Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime

The Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime is the latest creation from the creative duo, Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei. This watch not only imparts the hours and minutes but displays some novel indications, inviting the wearer to consider time from a philosophical standpoint.

Image – Martin Frei (L) and Felix Baugarter (R)

In 1997, two sons of Switzerland, Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, established the avant-garde watch brand, Urwerk. The company’s nomenclature is an amalgam of ‘Ur’, a town in Mesopotamia, and ‘Werk’, a German word meaning ‘create’, ‘evolve’ or ‘work’.

Both men have their own distinct skill sets. Baumgarter, the brand’s watchmaker, embraces the exalted standards of classical haute horlogerie while at the same time delights in exploring new materials for dials, cases and movements. Frei, the company’s Chief Designer, is an aesthete who always looks beyond the established norms of watch design, subsuming influences from a wide variety of other sources.

Frei has never been constrained by watchmaking convention. Likewise, Baumgarter’s watchmaking expertise has allowed both men to explore new ideas, often casting aside horology’s status quo. The men have successfully worked together for over 20 years, each complementing the other person’s repertoire of creative talents.

Wandering hours

The company’s inaugural watches were the minimalistic UR-101 and UR-102. Compared with many of the brand’s later watches, these initial models, with their round cases, were quite conventional. However, they both incorporated a ‘wandering’ hour display, a means of indicating time that Urwerk has subsequently made its own.

When creating the UR-101 and UR-102, Baumgartner and Frei took inspiration from work of the Italian Campani brothers. These brothers produced a series of near-silent clocks, featuring a wandering hour display back in the mid-17th century. Their clocks were made for the Pope and the absence of any noise ensured the Holy Father was not disturbed, an aspect which proved especially beneficial at night. Incidentally, these clocks often housed a lit candle or burning lamp for nocturnal use, however, this led to several examples catching fire and being subsequently destroyed.

Image – Urwerk UR-103T

With the advent of Urwerk’s UR-103, 12 hours were shown on four discs, each marked with three hour values. In turn, the discs sat upon four satellites positioned on four arms of a revolving carousel. As the carousel revolved, the satellites passed over four Maltese crosses, causing each satellite to rotate and display the next hour value. The prevailing hour passed an adjacent 60-minute track, simultaneously indicating both the hours and minutes in a simple to interpret form.

Image – Urwerk UR-103T

Urwerk possesses an unwavering desire to innovate. It was not too long after launching the UR-103 that the company produced a wandering hour display featuring ‘truncated pyramids’, each displaying four different hour values. In this instance, a three-arm carousel carried the pyramids, presenting the prevailing hour at an angle of 85°, augmenting readability.

Over the years, Urwerk’s repertoire has not been limited solely to ‘wandering hours’ displays. The company has embraced other neoteric concepts including the EMC, a watch that allows the wearer to adjust the rate of the movement, and the AMC, a state of the art take on Breguet’s Sympathique clock. Nevertheless, despite demonstrating a breathtaking capacity for producing new means of articulating time, the ‘wandering hours’ display remains a core pillar of the Urwerk brand.

A philosophical view of time

I have chatted to Martin Frei on a couple of occasions and the one thing that always comes across loud and clear is that he does not think of time as merely the proclamation of hours and minutes. Frei considers the notion of time beyond these constraints, contemplating the meaning of time in a macro sense. 

While most mere mortals, myself included, think of time in one dimension, Frei considers its relevance in three dimensions and regularly contemplates time in an abstract and philosophical context.

Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime

Image – Urwerk UR-100 Iron

This mindset can be seen with the arrival of the brand’s latest watch, the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime. It displays the hour and minutes using a three arm carousel, something I will return to later, but also features two unusual indications.

The first, positioned at 10 o’clock, features a narrow aperture, affording sight of a red hand affixed to the leading edge of one of the carousels. This red hand, in conjunction with a scale adjacent the aperture, indicates the distance travelled on the Earth’s equator in 20 minutes, expressed in kilometres. This indication is based ‘on the average speed of the rotation of the Earth on its axis at the equator, covering a distance of 555 km every 20 minutes’. 

Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime

Image – Urwerk UR-100 Iron

The second indication is shown at 2 o’clock. Upholding the design language of the aforementioned display at 10 o’clock, it displays the distance travelled by the earth around the sun, again in 20 minutes. When orbiting the sun, earth travels 35,740 km every 20 minutes.

The raison d’être for any watch

The primary role of any watch is to convey the time to its wearer in a simple to understand format. However, the finest watches not only fulfil this requirement, but take the wearer on an enchanting journey full of discovery and experiences. In this regard, the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime does not disappoint.

Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime

Image – Urwerk UR-100 Black

At the centre of the dial is a three arm carousel, constructed of aluminium and presented in open-worked form. The hour values depicted on each of the three satellites are partially obscured, save for the prevailing hour which is revealed in its entirety. The arm responsible for transporting the current hour sits closest to the minute track, positioned at 6 ‘clock. A prominent red tip projects from the base of each arm, taking its turn to indicate the minutes.

By adopting this design, Urwerk has imposed some stringent criteria upon itself. The previously mentioned indications at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock are shown using an arcing, angled section of metal, curving from 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock. The red-tipped hand has to pass beneath this metal surface in order for it to ultimately peep out of the aforementioned apertures. At the same time, the leading edge of each carousel has to pass over the top of said metal surface. The tolerances are infinitesimal, but Urwerk never shies away from tough technical challenges.

The readability of the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime is beyond reproach and yet the brand has imbued the dial with a wonderful sense of theatre where numerals delightfully pirouette for the delectation of onlookers.

The case

There are two versions of the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime. The UR-100 Iron features a titanium and steel case, while the UR-100 Black is presented in titanium and steel suffused with a sultry black DLC finish.

Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime

Image – Urwerk UR-100 Black

Measuring 49.7mm in length, with a corresponding width of 41mm, this watch exhibits much wrist, making a bold statement. It does not seek to conform with horological norms, but rather it is designed to provoke thought.

While its scale is significant, it perpetuates Urwerk’s reputation for ergonomic excellence. Indeed, Frei has clearly expended much effort thinking about the relationship between the watch head and the owner’s arm. Furthermore, the company has shown on several occasions that placing the crown at noon prevents any impingement upon the wearer’s wrist.

The movement

At the heart of the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime is the UR 12.01 Caliber. This self-winding movement pairs innovation with high-end finishing.

Image – Urwerk UR-100 Iron

The movement is visible via an exhibition case back and a black rotor dominates the view presented. This rotor features numerous holes in its surface and a flat turbine is fitted to one side of it. Urwerk charmingly describes this flat turbine as the ‘Windfäng’, a Swiss-German word, meaning ‘air trap’. This device partially supports the weight of the rotor at its edge, reducing the mass acting on the ball race and drive pinion at the centre of the rotor and, in so doing, mitigating wear. The flat turbine regulation system also prevents excessive rotation of the rotor, again reducing wear.

Image – Urwerk UR-100 Black

Urwerk has always embraced innovation when this has conferred genuine advancement. The movement incorporates three base plates, each executed in ARCAP, a material the brand has already used successfully in other models. ARCAP does contain iron, hence they is not susceptible to magnetic fields. In addition, it possess high tensile strength, is corrosion resistant and it is not influenced by changes in temperature. This impressive inventory of benefits makes it ideal for watchmaking.

Despite embracing cutting-edge know-how, Urwerk has not eschewed traditional ‘finissage’. Circular graining, sanding and brushing abound, while the screw heads are chamfered.

The UR 12.01 Caliber features a Swiss-lever escapement. The balance has a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4Hz) and the movement contains 39 jewels. After the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime is removed from the wearer’s wrist, it will run autonomously for 48 hours.

Closing remarks

Despite its unusual appearance, the dial of the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime proves intuitive to use. Indeed, the hours and minutes are proclaimed with peerless lucidity while the addition of luminescent treatment to the hours and minute indications enhances legibility in restricted light.

While few individuals need to know the distance travelled on the Earth’s equator or the distance the Earth has travelled around the sun in the last 20 minutes, these indications remain relevant to everyone. Time is not merely a variable which we can measure and control, it is part of a bigger picture, forming part of a philosophical debate that is applicable to everyone.

Recently, Felix Baumgartner said ‘We live in a universe governed by three dimensions – time, rotation and orbit – that we attempt to measure and master, but what escapes us is this notion of spacetime.’

Whether you subscribe to Baumgartner’s point of view or not, there is no escaping the fact that the Urwerk UR-100 SpaceTime redefines watchmaking with a specification that proves highly relevant life on terra firma and beyond.

Further reading

https://www.urwerk.com/

Technical specifications

  • Model: Urwerk UR-100 Iron
  • Case: Titanium and steel; width 41.0mm; length 49.7mm; thickness 14.0mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres) sapphire crystals to the front and back
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; distance travelled on Earth’s equator in 20 minutes; the distance Earth has travelled around the sun in 20 minutes
  • Movement: UR 12.01 Caliber; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 39 jewels; power reserve 48 hours
  • Price: CHF 48,000 excluding taxes (RRP as at 12.9.2019)
  • Model: Urwerk UR-100 Black
  • Case: Titanium and steel; width 41.0mm; length 49.7mm; thickness 14.0mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres) sapphire crystals to the front and back
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; distance travelled on Earth’s equator in 20 minutes; the distance Earth has travelled around the sun in 20 minutes
  • Movement: UR 12.01 Caliber; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 39 jewels; power reserve 48 hours
  • Price: CHF 48,000 excluding taxes (RRP as at 12.9.2019)