Don’t let the name put you off: it’s part of the charm of Ulysse Nardin that no one at the brand has thought to rename its radically innovative horological project in the 18 years since the first version appeared.
Partly that’s out of respect for Rolf Schnyder, the far-sighted maverick CEO: he rescued the house from the edge of extinction. But Freak also deserved its name, being an entirely new take on what a watch could be with its silicon components and carousel construction (the whole movement is, in effect, the minute hand).
The new Freak Vision is more than just another update though: it’s both technically clever and much more refined in its design. The Freak project was always about invention, and successive versions have introduced various enhancements, but the Vision really does match up to the original: there’s a new escapement, new balance wheels, new materials, new production techniques and a super-efficient automatic winding system that Ulysse has, perhaps unfortunately, named the ‘Grinder’.
But far more importantly, what was a somewhat cumbersome watch has been reformed and redesigned into one that’s clean and elegant and wears its technology lightly. The gear train is hidden under a pair of central bridges, rather than exposed on its surface, while the case is lighter and simpler.
You can still see the detail of the mechanism; it’s just that the detail no longer dominates the design and instead adds to the elegance of this standout timepiece.
Tudor's Black Bay remains king
Black Bay Fifty-Eight with steel bracelet, £2,560, tudorwatch.com
Tudor’s Black Bay is the foundation on which the brand’s new era was constructed. First appearing in 2012, it pointed to a rich and interesting way forward for a house that was all too often seen as Rolex’s poor relation. The Black Bay showed that Tudor had its own identity and its own agenda, and remains the brand’s bestseller. It is also a masterclass in recasting a vintage design for modern tastes.
All the important details are there (from the retro logo to the snowflake hands), but without ever feeling like a pastiche or less than a modern watch. The new version for 2018, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, follows the same principle but runs the vintage inspiration a little harder: it’s one size smaller at 39mm, lower in profile and with slightly (2mm) thinner straps. And being Tudor, the watch is of a quality that outclasses many more expensive models.
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