In a chat with Hiren Kumar Bose Ulysse Nardin’s Head of Product Marketing Jean-Chrsitophe Sabatier on the three innovations included in the brand’s Freak Vision Coral Bay which makes it a groundbreaking watch
Freak has been a cutting-edge collection of Ulysse Nardin. You’ve claimed that Freak Vision Coral Bay is the most advanced Freak to date and a groundbreaking watch. What, according to you, makes it a groundbreaking timepiece?
Over the past two decades, Ulysse Nardin has worked diligently to create engineering masterpieces while pushing the boundaries of traditional watchmaking. Freak has always been considered as the “laboratory on the wrist”, the collection dedicated primarily to receive the numerous brand innovations. The original brief was to imagine a watch with no dial, no crown, no hands and a minimum of components for the movement itself. A tall order! As you know Freak has also been the first watch within the industry to incorporate a silicium escapement (2001), a diamond escapement (2005) and a Dual Ulysse escapement (2007). Yes it’s the most groundbreaking watch Ulysse Nardin has sold since the introduction of the original Freak seventeen years ago: for it carries very strong innovations that has been presented a year ago inside a one-of-a-kind concept-watch, called Innovision II and shows the path to some futures ways of development in the industry.
What sets Freak Vision Coral Bay apart from its earliest iterations?
The first main innovation rests on the heart’s watch with a brand-new silicon balance wheel with nickel inertia blocks and self-stabilizing micro paddles. This innovation focuses on creating a balance wheel that, while incredibly precise and completely free of temperature or magnetic interference, acts as a passive anti-amplitude deviation device due to its unique design. The paddle design of the spokes acts as an air brake when the balance amplitude increases. This helps to maintain more consistent balance amplitude, which consequently results in a much more consistent beat rate and timing.
The second innovation is the Ulysse Anchor Constant Escapement, which, as the name suggests, uses a constant force escapement to provide an ultra-consistent impulse force to the aforementioned silicon balance wheel. The constant force is really one of the best ways to create a very consistent and accurate timepiece. Using the idea of a constant force impulse and building it directly into a previous innovation, the flying anchor escapement (which is only made possible through silicon fabrication technologies such as DRIE), Ulysse Nardin has created a lubricant-free constant force mechanism that extends consistent rate right out to the very end of the power reserve.
And the final innovation in the Freak Vision is the Grinder automatic winding system, a big accomplishment for Ulysse Nardin and an inclusion marking a first for the Freak collection: it makes it the first automatic-winding Freak in history. But it is much more than just a new automatic winding mechanism. It is the only omni-directional, four pawl, ultra-efficient winding mechanism currently available. The Grinder system deviates from normal winding mechanisms in that it doesn’t rely on any rotating mass to wind the watch. Instead, it only relies on lateral movement, in any direction, to wind a central ratchet wheel. Thanks to four very small arms acting both as pawls and winding arms, the tips of the arms hook very small ratchet teeth on the central wheel and, no matter what direction the Grinder plate is sliding, one or more arms will grab the central wheel and rotate it, always in one direction. The amount of lateral movement needed to rotate the centre wheel is very small and when combined with four arms on each general side of the wheel, it makes the Grinder system 50 per cent more efficient than regular winding mechanisms.
With so much in it how was the design of a super-thin case technically achieved with a box-domed crystal?
You’re right. One of the main challenges we have faced has been to reach two contradictory objectives: reduce the thickness of the watch at its maximum and load the watch with a lot of innovations. This has been made possible by the concept itself: the barrel spring is integrated within the volume of the grinder (winding system). It has been also made possible by the addition of a very specifically doomed crystal glass, allowing a very impressive effect in the way the movement is displayed.
In the Reference 2505-250LE/CORALBAY-1 you’ve used a chemical vapor disposition process to achieve the shade of blue used as a backdrop for the coral reef motif. Then, you’ve used gold threads from a bonding machine on both sides of the dial component. Do tell us in detail about the process. How many man-hours does it take to do a single watch?
This process of bonding is a brilliant re-engineering idea i.e. using bonding machine used in the chip production industry. A bonding machine squeezes gold thread on each side, one thread after another, to draw a coral reef motif on the watch movement’s barrel spring bridge. Each thread is a different size, and all are tied only at the top and bottom of the thread, but not in its centre. To create blue and yellow gold coral reef patterns, the watchmaker colours the component and the coral reefs with a chemical vapour disposition process in blue. The entire surface is coloured except the departure and arrival points of the yellow gold threads, which are laser cleaned. Then the yellow gold threads are bonded to the component. The complexity of the motif requires approximately more than 30 hours of work. The process is very recent and Ulysse Nardin is one of the first brands to propose this modern interpretation of the so-called Métier d’Art personalistion in the industry.
In Reference 2505-250LE/CORALBAY-2 you’ve used an array of coral tendrils with red and white acrylic paint mixed directly on the dial and integrated on the spring barrel bridge. Do explain the process for our readers’ benefit?
In this specific reference, we have used a more traditional know-how, as we like to combine different sorts of expertise: red and white acrylic painting on the spring barrel bridge on a CVD blue surface treatment. The master artisan uses lacquer colours that are applied and mixed directly on the dial. Then the dial is heated in an oven at 90 degrees between each colour application; this enables colours to dry and remain firmly in place. Tiniest details are hand-coloured using extremely fine brushes under a magnifying glass. The complexity of the motif requires approximately 20 hours of painting time.