The Beauty of Technology Comes: Ulysse Nardin Freak Retrospective

In the 1970s, no one could have predicted that mechanical cheap swiss watches would be in such high demand 50 years later. While it was the marketing genius of a group of luminaries that kept mechanical watches commercially viable, Ulysse Nardin’s technical sophistication sparked a counterrevolution that forever changed the face of watchmaking.

When the brand launched Freak in 2001, it launched a revolution in design, mechanics and materials while staying true to tradition. Its original design came from Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who saw the tourbillon as a new way of displaying time. In fact, the concept of her rotating movement surrounded by a giant mainspring won her the 1997 Fondation Abraham-Louis Breguet Grand Prix, most notably beating out British watchmaker Derek Pugh. Derek Pratt, who had just become the first winner of a natural escapement in a tourbillon watch. Her proposal ultimately underwent a complete reconfiguration under the guidance of Vatican clock restorer Dr. Ludwig Oechslin. Among other things, he relocated the mainspring beneath the gear train on the back of the watch, giving it a week’s worth of power reserve.

The Freak is aptly named as it bears no resemblance to anything ever worn on the wrist. This is the first top luxury replica watches in which mechanics and aesthetics are almost indistinguishable, and movement design is the ultimate practice of aesthetics. It marks the first time that a movement has been deconstructed to express time independently, thereby enabling a new watchmaking language that celebrates machinery, a language that will largely embody the connotation of independent watchmaking today.

Before Freak, watchmaking was a repository of ancient traditions, and watches only emotionally connected us to those traditions. They are usually constructed in a two-dimensional manner, with the mainspring and balance wheel occupying the same plane at the edge of the base plate, which has a hand-swept dial on top. Yet Freaks shocked the world because it challenged and reconfigured centuries-old norms and brought a depth of knowledge that only innovations of wonder and awe can inspire. It has no proper dial and no hands. Instead, mounted on the massive mainspring barrel is a linear gear train that makes one complete revolution every hour and doubles as the watch’s minute hand.

In this construction, the hour wheel arbor is mounted on the mainspring barrel, and when the barrel is deployed, the hour wheel is driven against a fixed peripheral rack. It is held in place by a bridge that acts as an hour hand. At the same time, the hour wheel drives a central pinion, which in turn drives the entire gear train, acting as the minute hand against the upper fixed peripheral rack. The movement therefore dispenses with a crown and a keyless mechanism; the mainspring is wound by simply turning the caseback and the time is set by turning the bezel, as the outer frame is fixed to the inner circumference of the bezel. In addition to this, the Freak was also the first watch to feature a natural escapement, invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1789. The natural escapement has two wheels that rotate in opposite directions, hence its name because each impulse is transmitted directly to the balance wheel which rolls every time it vibrates, making it different from all known watch escapements in use today, and No lubrication is required. The Ulysse Nardin Double Direct Escapement solved the tolerance issues faced by Breguet at the time by replacing traditional metal with precision-shaped silicon components produced by deep reactive ion etching (DRIE). The Freak was therefore the first watch to feature silicon components, thus ushering in the Silicon Age in watchmaking.

The properties of silicon make it an extremely beneficial material for watchmaking. It is one-third as dense as steel and has a lower operating inertia, meaning that much less energy is required to move the silicon components, allowing the movement to run at a higher efficiency. Second, it is harder than steel and has a completely smooth surface, allowing interacting parts to work together without lubrication and with minimal surface wear over time. Third, it can be manufactured by DRIE with extremely high precision and complex geometries, requiring no further intervention after formation. Fourth, it is also highly elastic and therefore impact-resistant, as it is able to spring back to its original shape immediately upon impact. Last but not least, it is also anti-magnetic, negating the effects of long-term enemies.

The first silicon escapement wheel was produced for Ulysse Nardin fake by the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM), a Swiss research institute specializing in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Not only that, the Freak’s double direct escapement cleverly integrates Breguet’s two-stage escapement wheel structure into a single plane. Each escape wheel has 25 teeth, with every fifth tooth protruding slightly and having a pointed end, while the remaining teeth have a flat end. The tooth with a flat tip is used to drive the next escapement wheel, and the pointed tooth contacts the rotation stop, transmitting the impulse directly to the balance wheel on each vibration.

Freak 28’800 V/H: Evolved Freak [2005]
The Freak 28’800 V/h, commonly known as the second generation, was launched in 2005 with an upgraded escapement called the Dual Ulysse Escapement.

The new escapement features 18 identical teeth with hooked tips resembling shark’s teeth, nested on the edge of a modified brake, instead of the first generation’s 25 teeth per escape wheel, 5 of which extend to Brake engages. Since all teeth are now functionally in contact with the stopper, the scan angle per scale is reduced and the mechanism is therefore more stable. Since it takes less time to rotate at a smaller angle, the new movement can adapt to high-frequency balancing, thus increasing from 3Hz to 4Hz, or 28,800vph, which is where the model gets its name.

Additionally, the annular balance has been replaced by a free-spring balance with four recessed adjustment screws and a silicon hairspring surrounding it. In addition to the escapement, the Freak 28’800 V/h also introduces a locking tab to prevent accidental rotation of the bezel.

Freak Diamond Heart 28’800 V/H: Experimental Freak [2005]
2005 also saw the launch of the experimental Freak Diamond Heart 28’800 V/h, introducing the first escapement wheel and balance spring etched from synthetic diamond via DRIE. Synthetic diamond has the same desirable properties as silicon, namely low density and low coefficient of friction, but is harder than silicon, making it more durable. The parts are produced by GFD (Gesellschaft für Diamantprodukte mbH) in Germany, which specializes in growing synthetic diamond using chemical vapor deposition. However, mass production proved impossible due to the high cost.

Ulysse Nardin then started a joint venture with Mimotec in 2006, establishing Sigatec, a manufacturer specializing in silicon parts DRIE and metal parts LIGA (Lithographie, Galvanoformung, Abformung), allowing them to produce lightweight precision parts. , corrosion-resistant and non-magnetic in industrial scale and making it available for use by other sectors of the industry.

Freak Damonsir: Superior Freak [2007]
Eventually, luxury Ulysse Nardin and GFD found a less complex solution by incorporating artificial diamond – DIAMonSIL (or diamond-coated silicon), which is produced by producing a layer of diamond on a silicon substrate. Essentially reinforced silicon, the new material has all the qualities of silicon, including antimagnetism, low density and the ability to be precisely manufactured, but with improved surface hardness to ensure durability.

The result was presented at the Freak DIAMonSIL in 2007, which featured a Ulysse double escapement made of DIAMonSIL. The escapement reaches its pinnacle with new materials, providing high energy transmission efficiency and surface hardness suitable for longevity.

Innovision 1: Radical Freak [2007]
In 2007, Ulysse Nardin also launched the InnoVision 1, a Freak fully committed to its vision of a silicon-driven future. Not only did it show the world the vast potential of silicon to provide better shock resistance, better rate stability, and higher efficiency (qualities that will undoubtedly benefit the end user), but it also showed the world how complex Three-dimensional manufacturing helps watchmakers. The movement has more silicon than the Ulysse double escapement, including a silicon bridge for the double escapement wheel and a dual-material bridge for the gear train, which consists of a central plate made of silicon, flanked by It is a nickel-phosphorus outer bridge, manufactured using LIGA. The use of silicon eliminates the need for gemstones, allowing greater freedom in movement design, while the use of silicon bearings on the bottom bridge of the gear train eliminates the need for oil cups, as no lubrication is required. In addition, it features integral shock protection in silicon integrated into the balance shaft pivoting on a silicon disk. The elasticity of silicon allows the disk to flex and immediately return to its original shape when impacted.

Most notably, the concept watch also introduces three-dimensional silicon components. In its infancy, silicon parts were mostly etched into flat planar parts. But the most critical parts of the oscillator in the InnoVision 1, namely the escapement brake and safety pin, the balance roller and striker pin, as well as each escapement wheel and its pinion, are made of silicon, as one unit, with two levels each. In addition to being manufactured to extremely fine tolerances, these versatile single parts reduce assembly time.

Diavolo: A Complex Monster [2010]
The Freak Diavolo is the first Freak watch to feature a flying tourbillon, which from an operational perspective is the tourbillon of tourbillons. At launch, it featured the most powerful balance wheel in a tourbillon watch, with an inertia of 8mg.cm2 and a frequency of 4Hz, while maintaining an impressive eight-day power reserve.

Normally, when a tourbillon cage is added, the inertia and frequency are bound to be affected, affecting the power and making room for the cage. In the long run, the workhorse ETA 2892 is not a tourbillon and therefore does not have to overcome the additional inertia of the frame, but has the exact same inertia and frequency. This illustrates the advantages of the Freak’s inherent architecture to accommodate the powerful mainspring, while the silicon used in the escapement helps reduce inertia and ensures more efficient power transmission to keep the balance oscillating.

The tourbillon frame also doubles as a seconds hand, allowing time to be read on the semicircular seconds bridge, bringing more practicality to the watch.

Freak Cruiser: Freaks of the Sea [2013]
In 2013, Ulysse Nardin launched the Freak Cruiser, the first Freak watch to be water-resistant to 30m, a fitting tribute to the nautical ties the brand cultivated. The case has been enlarged from 42mm to 45mm, and the iconic bezel (the groove in the original that looked like a bottle cap) has been revamped with a larger, wave-like notch, while the top of the bezel has an elongated sawtooth decoration.

The Cruiser also sees one of the most significant aesthetic improvements to the movement. The bridges for the gear train and balance wheel are now more stylish, with a slender, hollow anchor design that no longer blocks the view of the gear train.

FreakLab: Calendar Freaks [2015]
The 2015 FreakLab did something that no other Freak had done before, which was to add a date complication. After all the groundbreaking advancements the Freak has brought, it’s fun to bring back some normalcy with a complication that’s found in almost every other modern mass-produced watch.

The FreakLab’s date wheel is visible through an aperture at four o’clock. Since there is no crown or winding stem in the watch, the date is set by turning the bezel counterclockwise, and the time is set by turning the bezel clockwise. Notably, the balance wheel is now located in the center of the watch, making it very similar to a typical minute hand. However, the basic architecture of the movement remains the same.

Additionally, the brand continues to demonstrate its expertise in manufacturing silicon components by launching its own silicon anti-shock system, called UlyChoc. While a typical Incabloc shock absorber system consists of a base, sleeve, balance jewel, capstone and anti-shock spring, the UlyChoc contains a silicon spring around the sleeve that houses the jewel and capstone. Upon impact, the elasticity of the silicone allows the rhinestone to move in its setting to absorb the impact, but immediately re-center.

Innovision 2: The Weirdest Weirdest [2017]
The InnoVision 2 is a watch that puts the Freak’s look on steroids and completely proves that its quirky construction (which might suggest a dead end) can evolve in unimaginable ways.

The double constant escapement is one of its 10 innovations. It works on the same principle as a natural escapement but has the added benefit of providing a constant force to the balance regardless of the wind state of the mainspring. This is achieved by building the escapement as a flexible mechanism that will exploit the elasticity of silicon to perform its mechanical function.

The double constant escapement consists of a complex-shaped silicon frame and a pair of integrated blades that flex between the fixed ends when the escape wheel is alternately tensioned, ensuring that the transmission of energy is very precise and consistent with each vibration.

InnoVision 2 also introduces a silicon balance wheel, which incorporates four adjustable gold weights on its periphery to achieve an ideal mass-to-inertia ratio. The balance wheel is extremely light and has micro blades between its spokes to minimize air resistance.

But the most radical evolution was the use of the Grinder automatic winding system, making it the first self-winding Freak watch. The grinder mechanism relies on a flexible circular frame with four pawls that connects the peripheral rotor to the winding wheel of the barrel. Each rotation of the oscillating mass causes one of four pawls on the frame to turn the upper sprocket. The four arms have excellent efficiency, theoretically twice as efficient as traditional automatic mechanisms. This greatly reduces the need for manual winding, although this is still an option by turning the notched caseback.

Other quirks of the watch include a sapphire-coated silicon bridge, a glass bridge with integrated balance shock protection, and a Super-LumiNova filled channel integrated into the glass balance bridge.