SIHH 2019: Xploring Ulysse Nardin’s SKELETON X and FREAK X Novelties (Hands-On)
X marks the spot with these two neXt-generation timepieces from Ulysse Nardin.
Statement pieces generate a lot of hype at SIHH. Brands come each year to the show, display provocative (sometimes prototype) wares and then go about their day-to-day for the rest of the year after getting the requisite buzz. But NOT Ulysse Nardin! The Le Locle based watchmaker produces innovative, forward-thinking, and even erotic pieces year-round.
Last year saw Voyeurs and Freaks come together to tempt the soul and the senses. Ulysse Nardin’s FREAK collection pushes the boundaries of watchmaking beyond traditional norms. Innovative materials such as silicium balance wheels, ultra-lightweight titanium are a staple of the brand. For 2019, Carbonium, an aeronautical-grade forged carbon used in aircraft, is joining the ranks.
For 2019, X marks the spot, and if the brand’s new motto is any indication, it’s going to be a very Xtreme year for Ulysse Nardin. “X denotes any unknown, unspecified or variable factor. X like Xploration, Xtraordinary, Xcess, Xperience, Xcitement, Xtreme, and compleX,” according to the brand.
There's nothing "entry level" about the new FREAK X. It has all of the technicality of the FREAK collection, and more. Usability has been improved by adding a crown for time setting, which is a considerable improvement over the previous FREAK VISION that used a rotating bezel to adjust the time. The 3 Hz. flying carousel movement is still very much central to the watch.
At first glance, the new FREAK X is not entirely dissimilar from last year's model. 2019's version is an all-black-everything feast with updated functions that improve usability and readability. The brand is billing the FREAK X as the "little cousin" of the FREAK collection. An entry price point of $21,000 USD makes the FREAK X a very attractive buy for collectors looking for a technically and aesthetically exciting timepiece.
To create the FREAK X, Ulysse Nardin fused their two manufacture calibers, the UN-118, and the FREAK VISION UN-250 to create the UN-230 movement for the FREAK X. The automatic movement's layout is very similar to the FREAK VISION. But with 72 hours of power reserve and increased usability, the FREAK X certainly doesn’t leave anything on the table.
The FREAK X collection also has reduced case sizes, which makes it a dream for us small wristers. Its 43mm case (previously it was 45mm) is available in four different materials, titanium, rose gold, black DLC, or the ultra-lightweight Carbonium. It’s certainly a piece worthy of Xploring.
If the FREAK X further pushes the limits of modern watchmaking, the new SKELETON X takes skeletonization and transparency to the next level. Here we find a fully openworked movement which lays bare Ulysse Nardin’s X factor.
X-ray imagery is at the heart of Ulysse Nardin's marketing campaigns for the SKELETON X, and for a good reason. Too often, watchmakers hide defects and imperfections behind their various screws, bridges, and main plates, but NOT Ulysse Nardin. For the SKELETON X, the whole point is to show all the nitty-gritty details that make Ulysse Nardin a very intriguing offer. The price is every more interesting as the SKELETON X collection starts at just $17,500 USD.
A reduced case size of 42mm continues the downsizing trend in the X line. Looking at the design of the bridges, you can see a very clever geometry. An X is formed by the form indices which come together in a rectangular fashion which flares out to create an X shape. By using contrasting materials with different finishes, the readability is improved while still pushing the boundaries of skeletonization.
Again with the SKELETON X, we see movement design take a position center stage. The SKELETON X's UN-371 movement is a revised version of the UN-171 calibre. Lightweight movement materials including nickel flyweights and small stabilizing micro-blazes are delightful to view through the sapphire crystals on the front and back of the various case materials. Further, a power reserve of 96 hours is the icing on the skeletonized cake.
Last, but certainly not least, the SKELETON X also features new material. Available in four case materials, titanium, titanium with black DLC, rose gold, and an entirely new Carbonium GOLD. As you'll see in the images, the Carbonium GOLD is a bold material which an interweaving of gold fibers. It's a cool effect to see the natural fibers of carbon merged with shimmering gold.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)