Ulysse Nardin’s Freak Blue Cruiser
It is just possible that the modern era of watchmaking truly began in 2001 when Ulysse Nardin introduced its Dual Direct Escapement in the first version of the Freak.
Not only was this particular timepiece groundbreaking in its avant-garde design, but more importantly in its fundamental escapement technology invented by Dr. Ludwig Oechslin.
This Freak premiered a new material for the dual escape wheels: silicon, which Oechslin says it would not have been able to function properly without. Silicon enabled the wheels to be lighter, more efficient, harder, more elastic, more resistant to wear, and above all so friction-free that they did not need lubrication.
Additionally, its name was so inspired and so different from the rest that it couldn’t help but draw attention simply by virtue of its unusual moniker.
Though Ulysse Nardin did its original silicon research as part of a group that included Patek Philippe and Rolex with CSEM (Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique SA), the Le Locle-based company pulled ahead of its competitors in the use of silicon technology fourteen years ago by boldly launching the Freak.
To say that the Freak was futuristic would be putting it mildly. Indeed, it was a timepiece that got the watch connoisseur dreaming not only about what was, but more importantly, what could be.
It could seem anachronistic that such a traditional company, now 168 years old and traditionally known for its marine chronometers, would be the one to start a revolution in mechanical watchmaking.
The 2001 Freak broke nearly every established convention in traditional watchmaking. Ticking within was the industry’s first successful promise of lubrication-free regulation.
A revised version of the Freak called Freak 28,800 V/h was presented at Baselworld 2005. This featured the Dual Ulysse escapement, which was a new and improved version of the Dual Direct escapement. In a version of this model called the Freak Diamond Heart, polycrystalline diamond micro-components were also used.
By 2007, the aptly named InnoVision version of the Freak showcased a number of innovative components including smooth silicon bearings that can be manufactured directly onto silicon bridges and easily added to plates made of other materials. These eliminated the need for jewel bearings and lubrication all together.
The Freak today
In 2011, the Freak Diavolo was introduced, which included a few improvements in the wearing experience such as a catch to prevent the bezel from turning inadvertently.
And it has something else the other versions did not: a display of seconds thanks to the addition of a flying tourbillon at the end of the crazy minute hand. It boasts a little second hand on the tourbillon cage.
This brings us to the current version of the Freak introduced at Baselworld 2014: the Blue Cruiser.
Though Ulysse Nardin’s experimentation is surely far from over, the Blue Cruiser is for me the best and most wearable example of a Freak to date.
The Blue Cruiser still contains the silicon escapement and balance spring components needed to ensure full functionality of Oechslin’s escapement invention, but now boasts seven days of power reserve.
Winding and time-setting continues to be accomplished by the back bezel, leaving the case design undisturbed.
The funky gear train that is simultaneously an indefinable type of karussel posing as the minute hand features a flying tourbillon poised at the end of it, which brings along a display of seconds.
For more information, please visit: www.ulysse-nardin.com/en/swiss_watch_manufacturer/Collection/Exceptional/Freak_Cruiser.
Movement: manually wound Caliber UN-205 with silicon escapement and hairspring and flying tourbillon
Functions: hours, minutes; seconds on tourbillon cage
Case: white or rose gold, 45 x 13.5 mm
Price: $95,000 for white gold version; $87,500 for rose gold case