“I simply love the Freak One. It’s simply an incredible watch. It’s a standing watch. It’s a killer watch,” enthuses George
Bamford, of Bamford Watch Division, and a Grand Prix of Horlogerie de Geneve jury member. “I imply, simply calling it the Freak is spectacular sufficient as a result of that will need to have been an enormous threat when the gathering was first launched over 20 years in the past. However then you’ve gotten all that design content material, these huge concepts. It’s freaking nuts. It’s freaking mad.”
In 2023, the Grand Prix of Horlogerie de Geneve named Ulysee Nardin’s Freak One the winner of its ‘iconic’ class, acknowledging this newest iteration of the road debuted in 2001 – below the management of Rolf Schnyder and the watchmaking radicalism of Carole Forestier and Ludwig Oechslin – as totemic of one thing greater than itself: a shift in the best way watches have been conceived and, in flip, perceived.
Right here was a watch with no crown – the show is adjusted utilizing the bezel, the watch wound utilizing the casebook. Extra spectacular nonetheless, right here was a watch with out a dial or palms, utilising the motion itself to show the time and, in flip, proposing that the motion may discover visible expression as a sort of kinetic artwork. Right here was one which additionally took a brand new method to supplies, being the primary watch with a silicium escapement. Small surprise then that the Freak line has garnered some 20 patents for Ulysee Nardin.
“What made the Freak doable was that Rolf Schynder, when he acquired the corporate in 1983, was decided to make substantial investments within the manufacture. Extra importantly, he aimed to ascertain a manufacture with its personal imaginative and prescient,” explains Clemence Le Rolland, Ulysee Nardin’s model director for South East Asia and Oceania. Absolutely the impact of that imaginative and prescient was, nevertheless, larger than maybe he imagined.
“[The Freak] deserves its present fame for initiating the period of ‘fashionable’ watchmaking,” argues Le Rolland. “This period shifted the main target away from a classical, albeit high-end, method to watchmaking to at least one that prioritized creating one thing fully completely different and progressive. It impressed different watchmaking manufacturers and introduced a twist to haute horlogerie.”
Bamford agrees. He means that with out the Freak – a watch given extra credibility in coming from an organization of historic pedigree, relationship again to 1846 – doubtlessly new manufacturers the likes
of Richard Mille or Urwerk, each additionally identified for unconventional approaches to observe design,
would have had a more durable time establishing a market following their launch quickly after. Possibly the
timeline of contemporary watchmaking must be conceived as being BF and AF: Earlier than the Freak and After
“We’re extra used to seeing strange proposals in watchmaking extra typically now. Even in that context the Freak stays mesmerising: you take a look at it and instantly ask your self ‘so how does this work?’. Figuring that out for your self is a part of what makes the design intriguing,” he suggests. “However what I feel is particularly telling is that Ulysee Nardin was taking that method so way back. To actually admire the Freak it’s a must to take a look at [watchmaking] historical past and admire what its launch did for the watch world at massive. It’s akin to Swatch or G-Shock – it’s straightforward to miss how radical they have been once they have been launched”.
Certainly, these and different pioneering watches could be too readily appreciated now as primarily being aesthetic leaps ahead. And, as notes Maximillian Busser, Grand Prix of Horlogerie de Geneve jury member and founding father of MB&F – a model that additionally benefited from the trail paved by the Freak – the varied iterations of the Freak have managed to be unconventional whereas additionally being light-weight, compact and comparatively streamlined. Not like so many different unique watches, they’ve additionally managed to stay comfortably wearable even on a small wrist – one thing Busser cites as being a significant trial within the creation of his personal timepieces. And but, he stresses, all that’s to overlook the actual import of those groundbreakers.
“Certain, earlier than [the likes of the Freak, RM001, the UR103 or the Harry Winston Opus 1] the look of high-end watchmaking was extremely basic and conservative. However that’s not why for me the Freak
needs to be thought of one of many nice modern watchmaking benchmarks of the early 2000s,” says Busser. “Somewhat it’s as a result of it additionally required the event of an extremely advanced know-how to make it come to life. These sorts of watches will not be solely about design. They’re not nearly a properly designed packaging of an present motion. They symbolize overcoming monumental technical challenges. The Freak’s lack of a crown is a living proof. Because the motion activates itself a conventional crown-stem wouldn’t have labored. And the answer simply makes the watch that rather more ground-breaking.”
From the Freak’s Twin Direct escapement – at a time when a watchmakers creating their very own escapement was largely extraordinary, George Daniels apart – to the concept of orientating the blades of the steadiness wheel to use air resistance for a extra fixed amplitude; from the massively improved vitality transmission of the Grinder automated winding system to, extra just lately, the escapement being handled with a silicium and artificial diamond plasma end for abrasion and shock resistance… The Freak collection has stored the improvements coming, with out the unique dropping its relevance.
“Remarkably, though a large number of recent concepts have emerged since then, the Freak continues to face out as a extremely artistic and distinctive watch,” argues Le Rolland. Certainly, in a manner the Freak has come to exchange the marine chronographs, with which Ulysee Nardin has lengthy been intently related, as probably the most direct expression of what the model stands for right this moment. Merely put, “it [expresses] Ulysse Nardin’s unconventional, avant-gardist mindset in its method to watchmaking.”
This text first appeared on WOW’s Legacy 2024 issue.
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