Last year, at the SIHH 2017, Ulysse Nardin introduced an impressive piece, a concept watch featuring no less than 10 major innovations, as a showcase to demonstrate the brand’s savoir-faire: the InnoVision 2. Every part of this watch boasted an innovation, whether the escapement, the display, the winding system or even the hands. And while last year’s piece wasn’t meant to be commercialized, it is now time for Ulysse Nardin to deploy some of these features into serially produced pieces… Meet the Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision.
Background – The Freak
The Freak collection by Ulysse Nardin has always been a showcase to explore new technologies. Remember that back in 2001, the inaugural Freak was the first watch ever commercialized with an escapement made of silicon (or silicium in French) – an innovation that is now spread all over the industry. A proper game changer. Later, in 2005, Ulysse Nardin chose to use a diamond escapement and that same year, they debuted the Dual Ulysse escapement – again introduced in a Freak watch. The Freak has always been a research laboratory for Ulysse Nardin, and things continued with the recent FreakLab.
At Baselworld 2015, the FreakLab came on the market with again several innovations. Based on the same construction and display as all previous Freaks (A movement composed of several layers, with a large bridge on top that comprises most of the regulating organ and gear train. This carrousel indicates the minutes). It introduced a unique escapement called Dual Ulysse silicium escapement that gets rid off the traditional pallet fork and escape wheel.
The 2017 InnoVision 2 Concept watch
At the SIHH 2017 came the InnoVision 2 (not called Freak, but sharing the same DNA). This watch was a demonstration piece, with no commercial intentions – at least, not in its current form. 10 innovations were fitted in the InnoVision 2, including a new “Dual Constant Escapement”, Silicon balance wheels with stabilizing micro-paddles and a unique self-winding system named “Grinder”. Some of these innovations have been updated and made reliable, with one goal in mind: putting them in a serially produced watch. And here it is: meet the Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision.
The Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision
The first and main technical novelty of this Freak Vision comes from the winding system. As of now, all Freak watches were hand-wound – with the signature winding caseback (as you can see, there is no crown on the Freak). The Freak Vision is the first automatic watch in the collection. Yet, don’t expect a standard central rotor, nor a micro-rotor. Ulysse Nardin has developed a new and complex system to make this watch automatic: the “Grinder Automatic Winding System” – which was first shown on the InnoVision 2.
Besides being visually appealing, the Grinder Automatic Winding System, which drastically changes the transmission of energy, surpasses existing systems for efficiency by a factor of two (in short, it delivers twice the amount of energy to the main-spring compared to a standard rotor). The oscillating rotor is linked to a frame containing four arms, which gives the automatic system twice the torque, while a flexible guidance mechanism drastically limits friction. Each rotation of the oscillating weight makes the frame and the ring oscillate. This makes one or two of the four claws move the winding wheel, exploiting the tiniest amounts of kinetic energy.
The second major innovation on the Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision concerns the regulating organ. Following a long tradition of innovative materials and architectures (introduced first on the 2001 Freak), we now have a super-light silicium balance wheel with nickel mass elements and stabilizing micro-blades. A lightweight and anti-magnetic balance allows for having a minimal mass at the centre, while the solid nickel elements on the periphery provide a high moment of inertia. It then adds silicium micro-blades to stabilize amplitudes and significantly increase accuracy.
Linked to this balance is the already known Ulysse Nardin Anchor Escapement – a constant force mechanism based on the principle of flexible mechanisms, exploiting the elasticity of flat springs. It is made entirely of silicium, and features a circular frame with a pallet fork that moves without friction. The result is a positive energy balance that maintains the oscillations of the balance wheel at a constant rate without influence of torque variation from the mainspring. Both of the innovations (the lightweight balance and the Anchor escapement) are meant to increase precision, both at the moment and over the whole range of the power reserve.
For the rest, we can see on this Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision a strong evolution of the design – without completely renewing the concept though. Indeed, the display, based on the hours indicated by a disc mounted on the main-plate and the minutes indicated by the central rotating bridge, is still present. Winding the movement is still done by rotating the caseback and setting the time by rotating the bezel on the dial side. Again, as with all Freak watches, the minute arm is, in fact, a major part of the movement, a baguette movement acting like “flying carrousel” rotating around its own axis once per hour and comprising most of the gear train.
The shape of this bridge is far more modern though, with a new 3D carved upper bridge inspired by a boat’s hull. The 45mm case, made of platinum with blue inserts on the sides, also shows a slender and sharper design. Overall, less is more and this new Freak has been cleaned to feel more modern.
We’ll come back on this Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision after the SIHH with more images and technical insights. This piece will be priced at CHF 95,000 – quite a serious amount but when you consider the technology, it feels almost reasonable. More details on www.ulysse-nardin.com.