The Ulysse Nardin Freak S Nomad is high-tech, sci-fi, and steampunk – all at the same time The Ulysse Nardin Freak S Nomad is high-tech, sci-fi, and steampunk – all at the same time

The Ulysse Nardin Freak S Nomad is high-tech, sci-fi, and steampunk – all at the same time

D.C. Hannay

Watch fans can be quite the conservative lot. The idea of a mechanical timepiece itself is archaic, so it stands to reason that the most revered models are often frozen in the amber of tradition. Manufacturers trotting out variations on familiar themes is the safe move, but on rare occasions, we see something that just absolutely goes for it. Those soaring, audacious moonshots that seem to rocket from out of nowhere, only to fall burning back to earth due to a fatal design flaw. But every so often, a new, previously untried idea just clicks, as was the case when the original Ulysse Nardin Freak made its bow in 2001. Here was a high-end timepiece with no hands, no dial, not even a crown, and truly, it looked like nothing else before. It also happened to be the first mechanical watch to use silicon escapement wheels, something unheard of at the time. More than 20 years and several patents later, the Freak continues to surprise with each subsequent iteration, and the new Freak S Nomad delivers even more in the way of horological thrills.

The case

ulysse nardin freak s nomad case profile

Haute horlogerie pieces are the apex predators of the watch world, but innovation often comes at the cost of wearability. We’ve all seen those bubble-topped bio-domes with triple-axis tourbillons rotating below, but seldom outside the confines of a high-end salon. But it’s clear that Ulysse Nardin intends for its creations to be worn. And for such an avant garde design, the Freak S Nomad is surprisingly wearable, even with a 45 mm diameter case. Part of its wearability can be chalked up to the titanium and carbon fibre construction, with titanium making up the bulk of the case body, which reduces weight by about a third when compared to steel. Between the lugs below six, you’ll find the titanium bezel locker, emblazoned with the “FREAK” trademark, which locks the rotating anthracite PVD bezel. The bezel itself functions as the time setting crown would, reinforcing that nothing on the Freak S resembles anything in conventional horology. On the reverse side you’ll find an open titanium caseback finished in the same anthracite PVD, with a sapphire crystal offering a view of the Freak’s underpinnings.

The dial

ulysse nardin freak s nomad dial

With all things Freak, you’ll find a lot of familiar watch-related terms don’t apply. Like dials, or hands, for that matter. Instead of a conventional dial, Ulysse Nardin utilises a labour-intensive diamond-guilloché hour disc that requires a high degree of skill to execute. Finished in sand-coloured CVD, the rotating hour disc gets its intricate finish using a rare 18th century rose engine, in a process that involves 240 uninterrupted movements over three hours, all with no breaks. Its mesmerising texture is a defiant statement of old-world craft in a futuristic package. The inset hour indicator is lumed, pointing to the floating hour indices as the disc rotates, with the overall visual presentation seeming almost like a magic trick. But wait, there’s more.

The movement

ulysse nardin freak s nomad movement caseback

Again, we need to dispense with tradition, because the minute hand is the movement, and the movement is… well, you get the idea. Going all the way back to the original 2001 Freak, Ulysse Nardin upended tradition by putting the movement front and centre, and today’s S Nomad has turned everything up several notches. The automatic Calibre UN-251 consists of 373 components and 33 jewels, offering tons of visual fireworks. And just like a big-budget action movie, you’ll see every bit of that action on screen, so to speak. The flying carousel rotates around its own axis, flanked by twin oscillators featuring silicon balance wheels that whirl away furiously. The whole effect resembles a top-down view of some futuristic hovercraft, like a floating vehicle from the Blade Runner franchise. The “pointer” on the movement acts as the minute hand, and gets the Super-LumiNova treatment for easy viewing after dark.

The strap

ulysse nardin freak s nomad strap

An avant-garde smokeshow like the Freak S Nomad deserves more than your standard alligator strap, and Ulysse Nardin doesn’t disappoint here. Oh, you’ll get your alligator leather strap, but this one gets a matte anthracite finish with openworked details, taking the form of sand-coloured calfskin inserts. And if you’re feeling a bit more casual, there’s also a ballistic-textured rubber in that same anthracite colourway. A titanium deployant buckle completes the package.

The verdict

ulysse nardin freak s nomad

One of the main selling points of haute horology is the visual show, and in that regard the Ulysse Nardin Freak S Nomad overdelivers. From the nonstop action of the intricate, highly detailed movement, to the unconventional time telling experience, it’s all there. And to create such a statement in a package that’s both attractive and highly wearable, well that’s no mean feat.

Ulysse Nardin Freak S Nomad pricing and availability

The Ulysse Nardin Freak S Nomad is a limited edition of 99 pieces. Price: US$ 148,300

Brand Ulysse Nardin
Model Freak S Nomad
Reference 2513-500LE-4A-GUI/1A (leather)
2513-500LE-4A-GUI/3A (rubber)
Case Dimensions 45mm (D) x 16.65mm (T)
Case Material Titanium and carbon fibre
Water Resistance 30 metres
Crystal(s) Sapphire front and back
Dial Diamond guilloché and sand-coloured CVD
Bracelet Antracite alligator leather, titanium deployant clasp
Anthracite textured rubber, titanium deployant clasp
Movement UN-251, in-house, Grinder automatic winding
Power Reserve 72 hours
Functions Hours, minutes, inclined double balance wheels
Availability Limited to 99 pieces
Price US$148,300