According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the term razzle-dazzle is used to describe “(confusion caused by) noisy and noticeable activity or very colourful appearance, intended to attract attention“. Eliminating the adjective ‘colourful’ from the dictionary description, it seems to be a fair description of the dizzying black and white geometric patterns donned on the latest Freak X. To be more precise, the zigzagging pattern pays homage to a camouflage technique known as ‘dazzle’ adopted by British ships painted with crisscrossing likes to confuse the enemy and make it hard for German U-boats to estimate the range, speed and direction of the ship. Similar to Op art, a style of optical art popular in the 1960s that used abstract geometric shapes to create optical illusions, the razzle-dazzle painting on British ships proved extremely effective and saved many lives. It also fits very nicely with Ulysse Nardin’s longstanding tradition of providing marine chronometers to marines and navies around the world. The latest Ulysse Nardin Freak X Razzle Dazzle dons the mesmerizing pattern as the background to its hallmark flying carrousel movement that rotates around its own axis.
The Freak has enjoyed cult status at Ulysse Nardin since its introduction in 2001. Two men, businessman Rolf W. Schnyder and watchmaker Ludwig Oeschlin, decided to turn the century-old manufacture of Ulysse Nardin upside down and inside out in the early 1980s. The Freak was the most striking development masterminded by the two. Powered by an in-line movement pivoting on itself every 60 minutes to indicate the time, it was regulated by a dual direct escapement and introduced the watchmaking world to silicium (aka silicon) technology.
The genesis of the Freak
Since 2001, the Freak has appeared in countless guises: the rose gold Freak Phantom with an 8-day carrousel tourbillon of 2013; the FreakLab of 2015 and 2016; the Freak Vision Automatic of 2018; the Freak X with Silicium Marquetry in 2019 and a Freak NeXt edition in 2019 with a revolutionary flying oscillator. However, the Freak model that concerns us today is the Freak X of 2019, the brand’s entry point timepiece for fans of the legendary Freak.
The Freak X of 2019 (USD 21,000 in titanium) was a turning point in the life of the Freak. It was designed as the entry-level Freak watch and cost half the price of the 2018 Freak Out. To cut costs but not sacrifice the signature construction of the Freak, the manufacture built a new flying carrousel baguette automatic movement – calibre UN 230. Like the original Freak, there is no dial, and the movement is openworked; unlike the original Freak, the Ulysse Nardin constant escapement and silicium gear train have gone (the extra-large oscillator is silicium, though), and there are fewer wheels.
Another important departure is the incorporation of a crown to set the time. Faithful to the original concept of ‘no hands’, the Freak X relies on a carrousel movement with a central bridge for the minutes and a wheel to indicate the hours. The case is also smaller at 43mm and water-resistant to 50 metres.
The latest Freak X Razzle Dazzle comes in a 42mm titanium case with black DLC and contrasting sandblasted and satin finishings. Available on either a black rubber or white leather strap, the star of the show here is the mesmerizing movement plate decorated with the razzle-dazzle patterns used on British ships to deceive German U-boats during World War I. The ships were painted with a series of zigzags and stripes to camouflage their hulls, making it practically impossible to estimate the ship’s course.
The elaborate optical illusion is created with three different techniques: lacquer, electroplating/galvanic treatment and laser. The hour markers on the black and white stripy flange, the tip of the central bridge acting as the minute hand and the wheel indicating the hours are all treated with Super-LumiNova.
As mentioned, the calibre UN-230 was introduced in 2019 for the entry-level Freak X model. A fusion of the UN-118 calibre and the UN-250 calibre, the UN-230 is a simpler, more conventional movement. The balance wheel is made from lightweight silicium with nickel flyweights and stabilizing micro-blades attached to the minute hand. The frequency is of 3Hz/21,600vph, and the barrel can store 72-hours power reserve.
Availability & Price
The Ulysse Nardin Freak X Razzle Dazzle is limited to 30 pieces and can be ordered with a black rubber strap with ‘pointe de bride’ stitches or a white calfskin leather strap with similar stitching. The price is CHF 25,900, EUR 23,800, GBP 22,250 or USD 27,300.
More information at www.ulysse-nardin.com.