Let Us Review The Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel Watch

hat’s right, this is an actual review of the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel, this very latest $99,000 halo-piece from La Chaux-de-Fonds. First things first, I have to say, kudos to Ulysse Nardin for being good sports and sending their latest tourbillon out for a review after I was rather critical about its presentation in the news article where we debuted this piece a couple weeks back. It was Stéphane, the Head of Research and Innovation at Ulysse Nardin who commented below the article to explain a few important details that were missing from the original press release and I did really appreciate that. Without further ado, let’s cut to the chase.

As is the case for any halo watch, there are two main and very different aspects to the appreciation of such a top-shelf exercise in fine watchmaking. First, there is the strictly technical aspect, where we lift the watch close to the loupe in front of our eyes or we crop deep into the macro photographs, all in an effort to understand and to appreciate the creative effort and engineering work that has gone into its creation. Second, there is the actual, real-world experience, when such a watch gets taken out into the real world, full of… well, everything. Exciting is the word I’m looking for because at this point the watch is no longer up close to our face, but down on our wrist and all we can do is catch glimpses of it as it performs its essential function: keeping and telling time. This real-world take is a completely different and indeed very special experience. I am at odds with which element to start, but I figure it’s best to gain an appreciation of its fine details and bold engineering first and with that in mind, learn what it was like to wear such a watch for weeks on end out and about in a metropolitan world.

White Gold & Lots Of Sapphire

At 44mm wide, the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel Watch is a wide watch that compensates for its substantial diameter with an impressively thin profile. Irrespective of all that’s going on, the Free Wheel is a thin watch by the standards of any watch, not just comparably complicated ones. The case-back is slightly “bubbled” and the lugs are angled downwards steeply, so rather than a pointless exact measurement of thickness I’ll say that it feels, looks, and wears a little thinner than a Rolex Submariner on the wrist. It is wider and longer though. The case comes with the brand’s trademark triple lug design and while those could normally steal the show as far as exterior elements are concerned, the real showstopper here is the sapphire “cap” that pans across the top of the watch and reaches all the way down into an extremely thin, 18ct white gold case profile. It’s like a wrist-vivarium with a selection of highly exotic things kept safely and exhibited proudly within. It creates an airy look and feel, keeping the physical and aesthetic weight of the watch at an absolute minimum.

The massive sapphire front and side element also let a lot of light into the case and onto the many different components that appear to be sparkling with joy now that they are not hidden underneath a dial or a funky arrangement of plates and bridges. Thankfully, the sapphire piece appears to be amply AR-coated and so – despite its noticeably domed front – all components are easy to appreciate from afar or up close, without the annoying hindrance of excessive reflections.

A fun part of the watch is how you can see (on the image below) the white gold case glued to the sapphire cap from the inside. It sort of reminds me of how diamonds are held secure by their gold settings. The two lugs on the side are fully polished, including the heads of the screws that appear to hold the strap secure, while the center portions of the lug structures are vertically brushed. The crown exhibits comparable complexity with its brushed and polished parts. It often happens, and this piece is no different: on such a complicated watch, where there is so much going on to draw one’s eyes, certain components such as the case or crown often get overlooked. Even if, upon a closer look, one would rightly shiver at the thought of machining and engraving a piece as complex as that crown on its own. Not to mention the polish that is to be applied between the flanks and the brushed surface treatment on the higher parts. Even the aforementioned screws in the lugs have beveled and polished outer edges; these aren’t just some screws that came in by the hundreds from a supplier. No, these appear to have been finished to the same standards as much smaller screws are inside properly high-end movements. Apparently, placing such feats well on show really is the theme of this watch, down to such details. They really didn’t hold back on anything and while that sounds absolutely normal and expectable, it is not always the case.

All these, however, pale in significance when compared to the dial and its many shiny, contrasting, mind-tingling components. This is where the Ulysse Nardin Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel really stands out. A lot of it appears self-explanatory upon first sight – but it’s one of those things where the more you know, the more you can appreciate how much you actually don’t understand. As far as indications go, you get hours and minutes in the middle, indicated by two very large and very bold hands that have never ever failed to stand out against the dial – other issues I did experience with legibility, but more on that later. You also get a one-minute tourbillon at the 6 o’clock position of the dial; this doesn’t hack so you can’t really use it as a seconds indicator all that much, but it’s still there to give you a rough idea if you really want to time something within a minute. Last, but definitely not least, there is a power reserve indicator at the 4 o’clock position of the dial that, just like the tourbillon, is standing there all on its own, without any apparent connection to any moving parts whatsoever.

This latter feature, the fact these parts stand free, adds tremendously to the overall look and impression of these components, as well the entire watch itself. We have seen countless flying tourbillons and yet more power reserve indicators, but for them to be just sticking out of a dial like that shows them in a completely new light. The tourbillon includes Ulysse Nardin’s lubrication-free silicon affair for the escapement assembly – namely the escapement wheel, pallet fork, and its spider web-like structure. Take a look at how this cool tourbillon works with the video below.

To better understand the Free Wheel concept, let me quote Stéphane von Gunten, Head of Research & Innovation at Ulysse Nardin who kindly chimed in on the comments under my news article with an explanation that could only ever come from a modern watchmaker: