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SIHH 2019: Ulysse Nardin

foversta
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Ulysse Nardin was in my opinion one of the most convincing brands of the last SIHH. It has indeed managed to offer attractive new products while maintaining a certain pricing moderation, thus pursuing a strategic orientation initiated in recent years. This successful cocktail of audacity and reason can be summed up in one letter: X. X as Freak X. X as Skeleton X. X as the collection Classico Manara? No, in this case, the connection doesn't work because the erotic atmosphere of the dials decorated by the famous Italian illustrator is soft and refined. I propose you to discover below these novelties.

Freak X


The Freak is one of Ulysse Nardin's most famous watches. Since its presentation in 2001, it has constantly evolved to remain at the forefront of watchmaking innovation and disruptive aesthetics. The Freak is very aptly named. To enjoy it, you have to tame it and understand how to use it without a crown.

In recent years, Ulysse Nardin worked to make it more docile. In 2018 the brand presented its first automatic Freak: the Freak Vision. We must understand the importance of this evolution: the manual winding done by turning the bottom of the case was not really necessary because of the automatic winding. Or better said: the automatic winding replaced the long power reserve of the "historic" Freak. But lovers of the original Freak didn't lose the time setting system by the bezel.

Freak X becomes the most "civilized" version. It is the simplest to use because a crown makes its appearance. It is also the easiest to wear because its diameter of 43mm is more reasonable. But the essential remains: the flying carousel movement in the center and the large silicon balance wheel that dramatically animates the dial. In fact, the initial spirit of the Freak is indeed there: it is the movement that gives the time (but with a purer visual rendering). By turning the crown (and no longer the bezel), it is all this that makes a rotation. The balance wheel appears as a kind of counterweight to the large structure that indicates the minutes and thus performs a complete rotation of the dial in one hour. Note, however, that the crown is only used for setting the time and can not be used to manually wind the movement. The UN-230 caliber that powers the Freak X has a power reserve of 72 hours for a frequency of 3hz.

There are two ways to approach the Freak X: either we consider that Ulysse Nardin has gone too far in simplifying its iconic watch and that by losing some of its singularity, it loses at the same time interest . Either it is considered that this simplification makes it the most affordable (in every sense of the word) and that now it is devoted to the essentials, with this particular time display. I am one of those who opt for the second option. Proposed according to the versions at prices between 21 and 30,000 euros, the Freak X is for me one of the most attractive watches of the last SIHH.

The simplification of the visual rendering can be felt compared to a historical Freak:

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The movement is based on a traditional automatic winding what was not the case of the Freak Vision:


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The great asset of the Freak X remains the behavior of the imposing silicon balance wheel:

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Skeleton X

The Skeleton X is both more classic than the Freak X but also more surprising in some aspects. I also find again the aesthetic codes of Ulysse Nardin but reviewed in a more reasonable perspective.

The principle of skeleton and aerial movement housed in a geometric structure that draws a central rectangle is of course inspired by the Skeleton Tourbillon. The visual rendering of the Skeleton X doesn't lose its strength despite the absence of tourbillon. The oscillations of the balance wheel are mesmerizing and the dial appears more filled in the reality than it seems to be on the official photos. This is a good point because we see less hair in the background! I really like the work on the case that has discrete end pieces and crown guard that give an extra touch of character.

The performance of the UN-371 in-house handwind skeleton movement is excellent with a 96-hour power reserve. Note that the barrel has been treated with great elegance and that, although it occupies an important place at the top of the watch, I prefer to observe it decorated this way than to see the mainspring.

Once again, the prices of Skeleton X are attractive considering the watchmaking content with a starting price of 17,000 euros.

The presentation of the movement is homogeneous on both sides:


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The openings being finally reduced, the hair in the background is not very visible:

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Classico Manara

We totally change the universe by leaving the technical dimension of Ulysse Nardin to approach its artistic universe. I really like the Classico Manara. Perhaps because these ten watches (available in ten pieces each) evoke memories and have a strong nostalgic dimension. They are also totally consistent with the story of Ulysse Nardin which has a long tradition of erotic watch. But here, no automaton, no jaquemart,  no minute repeater. The Classico Manara are two-hand watches with dials made in miniature painting. Prices are thus more affordable, between 26,900 and 29,600 euros. The marine atmosphere, the sharks obviously evoke the other collections of the brand and I really liked these references. Two chromatic atmospheres dominate according to the dials: blue or ocher. In any case, the outcomes are attractive and the paintings perfectly made. A great success supported by the performances of the UN-320 caliber. I would have appreciated however a solid caseback.

The dials are made with great care:

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Conclusion

Ulysse Nardin's 2019 novelties revolve around three distinct collections. However, they share the same ambition: to offer consistent, attractive products at reasonable prices. Obviously, we speak in the absolute about prices between 17 and 30,000 euros. But the watchmaking content, the artistic dimension and the quality of the execution amply justify them. That's why I really liked what Ulysse Nardin has proposed.

Fr.Xavier

Comments:
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amanico February 10th, 2019-13:09
Aaah, the Freak X... As you can guess, I am more in the first camp. The camp of the Extreme Fan of the Freak, in general, wand who expects a minimum when it comes to the Freak. One of the main asset of the Freak is to surprise everybody with the absence of a crown. This is one important part of the Freak DNA. With a crown, the Freak is less Freakie. Same for the movement which is not in the minute hand anymore. That makes the se... 
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foversta February 10th, 2019-13:22
Yes but I prefer that they offer the Freak this way at this price range than doing "a bargain"... There is a clear difference compared to the historic Freak, even the Vision. So I think it is a good way to offer it at a fair price without frustrating the current owners. Thanks. Fx
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amanico February 10th, 2019-13:49
The only common point is the caroussel... Which is a bit meager to call it a Freak. Which is a bit frustrating. Now, just change the name and you consider it differently. A bit like a 4 doors Porsche... Diesel... Not a bad car, but still a Porsche? Best, Nicolas
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foversta February 10th, 2019-13:55
I agree but a new name would be nonsense in a marketing point of view. UN has very cleverly structured its catalogue and it is important to keep it.  
iadxb February 10th, 2019-20:38
I think there is a lot of confusion about what differentiates Freak vs. Freak X Below paragraph is taken verbatim from UN website describing the Freak X: "The “baguette” movement is still a carousel, turning once on itself every hour to indicate the time. It is simpler, bolder, and has fewer wheels. It has no dial and no hands - the ... 
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amanico February 11th, 2019-14:21
I have to agree with you. It is a marketing problem. The watch is cool but it cannot be called a Freak anymore.  
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Eddie1 February 12th, 2019-06:11
...something maybe even before SIHH 2020 - the Mega yacht? apparently coming out some time in April this year. ... 
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Eddie1 February 12th, 2019-17:37
Apologies - got my date wrong. The Mega Yacht is to be launched at the upcoming Miami Yacht show.
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VMM February 10th, 2019-13:29
Thanks for sharing, FX. I like what I see, nothing to highlight though. Beautiful enamel dials. Vte
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bimbeano February 10th, 2019-15:10
Le déclic ! i love Milo Manara’s comic books. A great artist and i find it pretty funny but above all very cool to see his drawings on high end watches such as these. If these prices were within my reach i’d definately be in the running for one. Filip
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