There’s a narrative that has emerged around the Ulysse Nardin Freak over the years that its an extremely niche product, and something of a difficult watch to fully wrap your arms around. It’s strange, yes, even avant-garde, but as I’ve spent more time considering the Freak, I’ve come around to the other side of this story. I wonder, how can anyone not love the Freak? Even if it’s not to your specific taste, the Freak is an original, and one of a handful of truly important designs that would set the stage for a generation of interesting, independent watchmaking that we’re still living through today. The Freak might not be for everyone, but everyone should be able to agree that there’s something special about it.
The latest Freak, the Freak [X OPS] is part of the still relatively new Freak X lineup, a collection that aims to make the watch more approachable. Blake went hands-on with a Freak X here, and both the review and video (complete with commentary from a watchmaker) are worth a look if you’re new to the Freak universe. But the gist of the Freak X is relatively easy to understand: it’s smaller than a traditional Freak, and it has a crown. Historically, the Freak was marketed as a watch with “No Dial, No Hands, No Crown.” A curious rallying cry for sure, and a tough thing to picture. But when you see it, it all (kind of) makes sense. For me, the addition of a crown doesn’t feel like too much of a transgression. The visual impression of the Freak X is still completely Freakish in nature.
The Freak [X OPS] is effectively a Freak X that has been outfitted with green carbon fiber composite case flanks that surround a black DLC titanium case. The khaki green color and the naturally layered appearance of the carbon fiber evoke camouflage and a distinct military aesthetic, which is fresh ground for a Freak. It’s also inherently casual, which is another advantage of the Freax X lineup. It just feels a lot more like a “typical” sports watch with a familiar shape and a 43mm case size, which by Freak standards is fairly conservative.
When discussing the Freak, you really have to shift the vocabulary you use in describing how time telling works. According to Ulysse Nardin, there is no “dial” on a Freak. A dial, in its traditional sense, is something that covers up the movement. Here, of course, the movement is not covered. In fact, it’s integrated into the minute “hand” which is actually a one-hour orbital carousel tourbillon. Everything rotates on a disc that sits under the movement. The sense of motion in a Freak is unlike anything else in watchmaking. It’s uncanny to see the movement itself as part of the time telling apparatus, constantly moving around the dial.
As you’d expect, the movement itself is very high end in its construction and materials. The fact that movement itself is constantly in motion presents a specific engineering challenge for the Ulysse Nardin watchmakers, and the precise weight of every movement component needs to be considered as a result. The balance wheel and escapement are both made from silicon, and the entire caliber (the UN-230) is made up of 206 components and provides up to 70 hours of power reserve on a full wind.
The Freak [X OPS] has a retail price of $33,800. More information can be found at the Ulysse Nardin website right here.