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Review: Ulysse Nardin Freak X

A few years back, we looked at the original Ulysse Nardin Freak, which we called the craziest watch ever made. That watch was first revealed in 2001, over two decades ago. A lot has moved on since, and now there’s a cheaper entry level Freak in the mix, the Freak X. Is it still worthy of the title, “craziest watch in the world”?


It takes a certain type of mind to wake up one day and decide to do things wrong on purpose. Take the humble automobile. The wheels go at the bottom and the engine goes up front, where the occupants aren’t. Or food. The food goes on top of the plate. Not under. Not next to. And so have watches been for centuries. The movement goes in the back, the time comes out of the front.

It’s simple efficiency, refinement, optimisation. It is the way of things. So the fact that watchmaking genius Ludwig Oechslin said balls to that and designed the Freak makes me very happy indeed. Not everything needs to be ordinary, homogenised, paint by numbers. Sometimes spilling outside the lines in neon yellow is just the kick in the pants needed to jolt mundanity into extraordinary.

What if the engine goes in the back? What if the food is the plate? And what if the movement becomes time itself? There are few people mad enough to take this leap in thinking, and Ludwig Oechslin is one of those few. His proposal was misleadingly simple: what if the hands and the movement were one and the same thing? So instead of the hands being on the movement… they were the movement?

To realise his dream, the Freak became a watch of firsts. It had a hole in the crystal to accommodate the bonkers bezel setting system. Twist the case back and the mainspring was wound. Two escape wheels were placed on regulation duties instead of one, made—crucially—of silicon. Today, all of the big brands use silicon in their escapements for lightness and self-lubrication. The Freak was the first.

Put it altogether and what do you get? One of the most incredible feats of watchmaking ever imagined. And it’s so crazy, no one, even to this day, is quite sure how to categorise it. The movement, as a by-product of also being the minute hand, which rotates around the dial once per hour, of course, is also technically a tourbillon. You wouldn’t think of it traditionally as being one … but it kind of is.

Almost an unbelievable quarter-century later, how has Oechslin’s visionary achievement been maintained? Well, there’s since been an entry-level version of this incredible watch called the Freak X, starting at £22,750. That’s not cheap, but it’s used Daytona money. For a tourbillon from a brand almost two centuries old, that’s also one of the most impressive feats of watchmaking in existence. So yeah, that seems almost like good value.

Some of the Freak’s original functionality has been stripped out for this core X version. So the time is set and the movement wound by a traditional crown and rotor weight, and you only get a single escape wheel here instead of two. If you want it all back again, you can choose the £60,000 Freak One instead.

Silicon is retained, however, and has found its way into the spidery balance wheel as well. It’s a modern, pared-back, refined interpretation of the original craziness, less flamboyant and more New York city skyline. For all the changes, does it retain that original character, and is it worth over £22,000 of your moneys?


The last thing expected of a hyperwatch with insanium complications is that it’s wearable. You’d expect it to be delicate, perhaps or cumbersome, the kind of thing you crack out to wear for a Sunday afternoon in the den or to a lunch with your friends, only to be tucked back into watch bed for another few months with a little sigh of relief that it didn’t blow up or take out a door frame.

The Freak X is not a small watch by traditional measurements, weighing in at 43mm across, but the stubby lugs and compact height, alongside the titanium makeup of the entry piece, actually make it incredibly unobtrusive. It is a comfortable wear to the point its presence is completely forgotten. There’s no top-heaviness, no cuff conflicts, no awkwardness of any kind. To wear, it is an ordinary watch.

This is baked into the DNA of the Freak X so intrinsically that it’s even available on a Velcro strap of a similar operation to that of a MoonSwatch. Granted, the execution is reassuringly more impressive, with little touches like the metal tag that prevents it from coming all the way undone very much welcome, but still its presence at all indicates that Ulysse Nardin expects this watch to be worn on the daily. Well, there’s that detective work and also the fact the brand extolls the Freak X’s daily wearability on its website, too.

It's unusual for a watchmaker to goad its customers into wearing what is typically a delicate complication every single day. That means wearing it to feed the baby, wash the dog and mow the lawn. The watch has fifty metres of water-resistance and they’re kind of expecting you to use it.

If you’re going to wear it daily then at the very least is has to be remotely readable, of course. And it is. The Freak, despite the tumultuous display, has always been an easy watch to read. I mean, the hands are so damn big you could read it from another zip code. The absence of a second hand makes pinpoint accuracy impossible, but there’s no mistaking when you’re ten minutes late. With automatic winding and a 72-hour power reserve, this watch is as daily drivable as a Tudor Black Bay.

That’s not at all what would be expected of something so left field. It’s like the Freak grew up and got a job selling stationary to libraries. There’s a dial-mounted tourbillon hand with silicon parts borrowed from Stargate all smooshed together and yet it’s as practical as a Toyota Camry—and about the same price. The quality is of course impeccable, and the dial is even lumed so you can read it at night.

It just might be the perfect watch, somehow fusing a level of hyper horology that should be sectioned for its madness alongside complete usability in almost every environment. Porsche put the engine in the back of the 911 and made a usable supercar. The ancient Greeks turned bread into a plate by topping it with cheese and vegetables. And Ulysse Nardin have made a practical hyperwatch by turning the movement into the hands.

It’s a great watch, without a doubt, but does it retain the essence of the original? Perhaps not entirely. Perhaps it’s a bit too usable, a bit too complete. If the 911 is too refined, you can lose the back seats and swap in an engine that revs for days. If pizza is too straightforward you can douse it in hot sauce.

To make the Freak X complete, truly of the Freak bloodline, it needs an edge. A demon’s howl or the bite of chilli. It should still be wearable whenever, but it needs to remind you every single day that it’s still a little bit crazy. A bit … unhinged. A bit of a Freak.

What’s your take on the Ulysse Nardin Freak X?

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