Urwerk EMC Time Hunter
Carl Eady waxes lyrical about the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter, marvelling at its blend of watchmaking craft and technological wizardry.
This detailed review of the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter includes live images, specification details and pricing.
This year marks twenty years since master watchmaker, Felix Baumgartner, and designer, Martin Frei, formed a partnership to challenge the world of watch design under the brand name Urwerk.
Over two decades the duo have delighted watch lovers by producing some of the most unconventional, ingenious and exciting timepieces ever seen. Indeed, their productive relationship has cemented their place amongst the very top tier of independent watchmaking.
The Urwerk EMC range of watches could perhaps be better described as ‘instruments of time’, merely calling them watches seems far too casual a description. Despite being mechanically powered timepieces they are uniquely futuristic in their styling with a constitution suited to the most adverse conditions. Also, being from Urwerk’s ‘U Research’ division, they contain movements that provide a glimpse of how the more progressive watch enthusiast may interact with their timepieces in years to come.
EMC stands for Electro Magnetic Control. The first EMC from Urwerk, introduced in 2013, received much acclaim including two 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) prizes, one for Innovation and the other for Mechanical Exception. The 2016 edition, known as the ‘Time Hunter’, brings refinements and an additional feature to enhance the wearer’s relationship with their timepiece like never before.
Quartz watches are generally accepted as being more accurate than their mechanical counterparts. Indeed, the charm and near futile challenge for many mechanical watchmakers is to get close to the accuracy of quartz whilst knowing it is virtually impossible to do so. The accuracy achievable with mechanical watches is susceptible to many adversaries, including temperature, pressure and the activity of each wearer. Like finger prints and snowflakes, no two watch owners are the same. So, for Urwerk, the ‘simple’ challenge was to combine a mechanical movement with electronic components, enabling the wearer to measure and subsequently correct any recorded inaccuracies.
The hand-wound UR-EMC movement is designed and manufactured in-house by Urwerk. Viewing the movement through the exhibition back, it is evident that the Time Hunter is no ordinary timepiece. Having a Swiss lever escapement operating at 4Hz is not unusual. Moreover, employing twin barrels to deliver a highly respectable 80 hours power reserve is commendable, but not exceptional. However, the incorporation of tools to measure the accuracy and ‘health’ of the watch, enabling the wearer to adjust the movement to suit their own individual lifestyle and environment, is quite frankly, extraordinary.
Testing a mechanical watch for deviations has long been possible using devices such as the affordable Timegrapher and the high-end Witschi-machine, which incidentally costs more than many people would care to spend on their wristwatch. What had not been achieved until the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter came along and, one dares to say even been attempted, was to build the test capability into a watch movement. Indeed, the dream of manufacturing these components into such a small case could only have been conceived by designers with an appetite for the impossible.
Urwerk has ingeniously reduced the timing rate monitoring machine down to millimetric proportions. To provide power to the timing unit, a fold out crank handle has been cleverly built into the right-hand side of the case. The crank needs to be released and wound clockwise until a small indicator at the seven o’clock position signals there is enough power to commence processing. The power generated is stored in a super capacitor (which negates the need for a battery). The balance wheel, manufactured in anti-corrosive and anti-magnetic ‘ARCAP’, is coupled to an optical sensor, equipped with a transmitter and a receiver, which when activated records the oscillations of the balance over a 3 second period. During these three seconds, a 16,000,000-hertz electronic oscillator is used as a reference rate and compared to the 4Hz balance. The tiniest of microsecond deviations from the norm are recorded by the on-board microcomputer which calculates these differences to give a highly accurate indication of the seconds per day lost or gained. The result is briefly displayed on a dial located between the 10 and 11 o’clock.
The balance is the true beating heart of any mechanical watch movement and, as such, needs to be monitored periodically to ensure peak performance. Each swing of the balance wheel in either direction is called a ‘beat’ and the amplitude is given by measuring the rotation in degrees of each beat. Optimal performance of a balance in a mechanical watch is between 220° – 280°. The position of the watch, i.e. vertical versus horizontal, can vary the amplitude greatly, hence the seemingly large degree of variance. Stepping out of these parameters either way could well be an indication that the watch is in need of a service.
While much focus has clearly been apportioned to delivering this ground-breaking functionality, it is refreshing to see that Urwerk has not neglected to include some fine finishing on this movement. This includes Côtes de Genève, bead blasting and snailing.
The Dial and Hands
The industrial, almost military character of the movement design is continued throughout this piece and the dial is no exception. Reminiscent of an aviation dial and offering high legibility through the sapphire crystal, the hour and minute hands sit upon a grid-like black background. They are pure black, save for bright white Super-LumiNova tips reaching to the minute track. Just nestling adjacent the minute track, sat upon said black background, Arabic numerals feature at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock. The luminescence is truly vibrant, emitting vivid neon like hues. The treatment is also applied to the rotating seconds display, the Precision and Amplitude scales together with the power reserve. At full glow, the ‘lume’ on the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter is a spectacular sight and will not disappoint those with a passion for nocturnal wear.
The Case and Strap
A tightly woven black nylon band, secured with a pin and buckle, complements the masculine aesthetics of the case. While this very simple option offers comfort, durability and ultra-modern styling, a more adventurous option for the Time Hunter Ceramic case is to couple it with a leather lined green tweed strap. Tweed has famously been used to great effect by Urwerk before in the gorgeous Eastwood UR-110. For those who embrace the contemporary design of the Time Hunter, pairing it with a traditional textile such as tweed is truly a master play in anarchic styling.
At 43mm wide, 51mm long and 15.8mm thick, this case could never be described as inconsequential, however, given the technical capabilities housed within, it is remarkably small. The initial release of UR-EMC consisted of two available finishes. Fifteen pieces in a Grade 5 satin finished titanium/steel case provided a conservative foil for the technical appearance of the dials. A further 15 pieces were produced in a military style, green ceramic coating. Since the initial launch, Urwerk has introduced the Time Hunter X-Ray (late in 2016) with a skeletonised dial that takes the futuristic look to a whole new level.
Visible peripherals on the front of the case include the timing machine button, the crank and a large crown at 6 o’clock. On the reverse, the crown’s release button and the timing adjustment screw are also evident. Whilst these are, of course, essential to the operation of this piece and are cleverly integrated, they perhaps give the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter an appearance that favours function over form. However, the technical advancement that Urwerk offers should not be underestimated and whilst the style may deter some conservative tastes, it will command the attention of those who adore subversive design and love to fly in the face of tradition – much like its uniquely avant-garde creators.
Rarity is one of the key attributes sought after by watch collectors. Given that only 30 Urwerk EMC Time Hunter watches have been produced, these timepieces will be the preserve of a very select band of fortunate owners. It is a considerable investment (prices start at CHF 110,000 ex VAT), but potential owners are buying into first class traditional watchmaking coupled with tremendous feats of small scale technical engineering.
At Baselworld 2016, I asked Felix Baumgartner where Urwerk could possibly go after creating such a technical marvel. His confident and enticing reply was, ‘This is just the beginning!’ Indeed, Urwerk show no signs of slowing down. The Urwerk founders and their supporting team are continually creating magnificent timepieces borne out of horological dreams, everyday inspiration and the true creative freedom that independence brings.
- Calibre – Urwerk UR-EMC In house, hand wound movement
- Case – Grade 5 titanium/steel or green ceramic coated Grade 5 titanium/steel
- Case Size – 43mm wide, 51mm length
- Case Depth – 15.8mm
- Band – Black nylon or green tweed options
- Glass- Sapphire Crystal
- Power Reserve – 80 hours
- Water Resistance – 3 bar
- Limited Edition – 15 pieces each
- Price – Urwerk Time Hunter – CHF 110,000 / Urwerk Time Hunter Ceramic – CHF 115,000 / Urwerk Time Hunter X-Ray – CHF 125,000 (all prices exclude VAT)