Ulysse Nardin was born in Le Locle, Switzerland on 22 January 1823, a region that was already home to a wealth of watchmaking activities. Ulysse started as an apprentice to his father Léonard-Frédéric a watchmaker and then went to work with William Du Bois, one of the greatest experts of his age in precision timepieces, notable marine chronometers and astronomical watches. Ulysse began specializing in complicated watches, and quickly spotted the potential of a niche market as maritime transport grew. In 1846, at the tender age of 23, Ulysse Nardin founded the company that still bears his name today.
After Ulysse Nardin's death in 1876, two generations of his descendents took over the company to later sell in 1983 on the brink of collapse and with just a handful of watchmakers remaining on the team. That year, 1983, marked a turning point in the history of Ulysse Nardin. During a visit to Switzerland, Rolf W. Schnyder, a visionary entrepreneur and watch fanatic soon got together a small group of investors with himself at their head to purchase the company. After meeting Ludwig Oechslin and appointing him as part of his team, Mr. Schnyder turned the company around by creating some of the most amazing complications. Today, the Kering Group a.k.a. Gucci Group —owners of luxury brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, Brioni, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Girard-Perregaux and JEANRICHARD amongst others— owns Ulysse Nardin after an acquisition that was completed on November 19, 2014.
The Freak Phantom is living testament of the constant innovation and strategic partnerships that led the brand to work with silicon before all the others in 2001. In 2006, in a joint venture with Mimotec in Sion, Ulysse Nardin set up Sigatec, which specializes in the production of silicon components. In the same year, the Manufacture introduced its first caliber designed and made entirely in-house, the UN-160. Two years later, it helped establish DIAMAZE Microtechnology, a joint venture operating in synthetic diamond. This led to the launching of DIAMonSIL, a technology that involves coating silicon with nanocrystalline diamond, and which has been used on the Freak DIAMonSIL.
The Ulysse Nardin Freak Phantom ref. 2086-115 is an amazing timepiece and a perfect example of innovation. This watch not only lacks of a winding crown but time is told by the ultramodern, minimalist and unconventional design of the Freak’s tourbillon carrousel. This watch is the first timepiece to successfully present escapement wheels constructed of silicium and one that changed the course of haute horology forever when the Freak was first launched. This watch that features no dial but only a tourbillon carrousel with two layers where time is told by looking at two oddly shaped arrows with white outlines, goes beyond any limits or boundaries when it comes to watchmaking. The solid rose gold case measuring 45 mm in diameter is really massive but very nicely finished with a small plaque on the left side of the case band where the limited edition number is engraved, remember that his watch is only available in a limited edition of 99 pieces.
Since there's no crown, in order to manually wind the manual wound calibre UN-208, one needs to take a close look at the case back where the outer part of it is engraved with the words "To Wind" and an arrow that indicates the direction in which the movement needs to be wound. One full turn of the case back provides 12 hours of power reserve. The movement provides a total power-reserve of eight days when fully wound. The impressive black wave texturized dial covering the back of the movement only allows for partial view of the mainspring barrel through a small opening decorated on its sides with a red and black design simulating two fangs or two horns depending on how you would like to see it. Remember the predecessor to this watch was called Freak 'Diavolo' —devil in Italian.
This fascinating and amazing timepiece is fitted with a gorgeous tourbillon carrousel and flying tourbillon that is a real treat for the eyes. As the day goes by the carrousel turns around the dial. The tourbillon cage includes a half-moon shaped sapphire crystal seconds register that is just mesmerizing when looking at the flying tourbillon indicating the seconds. In order to set the time, a small rectangular plaque— engraved with the words "Freak Phantom" and located on the case at 6 o'clock— needs to be lifted to then turn the bezel around and set the carrousel to the correct time. While telling time on this watch is not an easy operation, its mesmerizing design is just fascinating enough to not even worry about that. In order to ease the process of reading the time, the watch is fitted with a sapphire crystal ring with gold Arabic numerals. Between the rotating bezel and the sapphire crystal of the watch, there is a black rubber inlay that provides nice contrast and makes this watch ultra sporty.
This amazing and extremely unique timepiece is fitted with a black matte alligator strap with double-folding clasp. The clasp is very nicely finished, comfortable and easy to use. One thing that caught our attention during the review of this timepiece, is that Ulysse Nardin fitted the end pieces of the strap with stainless steel rather than rose gold probably to provide a stronger point of contact to where the strap meets the lugs. Even though there could be a functionality aspect associated to this decision, we really feel that these steel corners cheapen the look of the watch —see for yourself.
On the wrist, this watch feels up to par with its price tag and wears quite comfortably for its size and thickness. This revolutionary watch, is not only very advanced from a design and horological standpoint, but is also a great treat for the eyes and one that for sure will spark a long conversation with other watchlifestylers. This is a timepiece made for those that like to break the rules of conventionalism and one that will give you unparalleled wrist presence wherever you go. If you live in Chicago stop by B. Young & Co. to take a look at the only one we've seen in the Windy City.
Sticker Price $137,000 USD. For more info click here.