January 15, 2017
by Ariel Adams
At SIHH 2017, Ulysse Nardin debuts its newest concept timepiece, the Ulysse Nardin InnoVision 2. It comes 10 years after the original InnoVision that was released in 2007. Both of these are based on the famed Freak collection and feature innovations that Ulysse Nardin has or will implement into production models in the future. Just like the original InnoVision, Ulysse Nardin promises “10 innovations” in the InnoVision 2. The promise of these new features finding their way into production watches is extremely tantalizing, and we finally see some bold modern design steps forward in the Freak collection. This is easily one of the most impressive new-for-2017 timepieces that I’ve seen thus far.
Concept watches are very rare these days. It used to be that we saw at least a few “not for production anytime soon” timepieces from brands meant to show off potential design and technical directions that production watches might enjoy in the future. This is, of course, similar to what you see in the automobile industry. Over the last few years, concept watches have become an extremely rare species, but the ones we do see tend to be exciting. I recall the Parmigaini Sefine from SIHH 2016 that was equally amazing.
Ulysse Nardin declined to share things like specific technical specifications for the InnoVision 2 such as case size and materials. In a sense, those things are mostly irrelevant given that the focus is on the internals. From a design perspective, we see a timepiece which is much more innovative than the original InnoVision when it comes to aesthetics. This is a “Freak of the Future,” building on one of my favorite high-end watch collections, hinting at where future Freak models might go design-wise. While I don’t have a problem with the Ulysse Nardin Freak models of today, I wouldn’t mind seeing further evolutions of the case and dial that go the InnoVision 2 route in the future. For now, I hope I get a chance to play with the Ulysse Nardin InnoVision 2 because this is one cool-looking take on the Freak.
The watch feels like the product of an ambitious project by someone who wanted to not only make the Freak more convenient and functional, but also raided Ulysse Nardin’s closet of interesting experiments using silicon and sapphire crystal to make the movement. Given that the Ulysse Nardin InnoVision 2 is a concept watch, it is difficult to determine how well the actual movement works, or how much of an improvement in performance much of this new tech has over more traditional movements. Then again, even production Freak watches have movements which are anything but traditional. Watch movement tech nerds will swoon over the possibilities, and everyone else will be impressed with all the fancy terminology. Last, I’ll note that the term “silicium” is the same as “silicon.”
As I mentioned, Ulysse Nardin promises a list of 10 innovations in the InnoVision 2. These are a combination of elements which are related to the movement or how the watch indicates the time. Many of them are patented. I’ll go ahead and summarize the list of the 10 Ulysse Nardin InnoVision 2 innovations here:
1. Dual Constant Escapement: The Dual Direct escapement system from the original Freak in 2001 is now a dual constant force escapement system. This is produced from a sophisticated all-silicon structure, and not only allows efficient transmission of power from the mainspring to the gear train, but also ensures that such force remains consistent in order to promote accuracy in a movement over the time a mainspring winds down.
2. Direct Silicium Bonding: Silicon parts are usually a single piece and not produced from multiple parts. However, using a special high-heat bonding procedure, Ulysse Nardin uses some silicon parts in the InnoVision 2 which appear to be made from two or more pieces of silicon which have been properly attached together.
3. Silicium balance wheel with gold mass elements and stabilizing micro paddles: Related to the above innovation, Ulysse Nardin uses a silicon balance wheel that has other elements connected to it, which is apparently novel. Here we see what might be the best of both worlds from a traditional weight-balanced metallic balance wheel and one produced from silicon. So, in essence, this is the development of a silicon balance wheel which can be fine-adjusted like traditional ones.
4. “Grinder” automatic winding system: The Freak has never been an automatic-winding watch, but rather manually wound. In the Ulysse Nardin InnoVision 2, the brand developed an automatic winding system which is distinct in how it works and is, of course, produced from mostly silicon parts. Given that it does not operate the same way as a traditional automatic winding system, the “Grinder” name (probably not the best name) refers to a system which uses an oscillating weight paired with a delicate ratcheting system to wind the movement.
5. Sapphire-coated silicium bridge: Silicon is brittle, and several years ago Ulysse Nardin presented a solution to this with DiamSil, which coated silicon with a diamond film to make it harder. Here we see a different technique to strengthen silicon by coating in a layer of sapphire crystal, which makes it much harder and only adds one micrometer to the base silicon material.