Review: the new Urwerk UR-120 aka Spock

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Urwerk releases yet another variant of UR-110, but there is more than meets the eye, as the new watch shows off some rather interesting technical innovation, mutating from the uber cool UR-110 into the even cooler split palm Vulcan greeting of Dr. Spock. Here is our hands on review of the new UR-120 aka Spock, with special notes with Felix Baumgartner.

Urwerk UR-120 aka Spock.

Review: the new Urwerk UR-120 aka Spock

The retail price for the Urwrek UR-120 is SGD 156,000 inclusive of GST.

The press release reads very interestingly in its opening salvo: “Hand up, palm forward, fingers parted in the middle, and then the greeting: « Live long and prosper! » This is a meme known to all Trekkies, almost a world heritage, a salutation that rings like a blessing. This sign is also an integral part of URWERK’s brand DNA. It’s had pride of place on a wall of the Geneva workshop for ages. And now, so does it above the mainplate of the new UR-120, whose time display reproduces the Vulcan salute. Such is the latest challenge Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei have taken on, with the hope that it too shall live long and prosper.”

The base watch: UR-110

The novelty may be seen as taking the already very cool UR-110 to the next level. Felix calls it a mutant of the original. And we tend to agree. We covered the UR-110 in some detail in earlier articles:

With the mutation to UR-120, Felix and Martin Frei set out to make a watch which is thinner. More elegant. Sleeker. This mandated a redesign of the entire satellite system, with each satellite cube now comprising of two sub-elements.

And as can be seen in the photograph above, this goal is achieved with much aplomb. The UR-120 is in the mid-ground with the UR-110 on the foreground. And in this side by side comparison, one can see how much thicker the latter is, and how much sleeker the new Spock has become.

Felix Baumgartner explaining the UR-110.

We also note with interest, that the new UR-120 is released at SGD 156k (with SG tax) / CHF 100k (before taxes), while the base titanium cased UR-110 had a price tag of CHF 87k, listed some 10 years ago. The increase of CHF 13k is not even sufficient to account for a decade’s worth of inflation, not to mention the totally new construction in a thinner, sleeker case and new movement with the additional complication of the split hour cubes.

The case, dial and hands

The case retains the same basic shape as the UR-110, but in a much thinner and sleeker enclosure. In the design, Martin Frei acknowledges a personal interpretation of Gerald Genta’s design approach. The way, for example, the Nautilus is constructed with the lower case intertwining with the upper case, held by screws. In the UR-120, the case architecture takes a leaf from this inspiration, being made of two interlocking parts being the equivalent of a case back and a bezel, connected seamlessly with lateral screws. This is not only a complex shape, but uses a complicated clamshell like system where the final resultant shape is fluid and very sleek.

The entire case is a gray form, with the bezel, which is actually the upper part of the clamshell, made of finely sandblasted steel. The lower part is also grey, but is made in titanium, and sandblasted to match. The case back has a window opened to offer a direct view of a star shaped component which regulates the automatic winding intensity – a device which Urwerk calls the Windfänger – German for Wind catcher.

The clamshell upper and lower case is bound in the center, with deep grooves on the claws at 3 and 9 o’clock which extends from the lower half over to interlock with the upper.

The watch measures 44 mm long, 47 mm wide and 15.8 mm thick, a tale of the tape which is rather large. But proportionally, the UR-120 case stands out as still a very sleek design. Call that an exquisite sense of ergonomics which Martin is well known for. Maximum height is reached in the middle of the sapphire glass, at the apex of a gentle curve. The upper part of the case is totally smooth, without a single screw or notch, offering perfectly fluid lines.

The indicators are infilled with SuperLumiNova, and glow appropriately in the dark.

To help with wearability, the lugs are articulating. Inside the lower lug, Urwerk has fitted a spring, to ensure that the strap rests and sticks to the wrist. While the upper lug is allowed the freedom of float. The result is a watch, though rather large, still hugs the wrist, even small ones in comfort. The strap selected is also perhaps a bit unusual. It is calf leather, embossed with a ballistic pattern, reminiscent of woven nylon. But as it is leather, it is very soft and pliable, offering good comfort.

On a petite lady’s wrist, the UR-120 sits nicely and comfortably.

« In truth, when we realised we were going to have to open the satellite, I was over the moon. Our biggest challenge has always been to manage forces. At the exact moment of the salute, a lyre-shaped spring opens and then closes the satellite. Managing energy then and there is complex and very subtle. We need to manage the opening AND the stud rotation. We ended up manufacturing the spring ourselves, in-house, because we had to go through so many trials while defining its geometry and thickness. With the UR-120, we also experienced a considerable gain in readability: the hour markers these opening studs allowed have grown bigger by 35% compared to the UR-110. »

Felix Baumgartner

The special complication

Of course, the most interesting innovation over the UR 9.01 used in the UR-110 is the new movement, UR 20.01 features a hour cube which is split into two to enable it to fit in the lower profile of the case. As with the original, a central carousel is fitted with three arms, each bearing a satellite. On each satellite, a cube, which can rotate to present one of 4 numerals, is mounted. In the UR 9, this cube is a single machined block, but in the UR 20, the cube is split to enable a lower profile. On the time scale, marked on the right side of the dial, chosen so that it time can be read with a slight move of the sleeve, the two parts of the split cube come together to form a numeral depicting the hour. As it swings past the time, the two parts come apart, revealing two rectangular component studs. These take on a V shape, recreating the Vulcan salute, giving the UR-120 the nickname Spock.

Once separated, the studs, now aligned to each other in the V shape, can spin on their own axis only to come together to display the next hour at the top of the dial. This mechanism is extremely complicated. The dial shows triple levels of rotations – the satellite bearing carousel spins on its own central axis, each satellite counter spins in order to remain upright and present a readable numeral, and each stud spinning on its own axis to break away the former hour, and reforms as the new hour. Impressive!

The movement

The movement is the new UR 20.01, which is a mutation of the original UR 9.01 used in the UR-110. The most obvious change is the use of the split cube on the satellites. This requires a whole level of new engineering to solve the problems of multiple rotations going on at the same time, and the challenge to keep them all at an even keel. Alignment of each of the components is very critical, as a smallest mis-alignment will cause the components to stick at some point.

From the case back the part opened to reveal part of the movement, and the Windfänger is new, as the older caliber uses a double turbine system to achieve a similar aim.

Competitive landscape

Competitive landscape? What competition? In the world of rotating satellites, Urwerk is king, and with the new split hour cube of the UR-120, there is none like it. So let’s leave this section as it is. Blank.

Concluding thoughts

We admit, when we received the press release (see opening salvo quoted above), we skimmed through the text and dismissed it as yet another variation of the UR-110. Just merely a thinner version which uses the Spock Vulcan salute as a marketing hook. But in our discussion with Felix, we discovered a whole new level of sophistication and complexity the seemingly simple thinning of the case has brought. The way in which Urwerk has chosen to solve the issues is impressive in every sense of the word. Much like John F. Kennedy’s oft quoted words, paraphrased, “We chose to go to the Moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

This is the culmination of 25 years of expertise, built over time, energy, and focus on a goal like no other. Urwerk crowns their quarter century well with this UR-120 Spock watch. And at a price which seems to have beaten inflation at its own game. We recommend this watch!

A wall exhibit at The Hour Glass Malmaison depicting the historical context of the UR-120, showing a young Felix and a young Martin at work and the 4 GPHG awards.

Photo Notes

Watermarked photographs were taken at The Hour Glass Malmaison with our Fujifilm GFX 50S II with the GF 3.5/50 or the Hasselblad HC 2.8/80 with and without the H28 extension tube under available lighting. Images which are not watermarked are courtesy of Urwerk.

Urwerk UR-120 aka Spock Technical specifications

Caliber:UR-20.01, self-winding
Jewels: 32
Escapement:Swiss lever
Frequency:4 Hz; 28,800 vph
Power reserve:48 hours
Materials:Beryllium-copper, grey PVD brass, gold-PVD and black-rhodium, anodized aluminum, ARCAP, titanium, LIGA-processed nickel
Hand finishing:Circular- and straight-graining, sandblasting, côtes de Genève, polished screw heads
DISPLAYAnalog minutes and digital hours satellites mounted on triple planetary gears
Dimensions:Width 47 mm; length 44 mm; thickness 15,8mm
Materials:Sandblasted titanium, sandblasted steel bezel
Crystal:Curved sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment
Water resistance:Pressure-tested to 3ATM / 30m / 100ft
STRAPBlack calf leather with embossed Cordura pattern

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