Introducing the Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry

A dial of silicon mosaic.
Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry 3

There aren’t many watches that straddle the past and future quite as dramatically as the Ulysse Nardin Freak. When it made its debut in 2001, the original Freak was a landmark that morphed the tourbillon (or more specifically a carousel) into the time display. More crucially, the new Dual Direct escapement inside the Freak used silicon – which was then completely radical for a watch movement – to realise the frictionless natural escapement invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet but never produced in series.

Now Ulysse Nardin has inverted the use of silicon, silicium in French, in with a special edition of the new entry-level Freak by using silicon marquetry for the dial.

Available in two iterations – natural finish or DLC-coated titanium – the Freak X Silicium Marquetry uses 120 tiny slices of silicon wafer segments assembled on a brass dial base to create a multi-layered mosaic dial. The dials possess the characteristic iridescent and slightly metallic lustre of silicon. And because each slice of silicon catches the light slightly differently, the dial has a striking reflectivity and varying colours.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry 1

Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry

Because the colour of silicon wafers depend on the thickness and number of layers of silicon dioxide inside, coloured motifs are possible. The natural finish titanium model features a gilded “X” on a blue dial, while the DLC-coated version has a silver “X” on a purplish-blue background.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry 2

Fittingly, the decorative dials are applied to the simplest, least freakish, and most affordable version of the Freak to date. Launched at SIHH 2019, the Freak X is a wearable 43mm in diameter and dispenses with the signature time-setting bezel in favour of a traditional crown.

Ulysse-Nardin-Freak-X-Silicium-Marquetry-4-1

The result of this concession to convention is a significantly less complex mechanism that’s constructed essentially as a Freak-like time display on top of a conventional automatic movement. The newly developed automatic cal. UN-230 has a full rotor visible through the case back and offers a 72-hour power reserve, which is shorter than the seven-days of the original Freak, but still longish by the standards of conventional movement.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry 2

That being said, the distinctive baguette-shaped carrousel time display is takes centre stage. The minute hand is comprised of the balance, escapement and part of the wheel train, with the entire assembly rotating to indicate the minutes. Silicon is also used literally in the movement, with an impressive, extra-large silicon balance, complete with nickel inertia blocks and stabilising micro-blades.

Price and Availability

The Ulysse Nardin Freak X Silicium Marquetry (ref. 2303-270LE) is limited to 18 pieces in each dial style, and priced at SFr29,500.


 

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Grand Seiko Introduces the Elegance Collection Hand-Wind, “Thin Dress” Watch

An all-new line of dress watches.
Grand Seiko Elegance Collection SBGK002

The Elegance Collection is an all-new line for Grand Seiko that made its debut late last year with a pair of quartz watches. Now it’s grown to include mechanical models with the 9S63, a newly developed, hand-wound movement. And the line also includes two limited edition models with dials finished in urushi, or traditional Japanese lacquer.

Described as “mechanical thin dress series” by Seiko, the Elegance Collection is exactly that. While the case is inspired by the current Grand Seiko cases, it has a more rounded form, as well as shorter lugs. The watches are available in gold or steel, but share the same slim case that measures 39mm by 11.6mm. Notably, the sapphire display back is screw-down.

Grand Seiko Elegance Collection SBGK004

The dial is domed, as is the sapphire crystal, to echo the lines of the case and give it a slightly vintage look. Both the minute hand and power reserve pointer have curved tips – which are curved manually with a rolling pin-like tool – to match the curve of the dial’s surface.

Grand Seiko Elegance Collection SBGK002-1

Calibre 9S63

The 9S63 is the first new hand-wound Grand Seiko movement in eight years. It has both a small seconds and power reserve indicator, positioned horizontally at nine and three respectively. Interestingly, the 33-jewel 9S63 is the first Grand Seiko movement ever with a subsidiary seconds.

Grand Seiko Elegance Collection 9S63

The 9S63 inside the stainless steel limited edition, which has blued steel screws not found on other models

The power reserve is 72 hours, while the movement is rated to the Grand Seiko standard of between -3 and +5 seconds a day.

The watches, limited and otherwise

A pair of limited editions in 18k rose gold headline the Elegance Collection. Both have dials finished in urushi, traditional Japanese lacquer made from the sap of he lacquer tree. Specifically, the urushi used for the dials is obtained from trees growing around the town of Joboji, a town about an hour’s north of the Shizukuishi Watch Studio, where all mechanical Grand Seikos are produced. Both sit in the shadow of Mount Iwate, a dormant volcano that dominates the landscape of the area.

Both urushi dials have the hour markers and Grand Seiko logo in taka-maki-e, or raised lacquer, created with multiple layers of pure gold or platinum powder sprinkled onto the dial on layer at a time in a time-consuming process.

Grand Seiko Elegance Collection urushi dial

The dials are produced at the workshop of Isshu Tamura, a maki-e specialist located in Kanazawa, a city on Japan’s western coast. Mr Tamura’s workshop is the same one responsible for the urushi dials found on the more affordable Presage watches.

The first is the SBGK002, which has a rich brown dial with an irregular radial motif known as Iwateyama, after its inspiration Mount Iwate. It’s made up of suki-urushi, or translucent lacquer, over the patterned dial. And the second is the more traditional SBGK004, with a dial is glossy, jet black lacquer. Each is limited to 150 pieces.

And then there is the gold model in the regular collection, which is the most conventional: the SBGK006, in 18k yellow gold with a white dial.

Grand Seiko Elegance Collection 18k gold

From left: The SBGK002, SBGK005 in rose gold, and the SBGK006 in yellow gold

More affordable and unusual is the SBGK005 in stainless steel, which is a 1500-piece limited edition. It has a patterned Iwateyama in dark blue, though it is not urushi. Another feature unique to this model are the blued steel screws on the movement.

Grand Seiko Elegance Collection steel SBGK005

The stainless steel SBGK005

Price and availability 

The Grand Seiko Elegance Collection will be available starting March 2019, with the exception of the model 18k yellow gold, which will arrive in July 2019. They will be available at Grand Seiko and Seiko boutiques, as well as selected retailers.

Prices, excluding taxes, are as follows:

Elegance Collection 18k rose gold SBGK002 – US$29,000, or ¥3.2m

Elegance Collection 18k rose gold SBGK004 – US$29,000, or ¥3.2m

Elegance Collection stainless steel SBGK005 – US$7400, or ¥750,000

Elegance Collection 18k yellow gold SBGK006 – US$19,000, or ¥2.1m


Correction February 5, 2019: The Elegance Collection was first introduced in late 2018 with a pair of quartz watches, and not in January 2019 as reflected in an earlier version of this article.

Addition February 6, 2019: Prices in US dollars added.

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