Hands-on: Ulysse Nardin Freak S Nomad Watch

Ulysse Nardin's new watch combines traditional watchmaking with architecture, precision engineering and some sci-fi.


I’ve just got back from a long weekend and, man, it feels like Watches & Wonders was a lifetime ago. Still, there’s plenty of buzz around and I’d imagine most of the folks I spoke to who were there working will be just getting back to work after their time off (I feel you, we’re in this struggle together). 

One of the brands that got the most attention this year was Ulysse Nardin, and that’s despite only having one new watch released at the show. Their booth was eye-catching, though, with a giant recreation of their newest piece taking up most of the floorspace.

Speaking of, their newest watch is the Freak S Nomad which turns the wow factor of Ulysse Nardin’s most iconic watch up to eleven. This micro-mechanical marvel adds to over twenty years of the iconic Freak line of watches which have taken the classic wristwatch layout and turned it on its head.

The newest piece continues the trend with the Calibre UN-251 mostly on display on the dial. As per Freak tradition, the movement is also involved in indicating the time as the minutes hand. There’s even some lume on the minute hand and the hour hand (which is a separate arm below the escapement assembly). Accuracy is provided by two inclined balance wheels, and they’re linked by a vertical differential, which Ulysse Nardin claims is the smallest differential currently made anywhere in the world. The movement is set over a sand-coloured dial plate which has been given a diamond guilloché pattern engraved using an 18th-century rose lathe. Honestly, it looks like modern art, well, good modern art. 

Officially, the calibre UN-251 is made of 373 components and is self-winding with a 72-hour power reserve. Both balance wheels beat at 2.5Hz. The movement uses Ulysse Nardin’s proprietary “Grinder” system to wind automatically. Ulysse Nardin says this system is much more sensitive to movements than a traditional winding setup and is twice as efficient.

All of that is wrapped up in a 45-mm case made primarily of titanium, with a PVD-coated titanium bezel and carbon fibre with golden flecks on the case side plates. The little ‘Freak’ badge at the 6 O’clock position is the locking mechanism, which must be flipped up. This is to set the time, as this watch doesn’t have a traditional crown but uses the bezel to set the time instead. The case is water resistant to 30m.

Overall, this newest addition to the Freak line brings with it more excitement; I honestly feel bad for the other watches Ulysse Nardin makes, as it’s clear this is where the attention is. The wearing experience of one of these is excellent, the lightness of it means you hardly notice it though the size could be a limitation. There will always be trade-offs with watches like this, one could call it a horological experiment and with that you’ll pay a price. 

Speaking of, the price of one of these is $148,300 excluding sales tax, or €150,000 including VAT. The new Freak S Nomad is an exclusive edition of 188 watches in total, with 99 being presented on a matte alligator leather strap and another 99 with the rubber “ballistic” textured strap as I have here; I love the macho slook this strap adds to the already science fiction-esque watch. In fact, I just love this watch.