This is the Ulysse Nardin Freak X, one of the most recent additions to Ulysse Nardin’s famed Freak watch line. The Freak watch family—a self-proclaimed Laboratory on the wrist—is known for its futuristic look and forward-thinking engineering. When it was introduced at SIHH in 2001, it shook the watch world, becoming the first watch to use silicon components in its movement. An innovation that had considerable implications in advancing watch movements and has since been copied by many blue-chip watch manufacturers.
The Freak watch line with its avant-garde design and advanced movement engineering typically comes with a hefty price tag. However, Ulysse Nardin makes the entry point to the Freak line much more accessible with this watch. With an MSRP of $21,000, it cuts the cost of entry into the Freak line in half. The question is, with such a drastic price decrease, can it hold its own with its more expensive siblings?
When comparing it to the rest of the Freak line, the Freak X doesn’t stand out as entry-level or basic. The black PVD titanium case has a Star Trek-esque, technical aesthetic that looks right at home. However, one element that sets the Freak X apart visually—which happens to be one of the main ways Ulysse Nardin cut costs—is that it has a traditional crown. A first for this watch line as all other Freak models employ a locking bezel system. The bezel system is innovative, but I prefer the standard crown operation, making this cost-saving measure a usability upgrade in my eyes.
This watch shares a lot visually and mechanically with its three times as expensive brother, the Freak Vision. Ulysse Nardin calls the caliber UN-230 in the Freak X a combination of the UN-118 used in its Marine collection and the UN-250 used in the Vision. This means some of the key technically advanced features seen in the Vision are present in the Freak X. The movement is automatic with a 72-hour power reserve, but most importantly, you get the trademark Carrousel Tourbillon movement with stabilizing micro blades and the lightweight silicon balance wheel.
While the Caliber UN-230 is mechanically innovative, it’s execution really sets it apart. The movement and dial on this watch are one and the same. Ulysse Nardin describes the watch as having no dial or hands. What they’ve done is exposed the movement and designed the central bridge in a way that it indicates the minutes. They also designed one of the wheels to act as the hour hand. The “hands” are technically apart of the movement, but that doesn’t mean this watch is hard to read. It’s a unique look, but legibility is excellent, and the “hands” are fully lumed.
While one side of the central bridge acts as a minute hand, the other holds the Carrousel Tourbillon. It’s a feature that the Freak line is famous for. Unlike a traditional tourbillon, it rotates once an hour—just like a minute hand—rather than once per minute. The visual effect all of these elements have can not be overstated and makes for some fantastic horological ballet. The dial/movement is alive with perpetual motion. The tourbillion is very active, and as time passes, you see the wheels and components all shift around the dial. While some of this is hard to see in real-time, it makes setting the watch—normally a menial task—very cool to watch.
With all the technical flair and futuristic design elements, you would think this watch would be loud, but it’s a fairly simple and versatile timepiece. This is one of the best traits of this watch. You don’t have to understand all the innovation and complexity to appreciate the Freak X as just a downright good-looking watch.
Now that Ulysse Nardin offers what I would consider the “full Freak experience” with minimal compromise despite the lower price, it opens the Freak X up to a more casual fan. One can buy the Freak X for surface level attraction and then inevitably fall head over heels as they learn more about what makes it such an exceptional timepiece. The Freak X, it turns out, is not just for freaks.