Carnival, Ulysse Nardin Style

Time Lines September 17, 2002 admin

Carnival, Ulysse Nardin Style


 


By: Michael Disher

On Wednesday evening, March 21, Ulysse Nardin formally introduced their amazing new horological creation, the Freak, to a large audience at the restaurant l’Escale in Basel. Collectors, journalists and creative horology fans enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and sipped champagne in a party atmosphere, which is appropriate, since the theme for the evening was the Basel Carnival, or “Fasnacht”. Fasnacht is a bit “freaky”, especially for those who have not experienced it. In a nutshell, it is a three day carnival held in Basel every year during the week after Ash Wednesday. This year, Fasnacht was about three weeks before the Basel Fair. Part of the Fasnacht celebration involves groups of Basel residents, known as “Cliques”, dressing in extravagant costumes and marching through the town while playing piccolos and drums. The Cliques are clubs that meet several times throughout the year to devise their costumes and practice their routines, which are not revealed until Fasnacht. Here are a few scans from the real Basel Fasnacht to give you an idea of how it looks:







The festivities at the UN Fasnacht got under way with the entrance of a Clique, complete with piccolo players, drummers, and a conductor, all in wild costumes. The drummers and piccolo players wore masks that were caricatures of Dr. Ludwig Oechslin, with lights above their heads bearing an image of the Freak’s new escapement. The Clique’s conductor was of course UN’s owner, Rolf Schnyder. I understand that Rolf’s parents were born in Basel, and he has fond childhood memories of the Carnival. The Clique played merrily as they wound their way through the crowd and up on to the stage, as seen below.




The Clique takes the stage.


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Conductor Rolf Schnyder’s costume.


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We were then treated to a humorous and informative speech by Pierre Gygax. Pierre is UN’s Technical Director, and he is charged with, among other things, turning Dr. Oechslin’s ideas and concepts into working timepieces. Pierre informed us that the Freak was actually supposed to make its debut three weeks earlier, during Fasnacht. UN felt that the world’s freakiest watch should make its first appearance during one of the world’s freakiest carnivals. Fortunately for those of us in attendance this night, there was a delay, which allowed us to be present for the Freak’s exciting debut.




UN Technical Director Pierre Gygax, left, addresses the crowd.


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Pierre described the Freak’s aesthetic and technical details: in a nutshell, it is a completely unique timepiece with no hands, no dial, and no crown. A two meter long mainspring surrounds the movement, which rotates once per hour on pinions that ride in the sapphire crystal. The two bridges double as hands. The mainspring, wound via the case back, provides an 8 day power reserve. The time display is set via the bezel. The revolutionary Dual Direct Escapement needs no lubrication and incorporates parts engraved from pure silicon. Pierre’s discussion was accompanied by video animations of the movement in action. When Pierre completed his description of this technical tour de force, the audience responded with cheers and shouts of “Bravo!” We knew we were witnessing horological history.

Then came the ceremonial lifting of the veil. The Freak was on a pedestal in front of the stage, encased in glass, and covered by a purple silk cloth. The Clique began playing, and tension mounted in the room. What did it look like? We waited, and waited, while the Clique played their tune. Each time the drummers played a “drum roll”, I was sure the cloth would be lifted, but the musicians taunted us by playing another chorus. Pierre Gygax later told me the lengthy wait for the unveiling represented the great length of time UN devoted to realizing the Freak. Good things come to those who wait. Finally, the cover was lifted and the Freak revealed. It was stunning, and photographers, journalists and collectors pushed to get the first close look.




The moment of truth: The cover is removed to reveal the Freak…


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Photographers in position to get the first shots of the Freak


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A scan of the Freak provided by Ulysse Nardin.


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Following the official unveiling, Pierre introduced the members of the UN technical team who worked to realize Ludwig’s ideas. The team is shown below.




The Freak technical team: Pierre Gygax, UN Technical Director (left), Regis Teutschmann, a watchmaker in UN’s R & D department (center), and Lucar Humair, Chief Engineer and Head of Development (right).


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Last to be introduced was the Freak’s creator, Ludwig Oechslin, and those who know of Dr. Oechslin’s concert-level musical skills were perhaps not surprised when he turned out to be one of the piccolo players in the Clique – Ludwig disguised as himself. Once again cheers of “Bravo!” rang out.




Freak creator Dr. Ludwig Oechslin is unmasked.


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The evening’s finale was a speech by Rolf Schnyder. Rolf extended his thanks to Pierre and his staff, and to Dr. Oechslin for all of his “freaky” ideas. Rolf aptly described the Freak as “Poetry in mechanical watchmaking. Total innovation, plus an important piece of art, with animation that also tells time.” Rolf also mentioned the high level of curiosity about the Freak in the weeks leading up to the unveiling, and “the very clever people on TimeZone who found the patent” for the Dual Direct Escapement. But, he noted proudly, no one guessed all the Freak’s attributes. Rolf indicated that UN hopes to begin delivering the Freak in approximately six months.




Ulysse Nardin owner Rolf Schnyder (right) addresses the audience, while Technical Director Pierre Gygax (left) looks on.


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Following Rolf’s comments, Renato Bonina, a member of UN’s sales staff, allowed the attendees to get a close up look at the Freak, and Rolf and Ludwig made themselves available for interviews with journalists. Audience members crowded around Renato for an unobstructed view.




Renato Bonina of Ulysse Nardin provides the audience with an up close look at the Freak.


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I hope this story has allowed you to experience some of the freaky atmosphere UN provided. This was truly an evening to remember.

 

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