When Ulysse Nardin’s brand new CEO Patrick Pruniaux unveiled the Freak Out in June via the #FreakMeOut campaign on social media, I cheered. The Freak has been an icon in watchmaking since 2001. It’s also appeared in numerous Revolution editorials. Then-owner and CEO Rolf Schnyder and technical director Ludwig Oechslin offered a breakthrough technology in the Freak – silicon. 17 years on, silicon is everywhere in watchmaking. But it’s Ulysse Nardin that’s driven it forward.

The Freak then was a rare creature, with the innovative Ulysse Nardin-designed movement housed in gold. It was different from the typical ‘avant-garde’ watches of the noughties, combining old-world and new-world in one. Over time the Freak has changed, adding a new escapement design and improved silicon components. But it maintains its exclusivity through a premium price and rare case materials. That is, until Pruniaux came on board.

Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin

Pruniaux was appointed as the CEO of the brand in September 2017 by the Kering Group

To understand the strategy behind the Freak Out, you need to know Pruniaux’s background. Before entering watches, he was in the wines and spirits business with Diageo and then LVMH. Then he spent time in TAG Heuer’s sales department when Jean-Christophe Babin was CEO. Following that, he joined the LVMH Retail Committee until he was hired by Apple to launch the Apple Watch.

Through it all, he’s mastered how innovation and premium products need to be filtered through to the masses to strengthen a brand’s equity. After all, if you have a good thing, it shouldn’t be kept a secret, at least not when retail is concerned.

The Freak Out

So while the Freak itself remains a precious Ulysse Nardin highlight, a more affordable option in titanium and steel makes sense. Though at 48,000 CHF, it’s not quite the average watch buyer’s option, the Freak Out offers great value. And at 45mm, it’s not the smallest of timepieces, but it’ll fit under shirt cuffs. Honestly, I don’t see why you’d want to hide this. If I’m wearing a Freak Out on my wrist, I’ll wear it Agnelli style.

One of the four Freak Outs released this year, the all-black model. (Image © Revolution)

The titanium-steel case continues the innovative storyline for the Freak, but to be honest, titanium cases aren’t regarded as an anomaly these days. Though Ulysse Nardin doesn’t specify the titanium grade, improved machining technology has made it far more cost-friendly for production. Add to that its durability and you can see why it was chosen. The case itself takes design references from the Innovision 2, with a rim-like structure that makes it easier to grip and adjust the time.

The case back reveals the mainspring and power reserve status. (Image © Revolution)
All four models of the new Freak Out.

The calibre UN-205 that powers the watch has been around for 5 years now and has been well-tested on its reliability. It wields the UN Dual Ulysse escapement, one of a handful of Swiss anchor alternatives that has been industrialised. The mainspring, hidden under and spanning the entire 45mm case, delivers a power reserve of 7 days. Winding it is via the caseback, and a full turn gives 12 hours of power. The ‘Freak’ label between the bottom lugs of the case doubles as a bezel lock, which adjusts the time.

The calibre UN-205 features the Dual Ulysse escapement with silicon wheels. It improves energy transmission, requires no lubrication and minimal maintenance. (Image © Revolution)

The sportier appeal of the watches also explain why the company opted for a sailcloth strap instead of a leather strap. It’s certainly ideal for humid climates and sports activities. The UN-205 calibre does away with the central pin that supports the entire movement, which makes it more durable to shock. That endorses the sporty look of the timepiece.

Freak owners may bemoan the loss of exclusivity on a unique Ulysse Nardin design, but I believe the Freak Out widens that club. It definitely earns our thumbs up.

More information: thehourglass.com