, which are only just beginning to adopt this know-how.

The trailblazing minute hand, incorporating the gear train and balance, was inspired. Moreover, the clever upper and lower crowns for setting the hands and winding the mainspring, respectively, were a stroke of genius.

Whenever a product is simplified, as is the case with the Freak X, there will be allegations that it has been ‘dumbed down’ and has lost the essence of what made the original special. However, in this case, I would argue the contrary.

I applaud Ulysse Nardin for showcasing its incredible expertise by making the Freak of 2001 and, subsequently, its various offspring, however, I would not wish to own many of them. Nevertheless, the Freak X is different.

The Freak X is neater, sitting on the wrist in ergonomic union. The dial is less cluttered, allowing the hour and minute hand to come to the fore, aiding readability. The absence of the rotating upper bezel delivers a cleaner aesthetic. The self-winding movement makes the watch ideal for daily wear. Lastly, and most pertinently, the Freak X still parades its balance centre-stage, sating the wishes of those with a mechanical bent.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X

Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision (Ref. 2503-250/BLACK)

I could easily succumb to the charms of the Ulysse Nardin Freak X and part with my own hard-earned cash. I am sure those readers with a penchant for the original Freak will have a different view. To this end, Ulysse Nardin should be congratulated for offering prospective purchasers the current choice of the Freak X, Freak Vision and Freak Out.

Whether you prefer the Freak X or one of its siblings, accept it is different and applaud the Swiss brand for not subscribing to convention. There is merit in being different and the arrival of the Freak X makes this just a little bit easier to achieve.

Further reading

https://www.ulysse-nardin.com

Technical specifications

  • Model: Ulysse Nardin Freak X
  • Reference: 2303-270/03//2303-270.1/03
  • Case: Titanium / Titanium with PVD finish; diameter 43mm; water resistance 5 ATM (50 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and sapphire caseback
  • Functions: Hours; minutes
  • Movement: Caliber UN-230automatic movement; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); 21 jewels; power reserve = 72 hours
  • Price – CHF 21,000 including taxes (RRP as at 25.4.2019)

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