A lot can happen in two and a half years. What does the summer of 2013 mean to you? In geopolitical circles, tectonic shifts were underway as Edward Snowden disclosed evidence of mass government surveillance on an unimagined scale. The first Jesuit pontiff, His Holiness Pope Francis was beginning to make waves with his stark — some said reformist — departures from the ecclesiastical templates of past decades. Airwaves were dominated by the infinitely punchable Robin Thicke and his irrepressibly catchy, casually sexist pop hit “Blurred Lines”. Change was happening, lines were blurring in the field of mechanical watchmaking as well.
In May 2013, URWERK broke the news of their latest step in their ongoing quest to redefine the relationship between man and machine. Perhaps “step” is not exactly the right word. Let us say “stride”, or even better, “evolutionary ascent”. They premiered the movement of the URWERK EMC, which stands for Electro Mechanical Control. A few months later, in August, they raised the curtain on the watch itself.
Since we’re on the subject of acronyms, I’m going to come right out and say that the EMC was a BFD. The EMC is a watch that allows its wearer to regulate its output by the means of a small tuning screw in its caseback, which is directly coupled with the index. That wouldn’t sound like a BFD to most people, until you realise that the EMC has done for watchmaking what the personal computer did for technology. It put power in the hands of the consumer.
It took something which had always been a sealed world for everyone except a small group of trained professionals — the mechanical watch — and allowed the owner to truly integrate it into his personal environment. In doing so, the EMC permanently altered the way we see fine mechanical timepieces.
No longer are they objects occupying fixed spaces in our lives that we have to navigate around. Previously, if your watch was slow, you dealt with it. If your watch was fast, your friends and family probably rejoiced at your sudden propensity to show up on time for appointments — but again it’s not something you could have helped. You’d have to send your watch away to be taken care of.
What happens when you don’t have to send your watch away? What happens when you know you can take care of your watch on your own? The same thing that happens when someone learns how to fix her own car. The same thing that happens when you learn how to move through the internet and know things you didn’t know before in order to do things you couldn’t do before.
Someone once said that every experience of love starts with a new point of view. Simple observation bears this out — that feeling of heightened awareness and delight at seeing things a different way is something we’ve all had. The EMC gave us this. It still does, actually.
The EMC brought the mechanical watch into the wearer’s personal sphere of influence. Sure, we wore watches before, and we influenced them, in a way. We wound them, we marked them superficially, we wore them down. But what could be more influential than to change the fundamental heartbeat of something?
We do this with the people we love — we calibrate the rhythms of their lives as they do ours. URWERK took a risk by making their watches vulnerable to their wearers.
(What you risk reveals what you treasure.)
But it is that same vulnerability that induces a profound connection between watch and wearer, a connection composed of equal parts ownership, the caregiving impulse, and a sense that the watch needs your intervention to be at its best.
And that’s completely in opposition to how we’ve always approached the creation and manufacture of fine watches. We make them as robust as possible, as resistant to the impositions of the wearer’s life as possible. We make them useful. The fine-adjustment screw on the back of the EMC takes the watch beyond useful. It makes it usable.
People can fall in and out of love in two and a half years. Those of us who have kept faith with the URWERK EMC can now discover something new about it. (This is the secret of a lasting relationship. Always discovering new things about your partner. Or so I’ve been told.) The new URWERK EMC Time Hunter not only gives a reading of its accuracy under the environmental conditions of its wearer, now it also gives an amplitude reading.
This is accomplished via the same sensor that inhabited the original EMC, now reprogrammed to give you an additional report of the strength of its heartbeat. The fold-out arm is wound in order to charge up a capacitor, which delivers a burst of energy to the sensor and a 16,000,000Hz electronic oscillator (side-note: this is technically still a quartz oscillator, but of a more refined breed than the 32,768Hz one we’re familiar with, so don’t get confused).
The sensor reads the beat rate of the mechanical balance, compares it with the ultra-precise oscillator, and issues a reading that allows you to adjust the index as necessary. The reading of balance amplitude occurs simultaneously, and while there’s nothing very much you can do to help a congenitally weak heart, you can help a faltering heartbeat along by feeding it energy. Yes, we’re still talking about the watch balance, but the heart metaphor is singularly appropriate here, so I’m sticking to it.
In the two and a half years since we first met the EMC, the lines between man and machine have been increasingly blurred. The near universal proliferation of smartphones and devices, and the sophistication of these tools means that we are essentially walking around with an extra brain, one which allows us to step beyond our cognitive limits.
The EMC and the EMC Time Hunter negotiate the boundaries of the things we never thought we could change.
Don’t you see? You change how your watch beats and you have changed the way you experience time. You have changed your world.