A very fine, attractive and highly unconventional rose gold wristwatch from the famous Swiss watch brand Ulysse Nardin, founded in 1846. Estimated production period: circa 2010–2015. Case in 18k rose gold, diameter 44.5mm, 11.8mm thick, blue tinted sapphire glass dial with white Arabic numerals, sapphire caseback with turning bezel. UN-200 caliber, hand-wound by rotation of caseback bezel, power reserve up to 168 hours, centre axis pivots in sapphire crystal, Ludwig Oechslin dual direct escapement with two silicon impulse wheels, monometallic balance, mainspring underneath movement spanning case diameter. Functions – indication of time in hours and minutes, 1-hour orbital tourbillon. Bezel turns to set the hands with white gold fixator. Dark blue leather strap, Ulysse Nardin 18k rose gold triple folding clasp. Numbered edition. 

Lot essay 

The project of a watch with a central carousel was initiated in 1997–1998 by Rolf W. Schnyder, the owner of Ulysse Nardin, who decided to realize the idea of aspiring inventor Carole Forestier, winner of the A.-L. Breguet 250th anniversary watchmaker competition in 1997. According to Schnyder, Carole Forestier was unable to complete the project, so he handed it over to Ludwig Oechslin, watchmaker, inventor, researcher and creative mind behind the brand. In fact, Oechslin totally redesigned the watch developing an unusual concept with rotating bridges and a wheel gear mechanism that was used to indicate the minutes, and fitted its caliber with a novel double impulse wheel escapement, described as a dual direct escapement, which, technically speaking, is an evolution of L.-A. Breguet’s échappement naturel of 1789. Oechslin gave the watch he actually invented the playful name Freak. The first-generation Freak version Ref. 016-88 in rose gold was introduced by the brand in 2001 and caused a sensation. A little later, the brand presented Ref. 010-88 in white gold. Traditionally-minded watchmakers and connoisseurs hadn’t imagined that a watch could be so crazy. 

The present lot, according to our knowledge, belongs to the latter part of the Ref. 026-88 production span.

Nevertheless, the first-generation Freak had some shortcomings. In particular, these were problems with the escapement stability, as well as the annular balance of a somewhat simple appearance – as in inexpensive mass-produced watches, which could not but irritate connoisseurs of watchmaking art. In Freak 28’800 V/h Ref. 026-88, the second-generation watch launched in 2005, the problems were overcome. The escapement stability was achieved by modifying the escapement, resulting in no direct action of the impulse wheels on the balance. In the new design, the escapement was designated as a dual Ulysse escapement. The frequency of the balance was also increased to 28,800 vph, and a variable-inertia free-sprung balance with 4 adjustment screws was installed, more befitting of a luxury watch than a simple annular balance. 

The watch was redesigned with a new version of the bezel with 24 notches, compared with 20 in Refs. 016-88 and 010-88. Between the lower lugs of the case, a white gold lock was installed with the inscription “28’800 V/h”, which was intended to fix the bezel, preventing unintentional rotation of the ‘hands’ of the Freak watch. 

The Freak watches are seen as a rewarding topic for research and collecting, which highly increases the value of this example.

The present lot, according to our knowledge, belongs to the latter part of the Ref. 026-88 production span. During the whole production span there were several versions of Ref. 026-88. The early versions are characterized by the straight-grinding finish of the bridges of the revolving structure and the matte blue dial background. The later ones, starting from circa No.030, had bridges decorated with Côtes de Genève. A more intricate picture is seen in the finish of the back plate of the movement, which is blued. In early pieces, its upper surface was decorated with snail brushing, while in later pieces, starting from approximately No.220, circular brushing is found, although later examples with snail brushing are found as well. The present lot is characterized by bridges with Côtes de Genève and circular brushing of the back plate of the movement. Clearly, the overall picture is still far from complete, and is waiting for its attentive researcher. 

Reasons to bid

The Ulysse Nardin Freak 28’800 Ref. 026-88 would appear to be an attractive purchase for the collector and connoisseur of fine watchmaking due to its impressive and unusual design. It is definitely one of the cornerstones and modern vanguards of creative watchmaking. The Freak watches are seen as a rewarding topic for research and collecting, which highly increases the value of this example. It represents an extremely interesting page in the chronology of this collection, as a very fine collectible. The present watch has a strong and distinctive character, and may well attract a connoisseur of watchmaking art as an extraordinary daily wearer.