Plenty of brands boast about pushing the limits of horology, changing your perception of time, and disrupting the industry. The endless catchphrases and adjectives to describe something that’s generally not all that different from the competition is tiring. Then, the Ulysse Nardin Freak comes into question, and the excitement about something unique and genuinely rare is revived. While the “Freak” name and branding have exploded across the Ulysse Nardin collection, there’s truly only a handful of “real” Freaks, with the collection growing by one more. The new Ulysse Nardin Freak X Ops has been unveiled at Watches and Wonders Shanghai bringing a splash of color and tacti-cool style to the collection. The Freak X line itself isn’t new, relatively speaking. It is aptly marketed as “the daily Freak” thanks to the presence of a crown and substantially lower price point than its crown-less Freak cousins. However, every ounce of remaining Freak DNA is on full display following the “no-hands, no-dial” defining factors. The one-hour orbital carousel tourbillon is affixed to an elongated bridge that becomes the minute hands, while the hour indicator is found on a disc protruding through the center of the movement. While at-a-glance legibility has never been a strength of this non-traditional design, the matte and brushed metal bridges over a black multi-dimensional background should help. Khaki green lume has been added to the bridges and the black radially brushed baton framework of the movement, which serves as hour markers. I have not had enough extended time with a Freak on my wrist to report if it becomes easier to read as you become accustomed to it.
The 206-component movement is the same caliber UN-230 manufacture movement found in the rest of the Freak X lineup. It beats at 21,600 vibrations per hour. The escapement is composed of lightweight silicon and features nickel flyweights to aid in rotation and regulation. The full movement is on display through a titanium caseback with a sapphire exhibition window. No caseback photos were available at press time. The Freak X OPS blends the brand’s “Magma” carbon fiber composite originally used in the Ulysse Nardin Skeleton X Magma, with a black DLC titanium case found on existing Freak X models. The patterned black and green flanks are paired with a lightweight titanium frame that leans into its “Operations” title. Ulysse Nardin Freak X Ops is no stranger to carbon fiber; the brand uses it in multiple colors and shapes, even blending it with precious metals. The “Magma” material is composed of black carbon fiber and green epoxy resin. On the 2019 Freak X Magma, I found the material to look busy and cheap in images. The swirling black pattern has been reduced on the Freak X Ops yielding a more natural topographic-like design. Paired with the muted OD green resin, this design fits effortlessly into the “Ops” name, but make no mistake, the Freak X Ops is not your tactical tool watch. While it looks the part, the most tactical action most wearers will put it through is a few matches of Call of Duty.
The 43mm wide case of the Ulysse Nardin Freak X Ops boasts 50 meters of water resistance. While I would like to see the “everyday Freak” rated to 100m at minimum, this is far better than the 30m we so often see. The case measures 13.38mm thick to the top of the domed sapphire crystal and the brand reports the perceived thickness to be 10.7mm due to the downturned lugs, or what I like to call “lug hug.” Depending on the shape and size of your wrist, this may or may not be the case. The watch comes on a black recycled fishing net strap or a matching khaki green fabric strap with a hook and loop (velcro) closure. There’s no denying the unique position of the Freak in the watch industry. It represents some of the highest levels of innovative and non-traditional horology without any of the derivative repetitive designs plaguing nearly every level of watchmaking. While the Freak design has been around for over 20 years, it still feels fresh with each new take, and it’s one you almost certainly won’t see another at your local watch meet-up.