Ulysse Nardin has opened a Pop-Up display at the Watches of Switzerland Soho boutique in New York City (at 60 Greene Street) where the Swiss watchmaker will display many of its most recent technical marvels.
At the display, which runs through this September, visitors can see watches from the newest Freak collections such as the Freak X (including one model with a stunning marquetry dial) and the Freak Vision.
Also at the Ulysse Nardin Pop-Up (located on the lower level of the boutique, alongside the library and a full-service bar) visitors can also try on examples from Ulysse Nardin’s Executive Skeleton X collection (including the volcanic Skeleton X Magma), the Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel and the Marine Mega Yacht, a $310,000 platinum timepiece that sails thanks to a host of patented, marine-themed displays.
In addition to eying and trying on many of these complicated watches, visitors can also explore the technology behind the watches using a virtual reality device that deconstructs the UN-230 movement into individual components in an interactive manner.
“Visitors will be able to engage with the brand in a way they haven’t before and to enjoy our playful and disruptive digital experience,” says François-Xavier Hotier, President Ulysse Nardin Americas.
To prepare you for your visit to the Ulysse Nardin Pop-Up, iW asked Stéphane Von Gunten, the watchmaker’s research & innovation director, to highlight the innovations he and his staff have built into the most recent additions to the Freak family.
Below, Von Gunten explains the differences and similarities of the Freaks, including the groundbreaking Freak NeXt, and hints at an upcoming addition to the Tourbillon Free Wheel collection, another technically complex design from Ulysse Nardin.
Can you give us an overview of the three Freak families?
The idea is to have one family with fathers and brothers and sisters. The Freak X, which I call the baby Freak sometimes, can be a daily use Freak, the everyday Freak. It is quite impressive because you have the minute gear train visible and it is easy to set using the crown.
If you want something more elegant, look for the Freak Vision models or even the more contemporary Freak Out models. It depends on what you are looking for. We have a whole family of Freaks. But the goal of this year’s Freak X is to make the Freak more accessible, beyond the Freak collectors.
The differences also lie in the materials. The Freak Vision is in platinum and gold, and there is also the constant force escapement, which is not on the Freak X, and neither is the Grinder winding mechanism, which is twice as efficient. And, for comparison, the Freak NeXt used essentially the same case design as the Freak Vision.
What was the genesis of the Freak NeXt project? What was the goal?
We have worked for many years on this. I did that first patent in 2009. This is in the same line as the Innovision 1 and the Innovision 2. On those watches we had ten innovations (including a flying anchor escapement and flying tourbillon), and for the new Freak NeXt, we have added the new flying oscillator.
With no axis, we avoid the friction between the shock absorber and the shock. There is no pivot and no jewels. When we do this we improve the power reserve. We have a 12 Hz frequency and a seventy-hour power reserve. With standard watches, this high frequency typically means power reserve is considerably lower, but not here. This is quite a breakthrough.
The goal was to develop a new type of oscillator with improved efficiency. For this watch we have four layers in the spring structure–there is no hairspring anymore. It oscillates around the center and there is no bridge because it is floating. This works in the vertical and horizontal positions.
What did collectors tell you about NeXt?
Collectors say they like it when they see something new and impressive. They tell us that this is quite a breakthrough in watchmaking. Since the hairspring was invented in 1675, it hasn’t changed too much. We are in a very interesting phase with mechanical watches today because like other brands we are investigating new systems.
Is improving the oscillator the biggest challenge today for watchmaking in general?
There are today different areas where watchmakers are competing. You can, for example, work on innovative displays as we have done on the Mega Yacht watch. But for Innovision, we’re doing this for technical reasons, not simply marketing or aesthetic reasons. So we have both–technical innovation as well as the marketing argument. I call it a laboratory on the wrist because you see the minute train and the oscillator is very visible.
Of course we are very strong developing silicon. We are pioneers using this and we have our own factory. We are also seeing a trend using carbon composite materials. We new models using this, like the Executive Skeleton X in Carbonium. We use Carbonium gold, which is very nice. It shows gold within the carbon fibers and in the sun it’s very nice.
Many customers enjoy lightweight watches now. But the only technical reason to use these is the lightweight.
Will this technology be seen in serial collections any time soon?
There are still many challenges until that time. This is quite difficult to assemble because of the five layers and the spacers, all of which are assembled by our watchmakers. And I can tell you that the small spacers we use for this are quite tiny. They are made of silicon and they are 0.5mm by 0.5mm. If we can manage to produce this oscillator in one piece, that would be very useful for us for serial production.
We’ll use this in other models inside more basic movements, not the Freak. Because this new oscillator is the same dimension as a traditional oscillator, we can use it in existing calibers.
We received a good response from the market when we launched this and we have decided to produce twelve pieces of the Freak NeXt, all to be completed by the end of this year. We will not do any other colors or other models with this NeXt, and it will have a twelve-year warranty.
Why a twelve-year warranty?
We chose twelve because it matches the oscillator rate (12 Hz), and we will make twelve pieces. We already have a five-year warranty on all of our watches. In fact we were the second company in the industry to offer this, after Rolex. On every silicon component we already offer a ten-year warranty across the board. This shows that we are confident about this technology.
What are the primary challenges to taking this to serial production?
This is quite a challenge because we had to calculate all of the dimensions of the blade structure. The crossing point for the beams is a triangle component, and without this structure the amplitude would be very small and could not work with the standard escapement. We wanted it to work with our constant force escapement. This escapement is the same one we have on the Freak Vision.
The idea was to replace the conventional balance wheel and hairspring. Unlike the Defy Inventor from Zenith, which occupies the whole surface of the watch, this is something using the similar size space as a more conventional watch. The Freak was the right watch to use for this because it is our laboratory on the wrist. But in the future maybe we can integrate its oscillator in more common calibers.
How do you balance the classical watchmaking technology with these futuristic methods and materials?
We do this the variety of product lines we offer. We have our Marine collection to really connect with our historical roots, our Classical lines and of course our Freak collection to encompass our new technology, and with this type of balance we can talk about many things. At this company we have a lot of freedom to consider different materials and new technologies. Ulysse Nardin offers a wide selection, from elegant to modern, and with basic to very high technology, which you don’t find in other brands. New or experienced buyers will find something of interest.
Any teasers for upcoming debuts?
Look for something new in the Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel, which originally debuted two years ago. This was also my baby. At first nobody wanted to attempt this design, which I devised as a tribute to the mysterious watches and clocks of the past.
It has been quite a big success. The idea is to have some components on the dial and some of the wheels under the dial. The energy comes from 12 o’clock with barrels and goes under the dial, and returns to the tourbillon at 6 o’clock. This is why I considerate it like the mystery clocks because you don’t see where the energy is coming from.
For the power reserve indicator and we had the gear train on the left, then we go back under the dial and showed indicator across the dial on the right. We will have some additions to this collection in the coming months.