A watch called ‘Freak’

A watch called ‘Freak’

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Hiren Kumar Bose on the watch without hands, dial or crown which created a sensation and took mechanical timepieces to a new level

How could anyone call his/her creation ‘freak’? Isn’t it outrageous? It is like calling one’s child ‘stupid or an ‘idiot’. That’s what Ulysse Nardin did in 2001 unveiling a watch without hands, without dial or crown, and with an amazingly simple, novel escapement that needed no lubrication.

Freak 28’800 V/h

Brainchild of Dr Ludwig Oechslin, the Freak 28’800 V/h indicated the time by the rotation of the movement. The arrow decorating the main spring barrel indicating the hour while the upper bridge, fitted with the balance wheel assembly and its revolutionary Dual Ulysse Escapement, revolves once every hour indicating the minutes. During its 60 minute rotation, the upper bridge laid bare the mechanics of time. The centre axis pivots in the sapphire crystal of the watch case. In other tourbillons, the balance wheel assembly moves once every minute in a cage, however, in the Freak 28’800 V/h, the entire movement, including the balance wheel assembly, rotated once an hour inside the watch case.  It was a radical approach to time keeping and a clutter breaker.

The Freak created a commotion among watch enthusiasts and inspired many other companies to take mechanical timepieces to a new level.  The buzz was that though a watch it was much beyond that. Incidentally, the Freak was the first to use silicium escapement. In 2005 it followed up with a diamond escapement  and the Dual Ulysse escapement.

Since then Freak has had several avatars like Freak Black Out, Freak Blue Phantom, Freak Diamond Heart, Freak Diamond on Silicium and Freak Diavolo. The Freak’s bezel possesses one of the most eye-catching designs in the world of horology. Not the ordinary round bezel but cutouts and engravings along the bezel offering unique shapes and designs that appeals to the eyes.

Fifteen years since its birth, Ulysse Nardin introduced the Freak Lab at the 2015 BaselWorld.

Continuing the Freak’s avant-garde design with neither dial nor hands, it is constructed so that the movement turns about its own axis. Connected together at the centre of this unusual ship, the lower deck thus displays the hours, while the upper deck – which carries the gear train, the balance-wheel and balance-spring unit and the exclusive Dual Ulysse silicium escapement – shows the minutes.

Freak Lab

The Dual Ulysse escapement also marks a significant technical advance: it has abandoned the traditional pallet fork and escape wheel. Two silicium impulse wheels, each with 18 active, meshing teeth, alternately activate a stopper which transmits its energy directly to the balance staff, first in one direction, then in the other. Thus this mechanism, which requires no lubrication, always delivers its force in the direction of the rotation of the balance wheel, minimising friction.

On the new FreakLab, the entire floating upper bridge has been completely redesigned. First, the gear train has been made smaller in order to reposition the balance-wheel and balance-spring at the center of the movement.  This operation lightened the whole and made it easier to read the hours. At the same time, the oscillating unit has been equipped with UlyChoc shock absorbers, entirely designed, developed and produced in-house.

Easily legible, the FreakLab and features the date at 4 o’clock. A classical system comprises five micro-elements: the block, the setting, the jewel, the counterpivot and the spring. With simplification in mind and special focus on efficiency, Ulysse Nardin replaced three of these functions with a single one-piece component made of silicium, a genuine world first which is the subject of a patent application. This solution avoids forces of play and friction, enabling the balance staff to be perfectly re-centered in the event of an impact.

Flaunting more of a corsair facade than ever, with an anchor to show the hours and a bridge representing a sail for the minutes, the FreakLab is phenomenally easy to manipulate. A safety clip between the horns at 6 o’clock frees the rotating bezel sculpted in the shape of waves. This is used to set the hours and minutes when rotated clockwise, and the date when rotated anticlockwise. And the mainspring barrel – designed for a power reserve of more than seven days – is wound by the other bezel. Thus the two bezels, front and back, are constituent parts of movements.