It’s often said that painting was never the same after Picasso; the same could be said of the art of watchmaking, and the watch known as the Ulysse Nardin Freak. The Freak was launched in its first version at the start of the new century, and it was one of the very few watches of the last century that can really be called “revolutionary.” The Freak did away with almost every feature of a normal watch –instead of hands, the entire movement rotates once per hour under its gigantic sapphire crystal, acting as the minute hand of the watch (an hour hand is driven by the rotating movement as well.)
The Freak has no conventional winding and setting crown –instead, the time is set by rotating the substantial knurled bezel, and the enormous mainspring powering this horological extravaganza takes up the entire diameter of the case, making the case essentially part of the movement as well. On top of everything else, the watch in the original version had an escapement that had never been used before either –the Ulysse Nardin “Dual Direct” escapement, which ran without the need for any lubricating oils, and which was inspired by a two hundred year old design originally developed by the renowned French watchmaker, A. L. Breguet.
The Owner/CEO of Ulysse Nardin, Swiss entrepreneur Rolf Schnyder, was as famous as the watches whose creation he oversaw, and it was with shock and sadness that connoisseurs the world over heard of his death earlier this year. His legacy lives on, though, and though he’s no longer with us, this year saw the introduction of the most outrageously complicated and infectiously delightful Freak so far: the Diavolo.
The Diavolo is the Freak squared. To the existing Freak (now considered one of the great classic designs of the post-quartz watchmaking era) Ulysse Nardin has added a flying tourbillon. A tourbillon is a device which was originally developed in 1801 by Breguet, in order to combat the disruptive effects of gravity on the escapement of a watch; it does this by taking the regulating organ (the escapement) and putting it in a rotating carriage. As the Freak was already a tourbillon of sorts (albeit one that defied conventional classification) the Freak Diavolo is essentially a tourbillon within a tourbillon. Innovation in escapements continues as well with the addition of escapement components made entirely of lightweight silicon, which unlike the escapements found in virtually all other watches requires no oil.
With a power reserve of over eight days, the Freak Diavolo is a devilishly delightful new incarnation of the original –and a fitting tribute to Rolf Schnyder, a man as legendary as the watches he helped create.
The Ulysse Nardin Freak Diavolo retails at $153,500.
Jack Forster is the Editor in Chief of Revolution Magazine, a quarterly publication celebrating the world of fine watchmaking, and he also manages Revolution Online www.revo-online.com the foremost information and discussion site on the internet for watch enthusiasts.