Ulysse Nardin Freak One Ops Reporting for Duty in Military Green
by Martin Green
Many brands claim to have unique watches in their collection, but one that really owns this claim is Ulysse Nardin’s Freak. This collection of groundbreaking watches started in 2001. It immediately stood out for many reasons, including not having a crown. Time was set by turning the bezel, while rotating the caseback winds the watch.
Featuring a dual direct escapement, Ulysse Nardin had to venture into the world of silicon to move from theory to production, making it a pioneer in this field. As the movement itself revolved, it told time like no other watch had ever done before.
For Ulysse Nardin, the Freak turned into a laboratory for the wrist, as after the initial version, many others followed. In 2005, the brand updated the original design by increasing the frequency from 3Hz to 4Hz and replacing the dual direct escapement with a new design featuring indirect impulse.
That year, Ulysse Nardin also started experimenting with new materials, as they were one of the first brands to fashion movement parts out of synthetic diamonds for the Freak Diamond Heart. While very costly, the next step proved to have more staying power, as Ulysse Nardin launched the Freak DiamonSil in 2007. Here, silicon parts have a diamond coating, combining the best of both worlds more cost-effectively.
The initial idea for the Freak came from Carole Forestier, best known for her work creating high-complications at Cartier and now working her magic at TAG-Heuer. It was intended to be a central carousel tourbillon movement, and for this concept, Forestier was awarded the Prix de la Fondation Abraham-Louis Breguet.
In 2010, the Freak Diavolo featured a flying tourbillon. It doubles as a seconds hand, but as itself is also part of the construction that acts as the minute hand, it also makes a full rotation every hour as well. While the Freak is a rather complex watch by itself, it had to wait until 2015 to get its first complication when the Freak Lab came on the market which featured a date.
With the Freak Vision of 2018, the watch would also get automatic winding, through the special grinder automatic winding system that Ulysse Nardin pioneered in the Freak Innovision 2, a concept watch they presented the year before.
As experimenting is never cheap, neither was the Freak. This led Ulysse Nardin to create some versions of the model that got a (slightly) more accessible price tag.
In 2018, a step was taken with the Freak Out, but it was the Freak X from a year later that really broke boundaries. As this watch also features a crown and a smaller diameter of 43mm, it is the most conventional member of the Freak Collection, and one that can be worn with ease.
This didn’t mean that Ulysse Nardin discontinued the more hardcore version, as in 2022, we saw the introduction of the mesmerizing Freak S, and they continued the saga early this year with the launch of the Freak ONE.
This also formed the base of the Freak ONE Ops, launched during Dubai Watch Week earlier this year.
Can a Freak ever be stealthy?
For the Freak ONE Ops, Ulysse Nardin played with materials and color. The 44mm large case is made from titanium with a black Diamond-like-carbon (DLC) with a Carbonium bezel. This is a material that Ulysse Nardin has been using since 2019.
Ulysse Nardin claims that it is a more environmentally friendly material, as it uses carbon fiber scraps from the aviation industry. This is mixed with epoxy and molded into one substance under high heat and pressure.
While the positive environmental impact of producing a bezel this way seems to be marginal in the larger scheme of things, anything helps. The material has a beautiful texture, uniting different monochrome hues.
It also sets the stage for the military green chapter ring and what looks like the dial but isn’t. The textured surface is the barrel cover under which a large mainspring is placed, giving this watch an impressive 90-hour power reserve.
The unique automatic grinder system that winds the watch can be admired through the sapphire insert of the caseback, but for the rest the fun is at the front of the dial.
Here, you can see the gear train that doubles as time indicator, with two bold arrows marking the hours and the minutes.
The main attraction is the oversized oscillator and balance spring, which is made from silicon. The escapement is also treated with the DIAMonSIL technology that Ulysse Nardin pioneered. This clearly shows how innovations from the past have proved their staying power.
The rubber strap matches the color of the barrel cover and chapter ring and is made with 30% recycled rubber.
It is very good looking, especially in combination with the folding clasp in titanium with black DLC coating and black ceramic, but the positive environmental impact feels a bit marginal. Perhaps Ulysse Nardin should make it the central theme of a new version of the Freak.
While every little step helps, the Freak is about breaking boundaries. While this is not the most revolutionary version, it is beautiful and takes the concept into a more sportive direction, undoubtedly tempting even more watch connoisseurs to get a laboratory on their wrist.
For more information, please visit www.ulysse-nardin.com/usa_en/2403-500-8a-3a
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Freak One Ops
Case: 44 mm x 12 mm, black DLC-coated titanium with Carbonium bezel
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-250, 60-minute tourbillon carousel, 90-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency, Grinder automatic winding, silicon balance wheel
Functions: hours, minutes
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