Ulysse Nardin Introduces the Freak ONE, a Mesmerizing Tribute to the Original Freak

There seem to be two strategies for product presentations at Watches & Wonders. The first, and more common, is to barrage members of the press with watch, after watch, after watch. Too many, sometimes, to even begin to comprehend the releases that really stand out. The other strategy, which is less common but might be growing in popularity, is to focus on a single watch, and really dive into it in great detail. That’s the approach taken by Ulysse Nardin this year with the Freak ONE, a new entry into the Freak ecosystem that sits somewhere between the Freak X, made for the most casual possible Freak-curious customer (I mean, it has a crown, it’s practically a normal watch), and the absolutely ludicrous Freak S, the pinnacle of Freak design and the most complicated watch Ulysse Nardin has made on the platform in its 20+ year history. 


History is at the center of the conversation with respect to the new Freak ONE. It’s a tribute, in some subtle ways, to the very first Freak, which Ulysee Nardin had on hand at the fair for the sake of comparison. Accents of gold in the Freak ONE are the most obvious connection besides general layout, common to all Freaks. But the gold here is perhaps more than just an “accent,” as we get not just a gold bezel (used for setting the time) but a solid gold movement on display at the center of the piece. The visible movement is very much the key to Freak, as it rotates around the dial (which isn’t really a “dial” in the traditional sense) acting as a minute hand. To see the gear train arranged in this way, and in motion, is an intoxicating thing that will quickly have you amazed and wondering how they were able to accomplish it. 

For more on the technical side of it, it’s best to defer to a professional, and luckily we were able to do just that when Blake reviewed the Freak X a few months ago. But the concept behind the original Freak, and the one that is fully embraced by Ulysse Nardin here, is quite simple, and can be boiled down to what has become the Freak rallying cry: no dial, no hands, no crown. What looks like a dial that the movement sits on top of is actually part of that very same movement, a rotating plate with an hour hand that reads the time. The minute “hand” of course is the movement itself, and Freak ONE is crownless, and can be set by simply lifting the small latch at 6:00 and rotating the bezel. The watch winds via the ultra efficient Grinder system, which in its own way is just as head scratching to observe as the Freak from the time telling side. Grinder is designed to detect even the smallest movements, with a rotor connected to a frame that holds four blades providing twice the angular stroke. Ulysse Nardin compares it to using four pedals on a bicycle instead of two, an analogy which makes sense once you see the blades react in multiple directions to the tiniest movement. 

The Freak ONE is a weird, avant garde watch that will not be to everyone’s taste, but in the larger context of Freaks, it’s quite grounded and approachable. At the very least, it’s easy to wear, tell the time, and use. The DLC coated titanium case is 44mm and contours to the wrist in a way that hides much of the bulk, and it’s light enough to not be too bothered by the size. The sheer size of the movement makes telling the time easy, and interacting with the bezel has to be one of the best tactile experiences in all of watchmaking. It’s incredibly smooth and feels very refined, and when it’s locked via the latch it feels impossible to move. It kind of makes you wonder if this type of bezel execution could be implemented on a more traditional watch for timing purposes. 

The Freak ONE is a lot of fun, but at $68,600 it’s very much in fantasy territory for most. But considering the long history of the Freak and the revolution it caused in experimental watchmaking for a generation of independents, it feels like a fair price. Other high horology pieces that show us their mechanisms that have come up in the Freak’s wake are well into the six figures, but as complex as some of those watches are, nothing is precisely like the Freak, which asks it’s movement to actually move. When you start to really think that through, you begin to realize how special and unusual a watch like this is. Ulysse Nardin

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.