The timepieces from Ulysse Nardin are definitely works of art, with exceptional qualities in their own right!
After all, this technologically advanced Swiss maker of luxury timepieces has, over the years, made a name for itself through its huge catalogue of award-winning marine chronometers and also with a slew of innovative mechanical watches.
Founded in 1846 in the municipality of Le Locle, in Switzerland’s Jura Mountains, Ulysse Nardin was thus once mainly considered a tradition-bound maker of nautical-inspired wristwatches.
But the brand was reinvigorated partly through the sale of themed watches from the mid-19th century, and once again in 2001 when the brand introduced the Freak – a groundbreaking watch with an orbital movement that laid the groundwork for the unconventional watch designs that are now almost commonplace in the watch industry.
Previously owned by French luxury group Kering until 2022, Ulysse Nardin was subsequently purchased outright by its own management and now, the company has proudly announced its arrival as a truly independent horological brand.
Recently in Malaysia as the honoured guest of Ulysse Nardin’s exclusive Malaysian retailer The Hour Glass, the watch brand’s chief product officer Jean-Christophe Sabatier was certainly keen to talk about the sense of freedom surrounding the brand.
“Actually, if you look at our history, we’ve always been independent. Sure, the past seven years saw us as part of a large, family-owned luxury group, but Ulysse Nardin has always kept the same kind of entrepreneurial culture and mindset intact,” he declares with pride.
He goes on to say that the brand now has over 350 people on its payroll – from watchmakers to those on its management team.
“So, ours is a medium-sized company offering more intimacy which we utilise to smoothen out our daily work experience, thus independence is a constant state of mind for us.
“And for that reason, being independent – in our thought process, in creating innovative solutions and in how we approach different challenges – is something that’s quite natural all this while,” he continues.
With over three centuries of tradition, watchmaking has very conservative methods attached to it. So, watch brands following this will naturally always produce timepieces in the same way.
“Thus, technical breakthroughs are difficult things! But we proudly stand for innovation,” stresses Sabatier.
“We have set up and invested in a company called Sigatec, which produces silicon (a hard, crystalline solid material with a blue-grey metallic lustre) used in our own watch escapements and movements.”
He notes that silicon has innovated watchmaking since the past decade as it improves watch stability, performance and accuracy. This is because the material is resistant to magnetic interference and thermal fluctuations, while keeping its shape forever and doesn’t require lubrication.
“Silicon components form the heart of our watch movements, and is present in the balance spring or hairspring. These are some of the smallest watch components that are critical for its accuracy.
“They are difficult to make and few companies can do it. Ulysse Nardin has now mastered making such delicate technical components and is now the pioneers of silicon technology for timepieces,” he says.
Obviously, achieving sustainability is a challenge for watchmakers today, and it’s no different for Ulysse Nardin.
“So it’s also very important for luxury products to be exemplary in this concern,” Sabatier opines.
“Otherwise we may lose our purpose or even legitimacy when our products are examined by the next generation of consumers who will become our future customers,” he says.
He continues: “I have three children, and like many within the company who have families, I am always thinking about their future.
“That is why we have introduced timepieces made from sustainable materials, like last year’s Ocean Race Diver.”
He says its 44mm case is made almost exclusively using recycled stainless steel from old cars.
“The flanks and caseback utilise a mixture of Carbonium − a composite made from recycled aircraft fuselages and wings − and Nylo, a polyamide derived from discarded fishing nets.
“We are also encouraging sustainability among our own, generally high-worth, clientele. They usually have a degree of influence within their own circles. By inspiring them positively, they in turn will do the same for others.
“As a luxury brand, we need to make a difference in this way,” he adds.
But Sabatier agrees that changing perceptions is a long-term process.
“We place our hopes on a two-pronged approach.
“First we lead by example, like going absolutely plastic waste-free in our own day-to-day at the company.
“For example, watchmakers use ‘fingers’ − disposable plastic sleeves that prevent scratches on timepieces that they are working on. We collect all these used ‘plastic fingers’ and recycle them properly.“Our second sustainability axis involves making most of our watch components ourselves.
“We still buy some components from suppliers, but we try our best to influence them in raising their own sustainability standards.
“I’m now always asking these questions to the people who do business with us: What happens to the waste you produce? Where do you buy your raw materials?
“It is my hope that this will positively impact our own supply chain as more and more suppliers in this process change their habits for the better,” says Sabatier, a keen scuba diver.
THE original Freak timepiece is the brainchild of the late Ulysse Nardin owner Rolf Schnyder and fellow renowned Swiss watchmaker, designer and inventor Ludwig Oechslin.
The iconic watch with no crown to wind and set time, no conventional hands to point hours and minutes and no conventional dial has since appeared in several variants, and many would definitely agree that its latest 2023 edition — the Freak ONE — is the most fetching thus far!
Since its birth in 2001, the Freak watch series has continuously wowed with innovative ideas that have transformed the once conservative ways of watchmaking.
“But more than anything else, the Freak embodies our mindset,” says Jean-Christophe Sabatier, Ulysse Nardin’s chief product officer.
“And our latest Freak ONE is a fresh expression of who we are. It’s a highly technical watch, but it also has intense emotional value.
“When you set the time with the bezel, you experience something vital. This is what makes the Freak so special and why true collectors love it,” he says.
“The Freak ONE also fuses the visual dynamics of previous generations of the watch, from the notched bezel of the original 2001 Freak to the open gear train of the Freak Cruiser of 2013 and the legibility codes of the 2018 Freak Vision.
Meanwhile, the black DLC-coated titanium and rose gold detailing echoes recent Freak iterations, just like last year’s Freak S,” he adds.
The Freak ONE brings with it a series of complex updates:
Bezel and Locker
The watch’s unconventional time-setting system is operated via the bezel. It is activated when the locker at the six o’clock is lifted, releasing the setting system. Turning the bezel rotates the entire movement, which also doubles as the watch’s hands.
The black sunray-engraved barrel cover sits underneath the movement and doubles as the rotating hour disc, making a full rotation once every 12 hours. The hour is indicated by a V-shaped pointer that is filled with Super-LumiNova to aid low-light legibility.
The watch’s distinctive minute bridge hovers under the sapphire crystal and carries the entire gear train, an oversized silicon oscillator and also an orbital 60-minute flying carrousel tourbillon. Its escapement is also treated with Ulysse Nardin’s patented DIAMonSIL coating.
Grinder Winding System
The Freak ONE’s automatic movement has a 72-hour power reserve. Its patented Grinder winding system has been designed to capture energy with even the smallest of wrist movements. Its rotor is connected to a frame carrying four blades, which gives the system twice the angular stroke, a bit like a bicycle fitted with four pedals instead of two.
Integrated Rubber Strap
The Freak ONE adheres to Ulysse Nardin’s drive towards a more sustainable future. As such, up to 30% of its rubber strap material is made of recycled items like discarded fishing nets and waste from the brand’s own production line.
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