Hands-on The New Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel

A new take on the brand's design, still packed with impressive horological content!
ic_query_builder_black_24px | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Brice Goulard | 4 minute read
Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel

While the previous version of the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton wasn’t exactly what you would call a ‘shy watch’, Ulysse Nardin has decided to take it to a whole new level. Still based on a modern and aerial design, still featuring several impressive technical solutions (something dear to UN), Ulysse Nardin brings an entirely new architecture to the movement and the watch – both highly interrelated here – with the new Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton “Free Wheel”. Free-floating components and cutting-edge technology under a crystal box…

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel

The new “Free Wheel” is basically a new take on the Executive Tourbillon. And even if some of the basics are still in place, it is quite an impressive facelift that UN is proposing here. The case retains the hallmark integrated triple lugs usually found on this model but revisited in a new, more angular way. The surfaces now alternate between polished and brushed finishes, with more angular edges. The screws on the side to hold the strap are still present, and so is the lateral plate engraved with the unique number of the watch. For the rest, new shapes, more architectural structure and less metal on show.

Even though the Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel measures 44mm in diameter, the original “almost-full-sapphire” structure allows for a visually light and thin watch. Not per se an ultra-thin piece, the ultra-domed sapphire crystal makes the caseband virtually absent and thus the watch wears smaller than you’d expect.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel

One of the major evolutions comes from the new dial/movement/case architecture. Under this sapphire “hood” (which must be a nightmare to produce), all the technical elements appear to float above the dial, without any mechanical link between them – no apparent connecting wheels between the barrel and the regulating organ, as the vast majority of the gear train is positioned underneath the dial/mainplate. As a result, the barrel, the tourbillon, the power reserve and some of the mechanical parts are freely floating above the dial, creating an impressive sensation of depth and of technicality.

The Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton “Free Wheel” is available in two versions. The first one, in 18k white gold, shows a perforated grid as a dial. The second one, in 18k rose gold, features a stone dial, carved from a slab of slate. On both, the all-black design allows for a great contrast with the mechanical elements, which are plated to match the case material. This further reinforces the sensation of the lack of mechanical links between the parts. 

The drawback of this architecture is the relative emptiness of the back of the watch. As all the elements are positioned dial side, the back is mainly the mainplate of the movement only punctuated by rubies (placed in gold chatons) and the axis of some of the wheels. The finishing remains pleasant, with an anthracite grey coating and a grained surface.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel

The movement of the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton “Free Wheel” isn’t only visually impressive, it is also technically advanced. Conceived and manufactured in-house, this movement boats 7 days of power reserve. It also relies on technology developed by UN, including silicium – remember that UN was the first brand to commercialize a watch with a silicium escapement, with the 2001 Freak. Here, both the balance wheel, the escape wheel, the hairspring and the pallet fork are crafted in this innovative material – as you can guess from the purple/blue colour of these elements.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel

In addition to that, Ulysse Nardin has equipped this watch with its proprietary constant-force escapement, the Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon. Based on the principle of flexible mechanisms exploiting the elasticity of springs, the pallet fork moves entirely without friction (as it is no longer constrained by a pivoting staff). This recent development challenged the principle of the traditional Swiss anchor escapement, implementing a circular frame with a pallet fork fixed in the centre, supported in space on two ultra-thin blade springs. Mounted perpendicular to each other, these are subjected to a bending force that curves them and maintains them in a bi-stable state.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel

This allows the tourbillon regulator to remain unaffected by changes in the torque delivered by the strong barrels. As there is no friction, when the pallet fork returns to its original position, it gives back its stored energy with virtually no loss, creating an almost constant force on the escapement (over the full range of the power reserve). This specific escapement, that we’ve explained in details here, is now fully operational and featured in the regular collection.

Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel

The Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Skeleton Free Wheel is worn on a soft, carbon-like alligator strap with a folding clasp. Unlike other Ulysse Nardin tourbillons, the “Free Wheel” is not a limited edition, but a full-run production launch. It will be priced at EUR 96,000 or CHF 99,000 for the white gold or the rose gold editions. More details on www.ulysse-nardin.com.

2 responses

  1. Although far far from traditional aesthetics, I find this watch pleasing, interesting, full of intrigue and more than just a little clever. Its too big, and essentially a 100k cocktail watch (UN’s niche), but the technical achievement can’t be ignored and neither can the dial.

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