To deviate from something that is tested and proven is tough. But to do it spectacularly, that is a new whole set of challenge altogether.
Urwerk is a brand that is non-conformist to begin with. Born in 1995, the Geneva-based independent watchmaker is most known for its UR-Satellite collection. The collection, as its nomenclature suggests, features its iconic “satellite-complication”. This is attributed to its unusual way the hour hand works, in which it utilises a wandering-hours indication system. But we digress.
Earlier this month, Urwerk launched a new addition to the “Special Projects” collection. The watch is the UR-111C. But before we go on further, we have an excerpt from Felix Baumgartner on the inspiration behind the UR-111C:
“There has to be a strong bond with a mechanism that merges into your wrist: a machine becomes
part of you and gives you information in return for energy. It’s an exchange. For this reason, we created
a new interface with the watch. Instead of the conventional crown at the end of the stem, we
conceived a roller integrated into the top of the case for a new sensation.”
Now that we have got your attention and the right frame of mind, we shall proceed to the star of this article. Bring on the Urwerk UR-111C!
The Case, Dial, and (Lack of) Hands
At the first glance, the watch reminds us of something that came out from a sci-fi film. This is also something that Urwerk is also known for, in terms of its design cues. The UR-111C is no exception.
The 42mm by 46 mm watch is cased in either titanium or stainless steel. Between the two versions, we mildly prefer the former, even though the differences are very small. The titanium case is finished in matt, and brings out its mechanical feel better. It makes it seem as though this is a machine or robot that came straight out from outer space. For someone who is looking for a conversational wrist device, its shape has ticked some of the right boxes already.
Of course, the case is just one part of the equation. A bulk of its design is also attributed by its dial (or shall we say, indicators). There are a total of four indicators on the watch, in which two displays the minutes, and the remainder two indicating the hours and seconds respectively. The main function of the watch lies at the 6 o’clock position, in which it features 3 indicators. The hour indicator lies on the left side, while the two minute indicators filled up the remaining positions. Interestingly, the two different minute indicators employ a different technique in telling time – one is a retrograde linear minute system, while the other is a digital progressive minute mechanism. We find this double minutes display to be redundant, as if Martin Frey, the designer felt that perhaps as it might be difficult to read the time, to play it safe by doing double minutes display. We feel the watch will be more interesting if one of these are used to indicate something else. Perhaps a power reserve, or a second hour display for a second timezone.
However, the system itself is interesting and the retrograde linear minute system deserves a special mention. A linear track is used for the minutes. The indicator, which is conspicuous in lime green, rotates 300 degrees on its axis to complete the entire 60 minute cycle. It jumps back to “0” subsequently, just like a normal retrograde mechanism. In the meantime, while the spring is released, the cylinder moves by another 60 degrees. The final action drives the hour indicator to jump to the next hour. This is a bit difficult to digest for non-engineers, but we reckon that the beautiful transition is simply enough for many to appreciate the intricacies behind.
Moving on, we come to last of the indicators. The seconds display is located at the top of the watch case. The indicator is unique in the sense that it is mounted alternately on two tiny wheels. On one wheel, the numerals consists of 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60. The other wheel displays the alternate: 5, 15, 25, 35, 45, and 55. As the two discs rotates, the transition between the two different discs seems to be seamless. This is the result of using a dense cluster of precisely aligned optical fibres. Known as an image conduit, the end result is amazing. It is also noteworthy to say that this is the first time this technique is employed in the horological world.
Finally, we have yet another interesting feature. The crown on the UR-111C is unique. It employs a roller system, in which the time is adjusted by toggling the roller. However, in order to activate it, the user needs to pull out the lever that is positioned at the right side of the case. This, according to the co-founders, brings in a “new sensation”, and allows a different form of “interacting” with the timepiece altogether.
The UR-111C is powered by a self-winding calibre. The movement is a highly technical piece, considering the different mechanisms that are in place to give birth to the different indicators. For instance, the vertical hours and minute indicators require precisely angled transmission with bevel gears to ensure its operation. This is further complicated by the “jumping” mechanism, as well as the retrograde system that was used for the linear minute indicator.
The watch beats at 28,800 bph, and it has a power reserve of approximately 48 hours. Unfortunately, we cannot determine its level of finishing as the caseback of the piece is solid. Nonetheless, Urwerk told us that some of the finishing techniques that were used include circular graining, sanding, polishing, as well as the application of Côtes de Genève.
The Competitive Landscape
The Urwerk UR-111C is priced at S$201,900, or CHF130,000. It is limited to 25 pieces for each case material. The price point is slightly on the higher side, but it is truly an engineering marvel in our opinion. The question of its value proposition therein lies in one’s value of the R&D and engineering effort that is placed into the watch. Exclusivity certainly plays a role as well.
In terms of competition, the MB&F HM9 Flow is surely one of the very few watches that comes to mind. Launched just a few days ago, MB&F is another behemoth in the world of independent watchmaking. A comparison with this is surely inevitable.
The HM9 Flow features an impressive and complicated case design, and it is matched by an equally amazing movement consisting of two fully independent balance wheels with planetary differential. While it may not feature as many complications as the UR-111C, the HM9 triumphs in terms of the organic and sensual case shape.
Priced at CHF168,000 (approximately S$238,074), the HM9 is slightly more expensive as compared to the Urwerk. It is limited to 66 pieces, in which it is equally divided between the Air and Road edition.
The Urwerk UR-111C is a special timepiece. When we first saw it, we were pretty much blown away by it. The combination of the sci-fi inspired case design, as well as the intriguing time indicators, makes the UR-111C a rather conversational and mind-blowing timepiece indeed.
Our one minor gripe, however, is the fact that Urwerk could have made the piece a little bit more special with the inclusion of another complication, instead of having two minute indicators. We reckon that we would have kept the brilliant retrograde linear minute indicator, and replace the other minute indicator with say, a power reserve indicator, a second hour display or even a date display. This would have made the UR-111C even more appealing.
What are your thoughts on Urwerk’s latest novelty. How does it compare vis-à-vis the new HM9 Flow? Let us know in the comments section below.