– A brief story of the Urwerk collection of wrist watches –
Between 1990 and 2010 several independent watch brands like Urwerk, MB&F, Hautlence and MCT, just to name a few, were established. From these so called niche brands, Urwerk was one of the first and the brand became in roughly 15 years one of the favourites of many watch collectors all over the word. How did it happen and what brought the brand, that the world did not have? Let’s try to give a simple overview, in this short article.
When Felix Baumgartner had finished the prestigious watchmaking school in Solothurn, he at first worked in Geneva as an independent watchmaker, in Sven Anderson atelier and created complicated watches, including perpetual calendars and minute repeaters, besides that he did also do some restoration for various prestigious brands.
When thinking about his future as a watchmaker, he faced the dilemma to make another traditional Tourbillon, like many other watchmakers did, when they started their entree into the world of watches, or do something completely different. Felix chose the latter and decided to create something extreme. Another way of reading the time, packed in an extra ordinary housing.
The fact that watchmaking is a complete different job, than designing a watch, he understood very well.
In 1995 Felix (and his brother Thomas) met with Industrial designer Martin Frei and the three discussed the idea of creating a new vision of time perception. The result was the establishment of URWERK in 1997, with Thomas Baumgartner and Martin Frei
and the presentation of the first Urwerk timepiece, the UR 101, that was produced in a small series. Thomas decided to step down not much later and continued his career as CNC technician.
The UR 101 and 102 were soon followed up by the 103 series, which was a radical change.
The watch had an easier and more precise time reading and a extraordinary case.
The real break trough came when the 103.03 was launched. The watch with it’s exceptional U shaped mineral glass, was talked about, in every blog and magazine and became soon a favorite by collectors. Part of the satellites were hidden under the construction, which gave it a mysterious look. Different versions followed; with and without ribs underneath the dial, fine ribs and wider ribs and the last version, the 103T, where the U shaped glass was replaced by a more square glass, telling the whole story of the turning satellites.
Urwerk moved on and despite the fact that the company only counted about 10 people at that time, new models followed each other up, almost every year.
The mechanical UR 201 and UR 202 with automatic caliber, the world’s first wristwatch with a new winding system regulated by compressing air, utilizing miniature turbines, were launched.
The UR-201 presented, for the first time with that really cool oil meter, that indicates when the watch needs to be returned for service.
Urwerk’s rather exotic looking collection of watches, suddenly started to look a bit bourgeois, when the UR-CC1 was launched. With the 103 series Urwerk teached us how to read the time in a different way; for the UR-CC1 one needs to concentrate again very well, at first sight, since one reads the time via two linear dials.
The rather large case has a unique curved construction and I think Martin did an excellent job, in having the watch sit on the wrist so well. Although the watch looks a bit as an electronic gadget from the seventies, this is a high tech piece of machinery, that should be seen a highly luxury time piece, since that is what it is, just like any other model in the collection.
It’s now two years that the UR 110 was presented, a watch that showed for the first time a non central set up of the dial and case. This was quite a change, where many had to get used to. The URWERK UR-110 was really different in many aspects. Displaying the minutes and the hours on the right side, gave the watch not only a very different look, it was also quite convenient and easy to read the time, when the watch is partly covered under the sleeve. The UR 110 with it’s aysmetrical case, was awarded with the Prize for Best Design Watch at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2011 . The dial also features the control board with the cool indicators for “Day/Night” and “Oil Change. Last year Urwerk released a new version of the UR-110, with a pink gold top-case, instead of all titanium. When turning the watch around, we’ll see the dual turbines that regulate the automatic winding system.
Tha bomb IMHO is still the 210 IMHO. This watch is só new in technique and still it’s the first watch again, that resembles Urwerk from it’s first years. This is só Urwerk to me! It’s massive minute hand in the centre of the watch, grabs immediately the attention.
The construction required extreme delicate workmanship, since it envelops the hour satellites and demands machining to extremely fine tolerances. Felix Baumgartner said at the launch; “In terms of the degree of evolution of the satellite carousel, I feel with the UR-210 that we have reached the pinnacle of what we can do with this complication.” While Martin Frei added and these are his own words, “The UR-210” is not really a watch but rather a living mechanism grafted onto your wrist. We have nicknamed the UR-210 the Maltese Falcon because we see it as the stuff that dreams are made of.
Fact is that the UR-210 is a very personal watch, it becomes part of your life style. The UR-210 is able to show the efficiency of winding of the last two hours. The ‘winding efficiency indicator’ and the ‘power reserve indicator’ will let you know if it’s time to move your arm again, so the watch can wind itself, or to adjust the ‘winding efficiency selector’, (located on the back of the watch) to your personal level of activity.
Although the UR 103.03, pictured underneath, is a very simple watch compared to the new UR-210, the typical Urwerk similarity is there. Very wearable and very good-looking.
We are approaching the opening of the Basel exposition where Urwerk will be present, from April 25th – May 2nd. in the Dream Factory. Besides the fact that it is a great chance to see the collection, rumors go that Martin & Felix will be presenting a new completely movement.
There is one watch that I have not mentioned and pictured here, in this brief article and that is the Limited Edition UR 1001 Zeitdevice Pocket watch. I will do no justice to this piece, to just mention it here in the line up. It’s a different world, it’s unique and it would need an article for itself.