Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision: Promises Realized
Remember when you were a kid and you would ask your mom if you could go to the park, and she would always promise that you could go later?
Or when you asked your dad for a piggyback ride, and he would promise to give you one when he got home from work?
As a kid, I am sure I got distracted and often forgot many of the things that parents, friends, or teachers promised me, even if they did follow through (FYI, I had pretty swell parents, and they usually kept their promises). But there were always some promises that you kept very close track of, like when your parents promised you could get a dog if you got all As on your report card or that the whole family would go to the water park if you could just sit through Father Joseph’s sermon on Sunday without whispering.
Some promises were just too important to forget, and you were supremely aware whether they came true. The same goes for new technologies found in concept watches: they are so interesting that, if you are like me, you pay close attention for any sign that they have been incorporated into a piece available for sale. This could mean groundbreaking materials, prototype mechanisms, and even edgy design cues.
All the things that made you fall in love with a watch would be for naught if you found out it was a concept and you may never see those cool things again.
So when companies follow through and release something previously seen in a concept, it is a reason to rejoice because it is not often the case. Some brands are better than others with this, but one of the best at keeping such promises is Ulysse Nardin.
And this can be seen very clearly in the incredible new Freak Vision.
Building on accomplishments with the Freak
Over the past two decades, Ulysse Nardin has worked diligently to create engineering masterpieces while pushing the boundaries of traditional watchmaking.
Beginning with the Freak in 2001 and continuing with the InnoVision in 2007, new ideas were always brought to the table. By 2017, seven of the ten innovations in the InnoVision had found their way into production pieces, and a new InnoVision 2 was released with ten more impressive, new achievements.
At that time, Ulysse Nardin said it hoped the new innovations would be seen in watches very soon, at least one by 2019. Well that small promise was shattered (for the good) as the new Freak Vision for 2018 contains not just one but three InnoVision 2 features, one year earlier than promised.
These additions make the new Freak Vision not only the most advanced Freak to date, but perhaps the most groundbreaking watch Ulysse Nardin has sold since the introduction of the original Freak seventeen years ago. On top of that, the entire case has been redesigned as well as the “baguette” minute hand (and pretty much the entire movement) to create the most refined and well-mannered (some might say even most beautiful) Freak ever.
It looks to be a giant leap for Freak kind, and it is all thanks to the hard work and technical promises offered by Ulysse Nardin and its engineers.
The Freak’s boundaries pushed
So what exactly makes the Freak Vision the most groundbreaking Freak yet? Let’s delve into that.
It begins with the heart of the watch, the brand-new silicon balance wheel with nickel inertia blocks and self-stabilizing micro paddles. This innovation, one of the stars of the InnoVision 2, focuses on creating a balance wheel that, while incredibly precise and completely free of temperature or magnetic interference, acts as a passive anti-amplitude deviation device due to its unique design.
The nickel inertia blocks allow for precise adjustment of poise and most of the mass of the balance to be kept at the rim (best for rotational inertia).
More importantly, though, the interesting paddle design of the spokes acts as a damper or air brake when the balance amplitude increases, which can happen more dramatically in vertical positions. This helps to maintain a more consistent balance amplitude, which consequently results in a much more consistent beat rate and timing.
Acting like a low-pass filter, the balance wheel paddles interact with minute air currents inside the case and keep the balance wheel from rotating too much or too fast; the paddles slow the balance only at increased speeds. Below a certain threshold (that threshold being the appropriate amplitude) the paddles don’t interact with the turbulent air very much and allow for smooth rotation.
Only with Ulysse Nardin’s advanced manufacturing techniques with silicon could such a feat be accomplished, and while the effect is small, when combined with other innovations, such a detail adds up to a much better timepiece.
Constant flying forces, Batman!
The second inclusion from the InnoVision 2 is the incredible Ulysse Anchor Constant Escapement, which, as the name suggests, uses a constant force escapement to provide an ultra-consistent impulse force to the aforementioned silicon balance wheel. Constant force is really one of the best ways to create a very consistent and accurate timepiece.
Using the idea of a constant force impulse and building it directly into a previous innovation, the flying anchor escapement (which is only made possible through silicon fabrication technologies such as DRIE), Ulysse Nardin has created a lubricant-free constant force mechanism that extends consistent rate right out to the very end of the power reserve.
The Ulysse Anchor Constant Escapement is a variation of what came in the InnoVision 2. It’s a Dual Constant Escapement, though the escape wheels themselves are not the innovation, but the flying anchor (meaning no physical pivot) built into a set of silicon blades and providing the impulse to the balance when the escapement releases.
That this innovation made it into a production piece so soon after its debut says a lot about the tireless research and development that goes on behind the scenes at Ulysse Nardin. The first flying anchor (without constant force) was previewed a few years ago before making its way into a tourbillon. It was only a logical step to introduce the constant force aspect to the component, which came in the InnoVision 2.
Then just one year later a single escape wheel version is now available in a production watch, one of only two production watches (the other being from Girard-Perregaux) that has a silicon-based constant force mechanism.
Making its debut in the latest Freak was pretty much just icing on the cake.
The Grinder is not what you think
And the final InnoVision 2 innovation in the Freak Vision is the Grinder automatic winding system, a big accomplishment for Ulysse Nardin and an inclusion marking a first for the Freak collection: it makes it the first automatic-winding Freak in history.
But that is really only a footnote for the Grinder because it is so much more than just a new automatic winding mechanism. It is the only omni-directional, four pawl, ultra-efficient winding mechanism currently available.
The Grinder system deviates from normal winding mechanisms in that it doesn’t rely on any rotating mass to wind the watch. Instead, it only relies on lateral movement, in any direction, to wind a central ratchet wheel.
Thanks to four very small arms acting both as pawls and winding arms, the tips of the arms hook very small ratchet teeth on the central wheel and, no matter what direction the Grinder plate is sliding, one or more arms will grab the central wheel and rotate it, always in one direction.
The amount of lateral movement needed to rotate the center wheel is very small and when combined with four arms on each general side of the wheel, it makes the Grinder system 50 percent more efficient than regular winding mechanisms.
On top of that, a small rotating weight was added to the sliding Grinder plate to increase the amount of lateral movement and increase efficiency even more. Since it’s now automatic, gone is the need for the extreme power reserves of the previous Freak models: this one has 50 hours. Having at least a three-day power reserve would have been nice, making that possibly the only downside of the Freak Vision, but I am inclined to believe that a larger power reserve will return quickly.
Best of the rest: design
With all of the innovative technical bits out of the way (at least the new ones deriving from the InnoVision 2), the design of the Freak Vision is a rather large departure from the previous models.
While clearly maintaining the signature display style, winding and time-setting mechanisms, and wild appearance, the Freak Vision has made a gentleman out of the Freak.
Well, sort of.
The case has been entirely redesigned to be smoother, cleaner, and a bit thinner thanks to the loss of the fluted bezel and reshaped proportions. The addition of a box sapphire crystal has thinned out the bezel even more, and three triangular shields have been added for texture, keeping the rest of the time-setting bezel smooth. The dial is also much simpler, eliminating all numerals in favor of basic printed markers on a sapphire crystal ring.
The minute hand/movement bridge shape has been greatly simplified as well, mimicking the shape of a boat hull (it’s always nautical with Ulysse Nardin) instead of an intricately shaped or skeletonized framework that is so often seen in the Freak.
The only writing on the dial is the typical Ulysse Nardin name, and even that has gone from a serif typeface to more modern sans serif letters. It is an exercise in restraint on a piece that has more than enough visual interest to keep the eye occupied.
That is the sign of a matured design, allowing the standout components to shine while letting the rest fade into the background. The Freak Vision will still grab everybody’s attention, that is for sure, but with the cleaner design, I believe that people who may have been on the fence before may honestly consider it as a viable option. Perhaps that is bending to conservative sensibilities, but it also seems like a nice change of pace for the Freak.
As anyone knows, I like the wild and off the wall. Heck, my favorite crazy watch of all time is still the rotary inspired ZR012 from C3H5N3O9. And I have always loved the Freak from the moment I first saw it.
But I love when clean design aesthetics are applied to something beyond the fringe as a way to bridge the gap of the incredible with the mundane. It is a way to keep you staring at the sky, but allowing you to also keep your feet on the ground.
There is so much technical innovation in the Freak Vision that the new design direction for the Freak Vision could be a nice fork in the road for the Freak collection. Wilder and crazier versions of the Freak are sure to come, but sensibly considered versions could also be a good idea; two sides to the same coin for different types of people.
The Freak Vision has renewed my vigor for the Freak line, and as Ulysse Nardin fulfills promises set out in the InnoVision 2, the brand makes its way back to the front of my “favorite brands” list. Keep on killing it, UN!
And while they kill it, I’ll break it down!
Wowza Factor * 9.89 A Freak is no freak to me, but it definitely makes me freak!
Late Night Lust Appeal * 120 1,176.798m/s2 The lust is for real with this Freak. It’s enough to keep me going for days, not just one night!
M.G.R. * 70.4 A continuation of the Freak architecture with mechanics found in the InnoVision 2? Heck yeah!
Added-Functionitis * N/A Like nearly always, some of the best stuff just tells the time, albeit in an awesome way. So again there is no need for Gotta-HAVE-That cream, but that’s alright with me!
Ouch Outline * 11.7 A migraine while stuck in a traffic jam! I deal well with pain, unless it is in my noggin. So getting severe headaches while inching through rush hour traffic is one of my worst nightmares. And yet, if it meant getting the Freak Vision on my wrist permanently, I would gladly take one for the team!
Mermaid Moment * Instantly and constantly! Some things are love at first sight and some things constantly remind you how much you love it. The Freak Vision makes me want to start planning the seating arrangement for the reception!
Awesome Total * 1000 Multiply the caliber number (250) by the number of arms on the Grinder system (4) and you have a sufficiently innovative awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.ulysse-nardin.com/product/freak-freak-vision.
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision
Case: 45 mm, platinum with titanium and rubber
Movement: automatic winding Caliber UN-250, 50-hour power reserve, Grinder automatic winding
Functions: hours, minutes, one-hour flying carrousel
Price: 95,000 Swiss francs