In 2001, Ulysse Nardin introduced a watch – the Freak – that was a complete shock for the industry, not only in terms of design and display but mainly because it was the first timepiece commercialised with silicium parts – a controversial material back then, which has now found its place in dozens of watches. Today, as a sort of tribute to that pioneering use of silicium in a watch, Ulysse Nardin equips its recent Freak X (see more here) with a dial that is actually made of this material, displayed as marquetry.
Reminder. In 2001, Ulysse Nardin introduced the Freak, a true concept piece with several striking features. Its display, consisting of a flying carousel module holding the regulating organ and rotating around the dial once per hour (acting as a minute hand) was impressive. The way the watch was wound (by rotating the caseback) and the way the time was adjusted (by rotating the bezel) was also quite novel. But mainly, the Freak was the first watch equipped with silicium parts ever to hit the market. Controversial back then (and still today for some), this material has found its place in hundreds of watches, relying on its anti-magnetic and precision qualities. Credit where credit is due: Ulysse Nardin is the undisputed pioneer in the use of this material and the Freak is an important watch in modern watchmaking history.
A few weeks ago, during the SIHH 2019, the brand introduced a brand new and more accessible version of the Freak, named Freak X – the entry point to the collection, alongside the Freak Out and Freak Vision. Though many of the same aesthetic and functional elements are in place, the Freak X inaugurates several updates to make it easier on the wrist – and on the wallet. A smaller diameter (43mm vs. 45mm), a crown for time correction, which breaks with one of the most iconic aspects of the crownless concept (which corrected time by the bezel) and a movement based on the in-house, yet simplified calibre UN-118.
However, the Freak X retains the most important features, including the absence of a dial and hands, as the central bridge, aka the flying carousel, acts as a minute hand and the hours are still indicated by a disc on a lower level. The “baguette” movement is still a carousel, turning once on itself every hour to indicate the time, and it still holds a massive balance wheel on top of the watch, made of silicon with nickel inert masses. Overall, the Freak X is slightly simpler where it can’t be seen, but still bold where it counts – and it is priced much lower than the rest of the collection.
inspired by the use of silicium in the movement, the brand has introduced the Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry. Movement, indications and case are the same as the model introduced during the SIHH 2019. What changes is the dial, which was obtained after assembling multiple parts of silicium.
Silicium marquetry involves assembling wafers of silicon cut into segments with a plasma accelerator. All the subtlety of this technique lies in the craftsman’s dexterity, given that the silicon used is extremely flaky and fragile when manipulated. Slightly superimposing the segments one on top of the other, rather than interlocking them, will be enough to chip their edges. Assembling by hand a collage of the roughly 120 segments needed to create these mosaics is a challenge.
Two versions of the Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry will be available. The first, in titanium and blue PVD, shows a gilded “X” on a cameo of shades of blue. The second, decorating the dial of a black DLC-coated model, depicts a silvery “X” on a purplish-blue background.
Both watches feature the in-house Calibre UN-230 (automatic with 72h power reserve) and are worn on alligator straps with ‘point-de-bride’ stitches. Price will be EUR 29,500. More details at www.ulysse-nardin.com.