Urwerk EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage

The Urwerk EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage is the latest version of the GPHG prize-winning watch, first released back in 2013. Despite the passage of time, the model remains a technical tour-de-force and a shining example of breathtaking creativity. The new Time Hunter Desert Sage is housed in a ceramic-lacquered Grade 5 titanium and stainless steel case and is limited to just five pieces.

Urwerk EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage

After a watch has been assembled, it must be regulated using a device such as the Witschi Chronoscope, often used watch brands. This precision instrument features a powerful microphone that listens to the beat noise of a Swiss lever escapement.

The beat noise comprises of three different pulses. The first sound occurs when the impulse pin strikes the fork of the pallets. It is used to calculate the ‘rate deviation’ and ‘beat error’. The second noise is produced when the escape wheel touches the pulse area of a pallet stone and the pallet fork touches the impulse pin, however, this noise is irregular and is not suitable for evaluation. The third noise is generated when a tooth of the escape wheel meets the locking plane of the pallet stone and the lever strikes the banking pin. This third and final sound is used to calculate the ‘amplitude’.

A movement’s rate deviation is measured in seconds per day. The beat error relates to the regulating organ’s behaviour (balance wheel and hairspring). The swings of the balance wheel, clockwise and anticlockwise should ideally match. If there is a difference between the clockwise swing and the anticlockwise swing, this is referred to as the ‘beat error’ and necessitates adjustment of the impulse pin in relation to the banking pins. The beat error is measured in milliseconds. Lastly, ‘the amplitude is the angle from the equilibrium (idle position of the balance wheel) up to the maximum distance (turning point).’ The amplitude values of most wristwatches is between 260° – 310°. When the amplitude falls below this lower value, perhaps due to ageing lubricants, the accuracy can become impaired.

While the Witschi Chronoscope is the perfect tool when working at the watchmaker’s bench, it is not intended for portable use. However, in 2013, everything changed. Urwerk, the avant-garde Swiss watch brand unveiled its EMC Time Hunter, a watch that allowed ‘the owner to gauge both the state of the movement (amplitude) and the chronometric performance (precision) of the watch.

A crank attached to the right flank of the case folds outwards and, similar to a starting handle on a vintage car, it is rotated until a dial indication signals there is sufficient power to evaluate the health of the watch. The generated power is held in a super capacitor which in turn serves an optical sensor which times the oscillations of the balance over a three second period, providing an average rate. Should the rate prove to be too fast/too slow, a fine-tuning screw on the reverse of the watch allows the wearer to simply adjust the rate accordingly.

In 2014, the Urwerk EMC won two prizes at the prestigious GPHG, the ‘Mechanical Exception Watch Prize’ and the ‘Innovation Watch Prize’. The ingenuity of Urwerk, led by its co-founders Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, attracted widespread praise throughout the world’s watch press.

Now, the prestigious watch marque has unveiled a new version of its prize-winning model, the new Urwerk EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage, presented in a ceramic-lacquered Grade 5 titanium and stainless steel case with a camouflage canvas strap. This model is limited to just five pieces.

The brand’s press release (July 2020)

Out-of-the-box, out of competition and out of this world as befits any URWERK creation, the new EMC T imeHunter features an unprecedented surface finishing ensuring an amazing result: a military beige chronometer teamed with a camouflage canvas strap that earns it the nickname Desert Sage. This watch is a fighter, a tough nut to crack. Its shell withstands the test of time thanks to a ceramic-type lacquer treatment. The latter, beyond its protective properties, beautifully enhances the finely grained surface of the micro-beadblasted steel.

URWERK’s most ‘chronometric’ collection thus returns to the forefront and takes its place in military-style territory, complete with a technical vocabulary and urban grammar.

Style serving function

The EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage belongs to the UR-Chronometry family, which encompasses URWERK watchmaking concepts dedicated to outstanding precision. They indeed offer the unique possibility of measuring and adjusting the rate of their movement.

An EMC Time Hunter is essentially a dual measuring instrument. Like a compass, a sextant, a machine tool, its appearance and even its surface all signal its nature. The EMC Desert Sage is crafted from steel and its caseback from titanium. Its aesthetic is not round, square or cushion-like, nor indeed any of URWERK’s signature indefinable shapes. This hyper-technical “machine” hugs the contours of the ‘motor’ inside and submits to the constraints of its various organs. It is not symmetrical, regular, flat or curved, yet remains aesthetically pleasing and distinctive. EMC’s design obeys its function, transcending existing rules to create a unique personality.

Moreover, its stainless steel ‘hood’ is micro-beadblasted and then given a hard, matt ceramic lacquer-type treatment. As a result, the surface of the EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage has a grainy finish reminiscent of military equipment.


The same functionalism reigns supreme on the dial with its matt black surfaces. Each indication zone has its own clearly marked space. Each unit is painted with fluorescent green Super-LumiNova®, a neon-type colour frequently used by URWERK due to its perfect contrasts. In addition to the main dial with its chequered hand grenade pattern, which displays the hours and minutes, the EMC Time Hunter features a small disc-type seconds hand at 1 o’clock, graduated in five-second increments and located at 1 o’clock. It is complemented by a power-reserve indicator at 7 o’clock, which provides information on the state-of-wind of the hand-wound movement offering a maximum 80 hours of autonomy.

The indications linked to the chronometric (precision timekeeping) monitoring function are concentrated at 11 o’clock and indicated by the “EM Control” marking on the screw-down bezel. The rate accuracy is graduated from -15 to +15, using seconds as the measurement unit for the daily rate deviation. The amplitude ranges from 180 to 330, measured in degrees.

Heart and brain

At the very heart of the EMC concept lies a hybrid electronic/mechanical system that makes each of these timepieces totally one-of-a-kind, bestriding two worlds. It is an entirely mechanical watch, optimised with the help of an electro-optical circuit. On the one hand, its hand-wound movement stems from the mind and hands of URWERK. Designed exclusively for the EMC collections, the UR-EMC2 calibre is entirely crafted, finished, assembled and adjusted by URWERK.

Urwerk EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage

On the other hand, it incorporates an electronic module whose function is to measure the rate of the mechanical part. It has its own power source, separate from the rest of the movement. Positioned on the side of the case, a large retractable lever raises a dynamo which feeds the control micro-circuit. Thanks to its laser diode, it is able to collect two essential data relating to the movement. Pointing towards the balance, it reads its amplitude (an indicator of the movement’s state of health) and the rate deviation (which is an indicator of accuracy), while comparing them to an internal clock. The latter takes the form of a processor operating at a frequency of 16 MHz and serves as a reference oscillator, i.e. a benchmark.

On one side, the ‘engine’; and on the other, the control unit. Yet these two entities are not sealed off from each other, quite the contrary. They are integrated, nested and URWERK has created a means of access to both that makes EMC Time Hunter the world’s only truly wearer-adjustable watch. A timing adjustment screw makes it possible to manually fine-tune the oscillation speed of the balance and thus to correct the variations in rate that inevitably appear over time and are intimately dependent on the use made of the watch by its wearer. This corrector is located on the back of the watch and is duly indicated by the engraving “Fine Tuning”. It manages the behaviour of the movement at its very heart, by modifying the length of the regulating balance-spring.

Aesthetic power

More than just timepieces for precision watchmaking fanatics, more than just interactive objects, more than hybrids combining the best of mechanical watchmaking with the possibilities afforded by microelectronics, EMC TimeHunter Desert Sage watches are truly living timepieces. While they were admittedly born within the URWERK circle of horology and design geeks, the purely scientific approach gives rise above all else to truly inimitable watches. Ultra-legible, razor-sharp and hyper-urban, each one transcends its functionalities to enter the realm of pure style.

Urwerk EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage

Further reading

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