This might seem a peculiar place to begin, given the singularity of the watch above but if you pay attention to the numbers put out by the independent body that keeps tabs on Swiss watch exports, you’ll have noticed a significant trend developing over the past few years. In sum, as volumes of timepieces are shrinking, values are soaring.
The pandemic has only exacerbated this transfer. This, while perhaps not immediately riveting to most people, is relevant, because it goes some way to explaining why a brand that makes a hard-as-nails diver’s watch is also making a bold-as-brass jewellery cornerstone piece like the Sparkling Free Wheel. But as horolophiles will know, Ulysse Nardin is famous first for its high-end wristwear. The Freak, aptly named and introduced 20 years ago, lost its crown and turned a mechanical movement into hands. And the brand is a creator of arcane wristwatch automata, too – some of them distinctly seductive, all of them high-tariff, many extremely coveted and collectible. The Genghis Khan for example, while not erotic, now commands for more than A$1 million, if you are to pay attention to Chrono24’s listings.
The diamond-encrusted, eight-piece limited-edition Sparking Free Wheel tourbillon slots into the repertoire as both a gem-set artwork and highly complex watchmaking exercise. The headlines, if you can see beyond the glare, are that this watch is “snow-set” with 2,251 diamonds (stones of different sizes, randomly set, and totalling 5.90 carats) and that it sends a tourbillon, escapement, gear train and seven-day power reserve indicator to the dial via an elaborate inverted tourbillon calibre. The result, to be quite honest, is spectacular. The technical base is the Executive Free Wheel, a watch that really deserves your attention.
Launched in 2018, the timepiece offers an unusual, transparent design for the tourbillon complication, as well as a loose and visible arrangement of a few gears and parts. The Free Wheel’s open design is highlighted by the sapphire glass box at the top that serves as a dust cover for the components that contrast and rise above the surface with a unique technical display and are hardly comparable with other watches. The wheel nodes’ arrangement can be seen as a sort of archipelago of apparently dissociated watchmaking components, crowned at 12 o’clock by the barrel and visually supported by the flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock and the power reserve at around 4 o’clock. The same UN-176 calibre that gives life to the original Executive Free Wheel, can be seen again in this new approach.
ULYSSE NARDIN SPARKLING FREE WHEEL, $POA, SHOP NOW
Words: Marne Schwartz