Under a seasonably overcast day this week at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London, Ulysse Nardin unveiled the coming chapter of their renowned Freak collection – the Freak NeXt. Aptly named, the concept watch shows a reworked flying silicon oscillator with no axis, reducing the chance of friction in the movement down to near zero. A project that has been 10 years in the making, the Freak NeXt holds as much symbolism as it does technical innovation: it represents what’s happening at their manufacture in Le Locle, Switzerland, as well as where they plan on going next (pardon the pun).
Presenting the piece was Ulysse Nardin’s dynamic and friendly CEO, Patrick Pruniaux, whose energy is comparable to the Freak NeXt’s vibrant silicon oscillator (more on that later). At Ulysse Nardin since 2017, Pruniaux looks and acts like the CEO of Today, a fitting example of the next generation of people who are filling executive positions in the watch industry at a rapid rate. At ease as he presented the Freak NeXt, Pruniaux was also visibly excited about this next chapter: “It’s innovation with a purpose, not just for the sake of saying we can do it. We went from doing different iterations of this innovative movement to really wanting to create a family – a Freak collection that makes sense and is permanent for us, with a number of references that are thought through. There’s the Freak X, the Innovision, the Vision, and now the NeXt – so you can see the evolution from model to model. We always ask ourselves a lot of questions in development to make sure each coming model makes sense within the collection – how does it fit in with the rest of this family?”
Now, the Freak (and every iteration since) has always looked and felt like a different type of watch than any other piece in the industry – the collection is instantly recognizable and does not go unnoticed. When Ulysse Nardin presented the first model in 2001, it showed how traditional watchmaking could be avant-garde in terms of design and technological advancements – after all, it was the first watch to use silicon components (now a norm in modern watchmaking), and the design was decidedly futuristic and visually arresting, with the baguette movement rotating on its own axis and serving as the minute hand and the arrow-shaped bridge serving as the hour hand.
And in the almost two decades since, Ulysse Nardin has used the Freak collection as a centerpiece for its most daring research and development. The Freak NeXt shows all of that original innovation and more, this time with a silicon flying oscillator that is mesmerizing to watch.
The Freak NeXt’s flying oscillator is built out of five layers – one solid layer that serves as a flywheel, and the other four are comprised of 32 silicon blade springs. It beats with a frequency of 12 Hz, a rate that is triple that of the Freak that came before it, for an impressive 70-hour power reserve (also an increase from the last Freak). The multi-layered construction of the oscillator shows the triangles working as “beams,” and the points where they crisscross working as the pivot points. This means there’s no need for actual pivots or jewels, reducing the chance of friction to essentially none (the only remaining factor for friction is air and, well, we can’t really do without air).
There’s no balance bridge for the oscillator – it looks as though its suspended underneath the sapphire glass, beating like the brisk flutter of a hummingbird’s wings. An incredibly complex construction and show of microengineering, the Freak NeXt’s oscillator shows that pushing technological boundaries remains as the forefront for Ulysse Nardin.
For the NeXt, Ulysse Nardin opted for a white palette – it looks high-tech, almost as if its from a Star Wars future Lucasfilm has yet to imagine. The 45mm case is platinum and titanium, with white Super-LumiNova on the bezel, hands and plates on each side of the case. The baguette movement is angular, like a trapezoid, inspired by spaceships from our favorite science fiction universes, framed by four luminescent tubes also filled with Super-LumiNova. The Ulysse Nardin logo in its classic colors is positioned on a transparent lens underneath the baguette movement.
The star of the show – the flying oscillator – stands out on the stark white palette of the watch, reflecting blue, purple, or green hues depending on how the light hits it. The Freak NeXt comes with a matching white rubber strap with white and dark blue stitching or white alligator strap. While this was presented as a concept watch and isn’t available for sale (yet), there are rumblings of slight fine tuning needed before it becomes commercially available. But one thing is for sure: the technological advancements witnessed in the Freak NeXt are bound to have effects in anything that Ulysse Nardin will present in the coming years – effects that will likely mirror those from the original Freak.
Wanting to continue the legacy of the Freak, Pruniaux says: “Innovation is not foreign to Ulysse Nardin. The Freak NeXt is the next chapter of this collection, and there will be many more, but what’s important to me is that each model remains coherent with the one that came before it – there has to be continuity in that we keep innovating on a product that, in its essence, is already innovative. It’s the culmination of years of research for us and Stéphane [Von Gunten], Director of Research and Innovation here, and it is also a beginning.”
UN-25X Caliber; automatic movement with 12 Hz oscillating frequency; silicon flying balance wheel; oscillator with flexible pivot point; 70-hour power reserve
45mm platinum and titanium; sandblasted and satin or polished finish
White rubber or white alligator