When talking about crazy independent brands, a few names spring to mind. The likes of MB&F and De Bethune for example. The other brand that most watch geeks will come out within this conversation would be Urwerk.
Urwerk was founded in 1997 by two men, my namesake Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei. Felix possessed some pretty serious watchmaking credibility when the brand was founded, having grown up in the workshop of his father, who restored some of the most iconic clocks in the world. This led him to watchmaking school in Solothurn, where he received his Diploma in 1995. Martin, on the other hand, trod a path of design, graduating from the School of Visual Arts in Zurich in 1989.
“Urwerk is founded in 1997 with one goal: to design and craft haute horlogerie timepieces blending tradition with a futuristic vision. URWERK has its origins far from Switzerland, in the town of UR in Mesopotamia, the very first place where our perception of time was moulded. While WERK means to work, create, evolve, shape, forge and to arouse emotions, in German.”
The pair set out to design and manufacture a watch that incorporated their unique vision about how time could be displayed. And so in 1995, Urwerk was launched. The company had one overriding aim: to follow nobody but to create their own path in pushing the boundaries of Haute Horology even further than it had ever been done before.
Their first watches, the UR-101 and 102, coupled the pairs desire to tell time differently, in more additional rounded case. The time is displayed using a wondering hours complication, with the time being displayed between 3 and 9 at the top of the dial.
What we have here is a harkening back to one of their most iconic designs, the UR-100. This edition, however, is a little special. It is a 25 piece Limited Edition called the UR-100 V Iron. The method of telling the time is the trademark satellite configuration that Urwerk are famous for. The difference with this particular model is that the dial also displays the distance the wearer would travel in a 20 minute period when standing on the equator (for some reason…). When the minute’s hand has completed its 60-minute journey, it reappears on a 20-minute scale of 555 kilometres. The opposite scale tracks your journey through space around the sun: 35,740km every 20 minutes.
The idea for this novel display on the watch came from a watch gifted to Felix Baumgartner by his Grandfather “It was made by Gustave Sandoz for the Universal Exhibition of 1893. Instead of showing the time, it showed the distance travelled by a point on the equator.”
For those of you that recognise Urwerks design will notice that this piece harkens back to the original Urwerks. “We have adopted some of the stylistic features of our first constructions, and then deconstructed them,” explains Martin Frei. “For example, the steel dome of our early models is now in transparent sapphire crystal. The hard outlines of the titanium and steel case highlight its perfection. Because I’m always at odds with the dictates of symmetry, I have used different proportions to catch the eye,” he concludes.
This piece is quintessential Urwerk. Completely bonkers case design alongside amazing and crazy time telling. The watch looks fantastic on the wrist as I am sure you will agree from the press photos kindly provided by Urwerk. At 41mm x 49.7mm x 14mm it is not the most wearable. Whilst the 41mm case size is perfectly wearable, the nearly 50mm lug-to-lug may be slightly prohibitive. However, as this is a 25 piece Limited Edition at CHF48,000 (£38,800) I can’t imagine myself or anyone reading this needs to get too bogged down with the dimensions.
Ultimately, this is yet another awesome, head-turner of a piece from one of the best independent watchmakers of all time. Congratulations Urwerk on a cracking release.