Deconstructed watch: Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
If recent converts to the world of watches could be transported back to the turn of the century they might be surprised at the level of innovation, imagination and experimentation that defined the era’s horological renaissance.
And few designs epitomised the far-out early years of the current watchmaking millennium than Ulysse Nardin’s radical Freak.
When it was launched in 2001 at the now-defunct Baselworld watch fair by Ulysse Nardin’s now-late, famously avant-garde owner Rolf Schnyder it drew a 10-deep crowd to the nautically-themed stand that honoured Ulysse Nardin’s 19th century roots as a maker of marine chronometers.
The new watch Schnyder had to show had nothing to do with sailing, but it caused as much of a stir as any unidentified sea monster — because the Freak was a timepiece the like of which had never before been seen.
Not only did it have no winding crown, it had no hands and no dial, either.
Instead, it featured a carousel movement that rotated 360 degrees every hour, its pointed tip indicating the minutes while a disc moved around the inner perimeter of the watch to show the hour.
The time was set by unlocking and turning the bezel in order to adjust the entire movement to the required position, and the mechanism was wound by turning the back of the case — which featured a window that revealed an enormous mainspring that gave the watch a seven-day power reserve.
The watch was designed by master horologist Ludwig Oechslin and — although the Freak name might imply that it was a frivolous gimmick — it was actually a groundbreaking design both in the way it displayed the time and the fact that it showcased the very first use of silicon in watch making.
Only a small number of original watches were made, but there was such interest in the design that it inspired numerous variations on the theme and the Freak soon became Ulysse Nardin’s signature model.
And now the brand has taken the Freak back to its roots with this contemporary interpretation of the 2001 watch called Freak ONE which it is positioning as its new flagship offering.
It has a 44mm case made from black, DLC-coated titanium and topped with a rose gold bezel.
As with the original model, the movement is wound by rotating the case back — but this version also uses Ulysse Nardin’s patented Grinder system powered by a rotor contained within a four-bladed frame that captures energy from even the smallest of movements.
And, in keeping with today’s more eco-friendly attitude to watch making, the Freak ONE is fitted with a strap made from 30 per cent recycled rubber.
The Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE, £60,330