Hands-On: Ulysse Nardin Freak X Carbonium Gold “The Hour Glass”

A striking, gilded Freak.

Having unveiled commemorative editions from the likes of Audemars Piguet, De Bethune and Urwerk for its 40 years in business, Singapore watch retailer The Hour Glass continues the anniversary roll-out with the Ulysse Nardin Freak X Carbonium Gold.

The watch is a variant of the entry-level but appealing Freak X, a remarkable exercise in simplicity and the most affordable version of the Freak to date. But importantly, it manages to be the base model without being a concession, and instead is more of an optimisation, offering a great deal of exotic watchmaking – it boasts the fanciest oscillator of any watch in this price segment – for little money as such things go.

While the Freak X forgoes some characteristics of its avant-garde forebear, it is both technically clever and much more refined in design, offering an enhanced practicality by way of a smaller case, a traditional crown, an automatic movement, and most crucially, a high-performance silicon balance wheel – an innovation found only in one other Freak, the pricier Freak Vision.

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold 1

Streamlined mechanics

Limited to 30 pieces, the Freak X for The Hour Glass combines a new case material – “Carbonium Gold” – with a striking champagne dial.

In contrast to most Freak models that have dark dials, this Freak X has a face in a pale gold which gives it a greater presence on the wrist, but because of its matte, brushed finish, it isn’t loud and manages to be easily wearable. The only downside of the champagne dial is its similarity in tone to certain East Asian skin colours.

To match the case and bezel, the central bridge, the fixed ring gear and wheels that drive the hour hand are all in black, bringing greater emphasis to the carrousel mechanism against the gold dial.

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold 3

Unlike the original Freak, the Freak X optimises the carrousel construction, turning it into a simpler, and arguably more robust, mechanism, with larger wheels that are integrated into the revolving hour plate, while much of the gear train is hidden underneath.

But the escapement and balance wheel form the minute hand, revolving around the dial once every hour – a feat that is still uncommon even after 18 years since the launch of the Freak.

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold 5

While the Freak X uses a traditional lever escapement, it is nevertheless made of silicon. And it is joined by the technical highlight of the Freak X movement, a high-tech, silicon balance wheel – ironically a feature absent in the hand-wound Freaks that are all more expensive.

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold 2

The silicon balance

Instead of the traditional gold regulating weights, the balance features nickel regulating weights that are lighter so as to improve efficiency. Additionally, the balance is also fitted with self-regulating micro-blades made of silicon that rely on air resistance to stabilise its amplitude and increase accuracy.

The construction of the mechanism means it requires far less energy to drive the entire display, allowing the use of a conventional automatic base movement. The movement inside is the cal. UN-230, which is based on the UN-118, the brand’s workhorse, in-house automatic movement while the carrousel time display is based on that found in the UN-250 movement used in the Freak Vision. In essence it’s a Freak-like time display and oscillator built upon – and integrated into – the regular calibre underneath.

Gilded wearability

Just as important as its technical achievements is the smaller, more wearable case – 43mm instead of the 45mm of earlier Freaks. The Freak X case has also been redesigned; it is far more elegant and comfortable on the wrist with a more rounded form along with short, gently tapered lugs.

But not only is the case of this Freak X smaller, it is also much lighter, as it is made of Carbonium Gold. Carbonium, a lightweight and strong carbon composite, is typically used for the fuselage and wings of aircraft.

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold 9

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold 8

Unusually, the carbon composite used here is actually recycled and eco-friendly. According to Ulysse Nardin, the material has 40% less environmental impact than conventional carbon composites as it is obtained from the offcuts that come from aircraft component production.

While the standard Freak X uses standard Carbonium for the case, the edition for The Hour Glass is a carbon composite mixed with gold leaf, which creates fine gold strands embedded within the layers of the marbled carbon composite. The effect is very subtle and only apparent upon proximity. The material is a novel variation of a material widely used for high-end watch cases, making it different, which has appeal in itself.

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold 6

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold 7

Mechanical practicality

Beyond the time display, the reformed Freak movement forgoes a signature feature of the original Freak – the time-setting bezel and notched case back that winds the mainspring – in favour of a crown, perhaps the most contentious aspect of the revamped movement construction as it creates a case silhouette identical to that of an ordinary watch.

It is worth noting, however, that the bezel and back of the original Freak were the solutions necessary as a result of having a massive mainspring that filled the entire case back. With a conventional automatic movement as its base, that is unnecessary in the Freak X.

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold-1

Visible through the sapphire case back, the rotor, bridges and baseplate of the UN-230 are all finished in black, with the V-shaped “Magic Lever” visible just below the central pivot.

The movement offers a 72-hour power reserve, which is shorter than the week-long power reserves of regular Freaks, but still decent and respectable.

Ulysse Nardin The Hour Glass Freak X Carbonium Gold-2

Concluding thoughts

The Ulysse Nardin Freak X “The Hour Glass” is an undeniably striking iteration of what is already a compelling value proposition.

The high contrast between the dial and hands brings a greater emphasis to the revolving escapement – a concept that till today remains a rare feat in watchmaking, let alone at this price point.

Compared to the standard model, this edition of the Freak X costs approximately 15% more, which is fair and acceptable.

Key facts

Diameter: 43mm
Material: Carbonium Gold
Water resistance: 30m

Movement: cal. UN-230
Functions: Hours and minutes
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 21,600bph, or 3Hz
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Dark brown alligator

Price and availability

The Ulysse Nardin Freak X “The Hour Glass” is limited to 30 pieces and is priced at 38,500 Singapore dollars. It is exclusively retailed at The Hour Glass and is already in stores.


 

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MB&F and L’Epée 1839 Introduces the T-Rex Clock

Science meets science fiction.

Over the past five years, independent powerhouse MB&F and historical clockmaker L’Epée have built a reputation on enormous and complex creations, making horological spiders, robotsrocket ships and UFOs. This year, the duo has teamed up once more to create yet another eccentric tabletop timepiece – a cycloptic T-Rex.

The T-Rex was first unveiled earlier in the year as a one-off creation that was customised with a rider atop for Only Watch. The T-Rex minus its passenger has now gone into production and is available in three iterations with either green, blue or red glass dials.

MB&F & L’Epée 1839 T-Rex 1

While the earlier co-creations had more explicit influences, the T-Rex’s odd form requires some explanation. According to the brand, the source of inspiration was an ornament found on the desk of founder Maximilian Büsser that comprised of a Christmas bauble perched atop two chicken legs.

MB&F & L’Epée 1839 T-Rex-8

Like the Medusa launched earlier in the year, the T-Rex strikes a balance between mechanical and organic forms. The 26.5cm tall body of the T-Rex is fashioned from stainless steel, palladium-plated brass and bronze, while its translucent “eyeball”, which also serves as the dial, is made of hand-blown glass from the same Murano producer that crafts the bodies of the Medusa.

MB&F & L’Epée 1839 T-Rex-5

MB&F & L’Epée 1839 T-Rex-2

The jointed legs of T-Rex were designed to suggest motion, while its alternating sandblasted and polished finishing give it a sense of realism. In fact, the legs were modelled on actual Tyrannosaurus Rex bones, using 3D scans of fossilised dinosaur skeletons as references.

Made up of 201 components including the movement, the T-Rex is less complex and significantly lighter than its previous co-creations, weighing approximately 2kg.

MB&F & L’Epée 1839 T-Rex 3

Behind the dial is L’Epée’s eight-day movement, which is essentially the same movement used in their previous clocks such as the Destination Moon 8-Day Rocket Clock and the Medusa, but with a more conventional display.

Time is indicated via two curved hands instead of stacked rotating drums. Thus, the movement is anchored horizontally, with the escapement lying flat and the massive barrel situated at the back.

MB&F & L’Epée 1839 T-Rex-6

Time is set with a key, fitted through the center of the Murano glass dial, while the power reserve is maintained separately with the same key at the rear of the movement.

Key facts

Dimensions: 265 mm tall x 258 mm x 178 mm
Weight: Approximately 2kg
Material: Stainless steel, palladium-plated brass and bronze, with a hand-blown Murano glass dial

Movement: L’Epée 1839 movement
Functions: Hours and minutes
Frequency: 18,000bph, or 2.5Hz
Power reserve: 8 days

Time-setting: Winding key to both set the time (in the centre of the dial) and wind the movement (on the barrel axis at the back)

Price and availability

The T-Rex is available with either a red, blue or green dial, each limited to 100 pieces and priced at 22,500 Swiss francs including VAT.


 

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G-Shock Introduces the “Extra-Thin” GA-2100 Carbon Core Guard

Lightweight and wearable.

The new G-Shock GA-2100 is likely the most wearable in the line-up, being the thinnest G-Shock ever. Its compact dimensions – and analogue hands – gives it the feel of a conventional watch, avoiding the extremely oversized style of many G-Shocks.

Just 11.8mm high, the GA-2100 is thinner than the Omega Speedmaster Moon Watch (13mm) and the Rolex Daytona (12.2mm). The case diameter is 45.4mm, though it looks and feels substantially smaller.

g shock ga-2100 carbon core guard 1

kikuo ibe g shock singapore 2019

G-Shock inventor Kikuo Ibe at the launch of the GA-2100 in Singapore

Though reduced in size, the GA-2100 has the traditional G-Shock case construction that includes an inner protective bumper around the electronic module.

Visible around the steel case back, the bumper is made of carbon composite – which Casio has named the Carbon Core Guard – which is a dark marbled grey and distinct from the black resin outer case.

g shock ga-2100 carbon core guard 5

The octagonal bezel is immediately reminiscent of the Royal Oak, but according to Casio it is actually a reworking of the bezel of the original G-Shock of 1983, the DW-5000C, which was octagonal, albeit one with unequal sides.

g shock ga-2100 carbon core guard 3

The GA-2100 has an analogue displays for the time and day of the week, but also all the usual electronic functions of a G-Shock in two LCD windows, including multiple time zones, stopwatch, alarm, countdown and calendar.

g shock ga-2100 carbon core guard 2

Key facts and price

Diameter: 45.4mm
Height: 11.8mm
Material: Resin and carbon composite with steel back
Water resistance: 200m

Movement: 5611
Functions: Multi-function electronic with analogue time display
Winding: Quartz

Battery life: 3 years

Strap: Resin

Price: US$99, or 169 Singapore dollars.

The GA-2100 is already available at G-Shock stores and retailers.


 

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