The people who make a difference in the world are the freaks and the rebels, the ones who are just different enough to be considered crazy. The Ulysse Nardin Freak is appropriately named in that regard. This ground-breaking avant-garde masterpiece shattered norms and fundamentally altered the objects we wear on our wrists today.
Even though the Swiss watch industry had begun to recover by the late 1990s, it was still very much a renaissance period for mechanical timepieces. Only a small fraction of watchmakers were manufacturing their own movements back then. Some people, however, made an effort to be more daring and innovative as the new millennium rolled around. This occurred at the Ulysse Nardin, most notably with the Freak. It’s likely that the watch industry was ready for a shakeup as well. In 2001, the Freak shocked the industry with its ground-breaking appearance and cutting-edge technical features. A wristwatch unlike anything ever seen before.
And now at Watches And Wonders 2023, the Freak One has returned with no dial, no hands, and no crown. We caught up with Virginie Franceries, CMO at Ulysse Nardin to discuss the new novelties, the emergence of NFTs, and more!
THM: How has the journey been for the Freak?
Virginie: This watch has a name that tells you a lot about it. When we talk about the ‘Freak’ it means unconventional and something never seen before. It was the first hyper watch in 2001 and the first time a movement had been deconstructed and reinvented in a way that could tell the time. It’s a very distinct characteristic that the new Freak One has – no dial, no hands, no crown. The Freak was a result of 22 years of continuous research and improvement. But, the new one was under research for 3 years before being launched. We’ve introduced the DIAMonSIL coating in the new timepiece as compared to the use of silicon in the 2001 version. It’s better in terms of resistance and durability. Apart from that the grinder and crown system is novel in this timepiece. When you turn the bezel and lift the crown, you can see the movement. This has created a very special emotional relationship between the watch and its owner. This watch showcases Ulysse Nardin’s cutting-edge engineering and differentiating design piece. The design is derived from the mechanics.
THM: Is the aesthetics of the watch designed first and then the movement or vice-versa?
Virginie: The movement is designed first when it comes to Ulysse Nardin. It’s very interesting to know that movement dictates the design. This watch is a statement of the brand’s technical prowess and I absolutely love it.
THM: Is Ulysse Nardin moving more toward the Freak collection since we see more of these being launched, not so much in the limelight with the Marines?
Virginie: Yes. What we want to do is leverage Freak as our reflection because we believe it is a very strong asset for us owing to its uniqueness. Every collection has its own points of uniqueness, but this one stands out – from design to technical standpoints. This collection can embody what Ulysse Nardin truly is in terms of mindset too. The brand has always had an unconventional approach to watchmaking and choosing the Freak is evidence of the same.
THM: With new trends coming along such as NFTs, is the brand also looking to indulge in this non-fungible token or is it a challenge to keep up?
Virginie: There are a lot of things going on. With NFTs, it’s a trend that gained popularity in the past 2 years. We also know of a competitor brand that has indulged in it. But, with a trend like this, it is extremely tricky. For me, NFT is super interesting because you can attract a younger audience. But sometimes, there are other things also which are interesting. If NFTs can help with your certificate it is very helpful, but having virtual collections in the metaverse or virtual marketplaces, I don’t know if it’s very powerful. With watches, people have a physical relationship with them. I see NFT as a medium of media and not the endgame.
THM: Do you have a similar viewpoint on e-commerce?
Virginie: Yes. We are looking to grow our e-commerce but it takes time We are a wholesale brand with a retail mindset. We are extremely loyal to our partners and we want to strike the right balance between the two. E-commerce is to reach people that we cannot reach in a physical store, however, we want to first work with our partners.
THM: We’ve seen an exciting booth at Watches And Wonders 2023 dedicated to this one launch. What can we expect from Ulysse Nardin during the year?
Virginie: What can you expect is newer pieces in the Freak since it’s our flagship model. We want to focus on the ‘less is more’ approach. We want to launch less but that which has great innovation from corners to materials to technical aspects. We have a strong lineup coming up.
THM: With watches becoming a girl’s best friend, can we expect something for the ladies?
Virginie: Yes! It’s always an ongoing debate when it comes to for men or for ladies. It’s a question of style. Women can wear The Freak One because it is an icon and has a powerful story to tell about the genesis of the brand. We have a new Diver watch for the ladies launching later this year and we are working on straps that are most adjustable for slender wrists. It’s not always about the dial size but also how the strap sits on your wrist.
THM: What are your plans for India?
Virginie: India has been a great market for reconquest with different partners and points of sale. We are trying to expand and the Indian market has a huge potential for our products. It all comes down to wanting to know more about the technical aspects of the watch and appreciate it. We also want to develop the awareness and desirability of the brand because we are not the only ones out there. But we’ll do this the Ulysse Nardin way. The Freak way!