Monday, 9 February 2009

time for some poetry in motion... the ulysse nardin FREAK!

this is my short tribute to an amazing time piece created by several visionaries... oh yes, the raphmeister takes on the
FREAK!!!

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There are many interesting watches out there today. Many that are mind boggling in their complexity(and in their pricing too actually :). You have multi-axis tourbillons, double or triple or gyro tourbillons. You have repeaters and sonneries galore. The experimentation with space age materials in watches and cocktails of complications engineered and realized through the aid of computers. Some of it is not so hot in my books to be honest, some of it is though is pretty amazing and there a few that are simply mind blowing.

This post of mine then is of a time piece that fits into that last category and is a grail watch of mine that I recently acquired. A watch that is unlike any before it and whose realization is typically the stuff of dreams.

I speak of The Freak! a watch that was birthed by several geniuses in Le Locle in the manufacture that is Ulysse Nardin. Many have answered the question before so here’s my go at it, the question being…

What is The Freak?

The Freak is unlike anything that has come before it. It is a new & creative way to represent time.

The Freak is innovation in horological science. A technical tour de force with a new escapement and a groundbreaking use of silicium in time pieces.

The Freak is beauty in horological art… entrancing in its mechanical splendour

The Freak is that jaw-dropping uber-cool futuristic concept car at the recent motorshow that made it to production without any compromises or shortcuts [this one for the car lovers out there :) ]

The Freak is bold. It is about disregarding barriers and confined bounds and taking flight... It represents a rupture, a sea change from things that came before it.

(add in all the other awesome marketing superlatives that are over used in other watch ads but would actually apply to this watch :)

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The folks responsible for this amazing timepiece include:

- Dato Rolf Schnyder... An amazing individual who has travelled a most interesting path in life and a visionary

- Dr Ludwig Oeschlin... Astronomer and Horological Genius. Created the Dual Direct Escapement for the Freak, which is a big deal and then refined it to make the Dual Ulysse Escapement. Lubricant free with silicium. Other staggering achievements of his include the Astrolabe for the wrist and the entire Trilogy of Time collection and the Perpetual Ludwig

- Pierre Gygax, UN's technical director who was key to getting silicium in watches and the team at UN who were there to realise or inspire the birth of the Freak

Some info from UN literature...

"upper bridge, fitted with the balance wheel assembly and its revolutionary Dual Direct Escapement, revolves once every hour indicating the minutes. During its 60 minute rotation, the upper bridge lays bare the mechanics of time. The center axis pivots in the sapphire crystal of the watch case... In other Tourbillons, the balance wheel assembly moves once every minute in a cage. In the Freak, the whole movement, including the balance wheel assembly, rotates once an hour inside the watch case."

So much has already been written about it and so I hoped to provide my thoughts on this magnificent time piece and answer some questions that may be on wis’ minds…

Q1. Can it be a daily wearer?

A1. Depends on you and what you do. I work in an office in the urban jungle, and long sleeve shirts and pants are de riguer. I wore it for over 2 weeks straight and loved every minute of it... It is now entering into regular rotation with my other watches (possibly... i may wear it daily for another 2 or 3 more weeks first :)

The 7 days power reserve also helps as you can wind it up on the weekend and it'll last the whole week. I suspect that the PR can last longer than 7 days though and will test this in future.

Q2. How is its time keeping accuracy?

A2. Well, it will range from piece to piece but mine is keeping very good time so far. I wound it up on Day 1 and on Day 5 it was still within 1 minute deviation. For those 4 days, it was on my wrist about 12 hours of the day and resting in the watch box for most of the time and some of the time, it was being photographed :)

This is not a watch for the accuracy freak though(oops), as there is no second hand and you may have to guess which minute its pointing to. I never accidentally adjusted the time over the 5 days but on the 5th day i did when cleaning the watch and its super easy to adjust back so i don't see it as a big issue at all. Its all part of the fun of the piece for me actually.

Q3. How does it wear?

A3. Perfectly on my 7” wrist. the case size of 42.5mm on the first Freak works for me.

Q4. Which Freak do you prefer the most and why?

A4. The Freak 1 in rose gold totally rules for me which is why I hunted for it and got it ;) Other than being the 1st, this is what i think is better about it...
  • no brake - the brake with its lettering, eg. 28,800 on the freak 2 just doesn't do it for me. having it there and funky words on it dun improve it aesthetically imo
  • rotating carriage aka 'christmas tree' (well to me at least :) on the 1 is the nicest. the 2 onwards have it such that the branches of the tree dun connect(see pic below of blue phantom). the 1's movement just looks the coolest to me... uhm for the science fiction crowd, think ultra cool alien harpoon device ;)
  • 42.5mm vs 44.5mm... 42.5mm wif the lugs the way they are is just right for my wrist. 44.5 may just be getting a lil too big but may suit larger wristed folks
  • the bezel for the Freak 2 onwards is different. the Freak 1, the 'ridges' on the 1 went into the bezel and was a bit more pronounced. the 2 onwards has a flat area which forms a perfect circle and which the ridges dont cut into... uhm see the pic below of the blue phantom to understand what i'm on about :)

The next one I like is the Blue Phantom. This is also a fine Freak...

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pic source: www.ulysse-nardin.com

but this ones still the clear winner :)
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silicium eh... is that the same as the stuff they use for enhancing ladies uhm... nevermind ;) As u can see the escape wheels are the Freak 2's so what I have on my hand is a Freak 1.5 with upgraded movement ... SSWWWWEEETTTT!

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factoids

  • The Freak aka Freak 1 was launched in 2001 to much fanfare. It won the "Chronos Innovation Prize 2001" among many other prizes it has won over time. It continued to be sold until 2005 when the 28,800 or Freak 2 was launched to replace it. The Freak 1 beat at 21,600 fyi. After the 28,800 there was the Diamonsil and now the Blue Phantom. The Innovision is a concept watch. All in there may be around 650 Freak 1s out there today(not sure about this number but it may be close).
  • When it first started selling, 2001/02 it was going for low USD20s and when it stopped selling in 2005, it was going for low USD50s. destined for watch auctions in the future at which i hope it does well... its fully deserving of success in primary and secondary markets.
  • The 1 did have some teething problems… What were some of these? Owners accidentally changing time by moving the bezel. The watch suddenly stopping even though the mainspring was wound and some pieces had accuracy issues, magnetism issues etc… The solution that UN came up with was a revised escapement and the brake for the bezel and other niceties that are found in the Freak 2 onwards.
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Upgraded Freak 1.0s are called Freak 1.5s ... A bit more about the 1.5 then
  • I believe this is the best Freak around as it has the good looks of the 1.0 and the updated escapement bits from the Dual Ulysse. Interesting that it was never sold in this form but required a visit back to UN to have it modded to be as such.
  • How can you tell by looking at it? The 1.0 had what i term 'forts and spearheads' type escapement wheel teeth and the 2.0 and 1.5 have the razor like teeth with the hook at the end thing going for it.... makes me think of the razor weapon of the baddie in octopussy (exaggerating a tad :) if u're going 'octo..wat' than its time to watch more Bond beyond Brosnan yuh ;)
upgraded escapement as can be viewed in my 1.5
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razor weapon from octopussy i says... almost dicing Mr Bond in half ;)
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versus 'forts and spearheads' or test tubes.... hmm and the other visual difference being the stud carrier, regulator and adjustment (note i may be wrong on naming the parts on this one :)
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pic source: www.minutemachines.com [credit to Michael Sandler]

to conclude then...

i am done with buying time pieces for awhile. I am happy with what i have to date and there is no major need to change things up for a bit. sure i will sell/buy(have to sell something 1st before i buy) watches again someday but i hope that that day is far away as right now, i want to enjoy these horological companions that i have acquired on my journey.

wear them and enjoy them as they keep the time for me in the special moments of my life spent with family and friends... (well they also tell the time during the mundane bits but the great thing is they do make reading the time a joy :)

i won't stop blogging or expressing my opinion on things horology related of course but may take a break for a bit... will see how it goes :) i hope that you, dear readers, are also have a fulfilling time on this journey and passion and in life.

blessings, raph


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Some links to fantastic posts on the Freak... it brings out the best in its fans ;)

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some nice watches

Chinese New Year is cool... because you get to go to friends places and raid their watch collections :) i got round to taking some pics of my mate's watches, a good friend of my wife's who used to be more into horology but has taken a breather from acquisition (just like i am going to :) there were some other cool pieces there but the pics for these turned out a bit better and so sharing it with u all. cheers, raph

Nice IWC Portuguese
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Patek Nautilus PR for him
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Patek Aquanuat for his wife
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B&R 01-92 Red... the latest acquisition :)
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Acknowledging A Contender... A. Lange & Sohne Datograph

as brando said in on the waterfront... "I could have been a contender, I could have been somebody"... this post is about a contender... or specifically a watch contending to be in my collection :) Before I begin this, as a number of my mates are current owners, in the spirit of being a bit more sensitive i would just like to note that what follows is just my personal review and observations of the watch, reflect my taste which of course will differ from the many that have it or really really want to have it.

So lets look at the contender then... A mighty fine watch...
The Lange Datograph

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owners have been known to want to wear it this side up... who can blame them :)
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First off whats great about this watch

- it has an amazing movement. the movement can be seen to be one of the finest hand wind chrono movements and it looks spectacular. big date, column wheel chrono, flyback, low frequency 18,000, jumping minute for the chrono, multi-dimensional, German silver and stainlesss steel and German movement pedigree (rubies, with the gold chatons, blued screws, engraved balance cock and swan neck adjustment) and finished to Lange's high standards. theres just so much to admire when you flip the watch around.

- an icon for the brand. regarded by many connoisseurs and collectors as a top chrono movement achieving top end chrono standing in collector/enthusiast circles.

- its stealthy and versatile in plat. from wearing it to suits to jeans and your boss may not know its pricey if they don't know their expensive watches past Rolex and Patek ;) hopefully they don't mistake it for a steel IWC (ouch)

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So why haven't you bought it already? Well there are some things that I don't like about it

- i find it a tad disproportionate. i think it could either have a bigger diameter dial/case or a slimmer movement/case. right now, it looks a tad pudgy to me at 39mm * 12.5mm.

- in platinum its very heavy for a dress watch. owners right now are baying 'whats bad about that?' well it may be just me but i feel that dress watches shouldn't be so heavy. the heft and thickness of the dato lets you know its on your wrist all the time and if not worn tight, it might roll about as the weight is centred on the head like an uhm platinum ingot. have to be careful when wearing and taking it off too, don't want to drop this lovely... DOH!

- it has a rather 'cool' German dial design thats not a clear winner to me... for me it feels a bit too cold, teutonic, inert somewhat and a little busy too. a slightly larger dial could have made a difference perhaps? some also ask if a big date belongs on a classic chrono... for me i don't find it too bad except for the missing zeroes....

big empty date... wheres the zero?
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- nitpicking a little :) 36 hour power reserve?
luminous hour and minute hands?

- it seems to be rather readily available so no hurry to get it if u want one perhaps. there are more than 10 plat datos trying to be sold right now on various dealers/watch forums/pre-owned sites that i have come across. no matter how high they move the list price from S$75k to S$109k, the secondary market price for a Plat Dato has been hovering around S$60k for a long time. of course at S$60k its ok if you bought it at S$50k when it first launched and not good if you bought it at over S$80k now. (note the rose gold piece is selling about S$65k new... u could get the plat pre-owned at S$60k and have enough left over for a Rolex :) haha... sorry bad joke) its a regular production watch and more and more will just keep on coming out every year. About 500 datos produced a year so maybe 5,000 in all since it launched in 1999. with quite a number in Singapore I reckon.

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A sidenote: Not in contention as the price is just too high... the 5070 is another great chrono but compared to the Dato, it may be a tad too big at 42mm for its thickness. and that stepped bezel is something to get used to. was the 42mm case necessary? of course not, the movement is only 27mm in diameter. i find that it costs quite a fair bit for what it is but that could be said for many Pateks. quite a fair bit of 'hype' generated with all the talk of patek possibly not using the lemania movements anymore because of the swatch folks, impacting prices on the 5070s and the 5970 and variants... a nice and pricey piece nonetheless.

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I have live pics of 2 versions of the dato above but the one that i desired the most was the rarer rose gold black dial version. rarer as it has been discontinued. rose as i like its warmth and black dial as thats just how i prefer my chronos :) Little (and rather known) nugget of info, Philippe Dufour, the Godfather of Independents, and a watchmaker I respect, has this model and it has been referred to before as the 'Dufour Dato'. As I won't be owning a watch by him anytime soon(due to price and opportunity costs), its good to know that a watch that was in contention is loved by a master.

Philippe Dufour holding his Pink Gold Datograph
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Picture source: Horomundi.com

and the last word... A little bit about me and my taste then and a question...

- i like more 'warmth' in my watches. this observation was told to me by a watch loving friend of mine and i think he's spot on ;) the dato is too cool for me but many others will love that. to each his own yuh and we can agree to disagree on this one
- the watch as art to me is about soul. jazz. flair. creative innovation all mixed in together... and as i have limited funds for this passion of mine i hope to acquire something special that has all of this when getting something in the S$40-60 range :)

so I end with a simple question... which watch do you think won out over the dato and is now on my wrist causing me to smile as I type this? :)

Patek 5059... the property of a gentleman

a piece u don't see everyday... (well that is unless you own one or u happen to see an owner of 1 who wears it everyday... ok enough of that ;) this watch then belongs to someone who wears it in rotation with other watches and it is a mighty fine piece indeed. perpetual calendar, moon phase in rose gold... classy, very classy

my apologies for the shoddy pics as i only had my point and shoot on me and was working with pretty challenging light :)


Patek Philippe 5059
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Patek level finishing and the Geneve seal
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i always liked the Calatrava cross
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bad pic but just wanted to show the reflection of the movement in the officer's (half hunter) caseback :)
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and a last one... in repose
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