Urwerk polishes linear time concept with innovative new watch that introduces a host of new ideas
by James Buttery
Urwerk must be a fun place to work at the moment. The brand is currently exhibiting a flurry of creativity and innovation the likes of which we’ve not seen since it first launched more than 20 years ago. Not content with unleashing an astonishingly ambitious atomic-clock regulated update of A.L. Breguet’s Sympatique on the world at Basel this year, Urwerk has now revealed a watch loaded with new developments as part of its Special Projects arm.
In truth, Urwerk’s Special Projects are a rag-tag bunch of interesting releases that don’t quite fit into the brand’s signature wandering hour/satellite collection pieces. It includes last year’s transforming T8, the Titan pocketwatch, its Opus 5 for Harry Winston and its Nitro watch, made in collaboration with MB&F. The latest addition to the collection, the UR-111C, is exactly the sort of watch you might expect to be bestowed with such a moniker, given that it houses a raft of new developments in the manner of a tech testbed or concept car.
First of all, the crown has been retired in favour of a fluted roller on the top of the watch. A lever on the side of the (Urwerk first had us messing around with levers on its wonderful EMC watches, in that case to generate an electrical charge) must first be deployed to allow the roller to alter the time setting, rather than winding the mainspring barrel to feed a 48-hour power reserve.
The UR-111C takes its linear ‘dial’ concept from the UR-CC1 (the CC standing for Cottier Cobra) it released in 2009, which, in turn, took its inspiration from the startlingly inventive 1958 Patek Philippe Cobra prototype, the first watch to display time using a line against scale rather than using hands. The watch was developed by horological innovator Louis Cottier, the creator of the world timer, but unfortunately the project was a technological nightmare for Patek and never made it past the prototype stage. Today it rests, rather fittingly, in the wonderful Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
The central, lateral display of the UR-111C is a minute scale with a transparent central section running diagonally from bottom left to top right. A lime green, helical indicator line, printed around a cylinder which rotates 300 degrees every 60 minutes, displays the minutes. Book-ending the display are two cone-shaped counters. The one to the left displays hours, advancing in jumps, while its opposite number rotates to offer a second – perhaps more legible – way of reading the minutes.
The seconds display of the UR-111C – mounted on the top plane of the watch behind the roller – is simplification and refinement of the system used on its predecessor, the UR-CC1. Two wheels, each with minute numerals ten minutes apart mounted on satellite arms rotate and interlock. The wheel on the left featuring 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 whilst the wheel on the right is home to 05, 15, 25, 35, 45 and 55. As both wheels rotate in opposite directions the numerals meet in the middle in sequential order; 50 followed by 55 followed by 60.
Moving such comparatively large wheels at the pace required for a seconds display would normally be quite a power-intensive exercise, however Urwerk has had the component manufactured using the incredibly accurate LIGA technique, which allows for lightweight lattice structures rather than solid elements. Each of these minute wheels weighs just 0.025g, or less than a grain of rice (long grain in case you were wondering).
The final trick up Urwerk’s sleeve is its use of an ‘optical conduit’ to frame the moving second numerals. The properties of tightly packed bundles of optical fibres stacked just one tenth of a millimetre above the numerals make them appear to exist on the surface of their circular window rather than many millimetres beneath, within the case of the watch.
The conduit removes any sense of depth, in much the same way as Ressence uses oil to remove optical distortion beneath its watch glasses, and, whilst the fibres do not provide any magnification as such, the concept would seem a shoe-in to replace those ‘love them or loathe them cyclops’ lens.
Urwerk seems to have found a very satisfying niche, supported by a loyal customer base that lap up the brand’s wilder flights of fancy rather than the more common industry model that sees safer collection pieces make up the bulk of a watch manufacturer’s revenue. That support is funding expensive innovation and is allowing Urwerk to refine its designs, in this case revisiting and reworking a nine-year-old concept.
Urwerk will produce 25 pieces of the UR-111C each in brushed stainless steel and gun metal at CHF 130,000 plus tax.