The bridge between tradition and modernity? An antiphon worn to the bone by watchmaking marketing. However, Ulysse Nardin has just given it back its letters of nobility.
By Olivier Müller
Fine watchmaking stands out in two ways: by its aesthetics or by its technique. In other words, by its dial or by its movement. Most of the big houses are able to do both, even if the vintage trend, which consists in reproducing what already exists, has considerably damaged watchmaking creativity over the past five years.
Ulysse Nardin, which Kering bought for €700 million in 2014, is evolving in this area with a mastery that cannot be denied. Directed since 2017 by Patrick Pruniaux (ex TAG Heuer and Apple), the Le Locle manufacture is consolidating its fundamentals without ever ceasing its progression: a history turned towards the navy, precision parts, and R&D oriented towards silicon, of which it was a pioneer already 20 years ago, since 2001.
Synthesizing these attributes into a single piece was not easy. However, Ulysse Nardin has just succeeded in squaring a circle that no one else dared to face. The idea: to take hold of an eminently contemporary timepiece, the Freak, the identity marker of the Ulysse Nardin of the 20th and 21st centuries. Secondly, to appropriate an art craft that is still rarely used in watchmaking, and even more so by Ulysse Nardin: marquetry. Finally, to combine it all with the high level technological know-how of the manufacture: silicon.
The result is a Freak X with a silicon inlay dial. The precious material is cut into the heart of the wafers, the silicon “wafers” that the brand manufactures with its partner Sigatec, in Sion. Each piece is chiseled using a plasma beam. All the art of this technique relies on the dexterity of the craftsman, the silicon used being extremely brittle and fragile when handled. Just slightly overlapping the pieces instead of interlocking them is enough to chip the edges. It is a true “technological craft” which consists in the assembly and the collage, with the hand, of these parts necessary to the creation of these astonishing mosaics.
As for the Freak X, it remains the entry point of the Freak collection. More consensual, it is adjusted with a crown and drops its diameter from a large 45 mm to just 43 mm. The movement is always equipped with a carousel turning on itself once an hour. Gaining in simplicity and boldness, the movement has fewer components. Dial and hands also disappear. It is thus the central bridge and one of the wheels that indicate the minutes and hours respectively.
Priced at 29,500 euros, the Freak X Marquetry will only be produced in a limited edition of 30 pieces. Consistent with the history of the brand and looking to the future, it projects the illustrious art of marquetry into the 21st century. Remarkably executed and innovative, it follows in the technical and aesthetic footsteps of Ulysse Nardin, while offering a previously unknown creativity, thanks to this silicon marquetry. What more could you ask for?