Urwerk UR-220 Falcon Project
The Urwerk UR-220 Falcon Project is the latest creation from the high-end Swiss watch brand. At first glance it looks very similar to its predecessor, the UR-210, however, close examination reveals the new model encompasses many improvements. For example, the hand-wound UR-220 is slimmer and delivers superior wearer comfort, courtesy of its new improved ergonomic case.
Recently, I wrote an article about a Ralph Lauren watch and spent time researching the life of the eponymous firm’s founder. Mr Lauren is a fascinating chap with a keen passion for cars and watches. Most of all he has an innate sense of style and always looks elegant and sophisticated.
While conducting my research, I discovered that Mr Lauren is the proud owner of several watches including an Urwerk UR-210. It says much about the design of this model that one of the most iconic figures in the sartorial universe chooses to wear a timepiece from this small independent watch brand.
Urwerk was founded by Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, two individuals who, despite incredible success, remain grounded and approachable. Over the years, I have chatted to both men and gained a fascinating insight into their world.
The company makes neoteric timepieces, brimming with innovation, but encompassing traditional high-end finishing. Like Mr Lauren, I have worn an Urwerk UR-210, albeit in my case, I had to hand back the watch after my loan period expired. The UR-210 features three satellites, each marked with four hour values. The satellites take their turn to move along a minute track, displaying the prevailing time in the process. As we are accustomed to looking at two co-axial hands to ascertain the time, I did initially question the intelligibility of the UR-210’s display. However, the familiarisation period was negligible and reading the time proved intuitive.
My other concern regarding the UR-210 was its vast proportions, measuring 43.8mm x 53.6mm x 17.8mm. Again, I soon brushed aside my preconceptions. The watch wears much smaller than its stated dimensions implies. Moreover, the position of the crown above noon augments wearer comfort and seemingly shrinks the timepiece when affixed to the wrist.
Over the weeks, my temporary ownership proved incredibly enjoyable and, to date, the UR-210 remains one of my favourite watches. Recently, the avant-garde brand discontinued the UR-210, making way for a new model.
In September 2020, the Swiss Maison unveiled the new Urwerk UR-220 Falcon Project and then one month later, it released the UR-220 All Black. The UR-220 All Black is housed in a titanium and steel case, whereas the case of the Falcon Project is formed of 81 layers of carbon CTP (Carbon Thin Ply). The differences between the models also extend to the strap and the dominant colour for the time indications. Personally speaking, I prefer the costlier Urwerk UR-220 Falcon Project and have chosen to focus on this latter model.
Chatting to Martin Frei
Chatting to Martin Frei, Urwerk’s Chief Designer and co-founder, is always a pleasure. While some brands have introduced me to ambassadors from the sports world as well as the silver screen, most of whom I have liked, I much prefer meeting the leading lights of the watchmaking industry.
In terms of designers, it is always interesting to hear the rationale behind each aspect of a composition.
A casual glance at the Urwerk UR-220 Falcon Project leads one to question how it differs from the UR-210. On the face of it, the differences between this new model and the UR-210 are very subtle.
Like the UR-210, three satellites convey the hours. The current hour is denoted with a vivid green tip, or, as Martin describes it, the ‘beak’ of the falcon. This tip arcs from right to left against a minute track, ultimately touching ’60’ which is depicted in red. Thereafter, the next satellite comes into play. There is a wonderful sense of theatre as the satellites wander and the hour values, presented on rotating cubes, turn. And yet, while there is a notable flamboyance to the design, everything is clear and legible.
In the top, right-hand side of the dial, a power reserve indicator shows the status of the mainspring (single barrel) from its maximum state of wind (48 hours) until it drops to 24 hours. Thereafter, the left-hand power reserve indicator takes over responsibility for showing the available energy from 24 hours to zero. A highly complex mechanism, encompassing 83 components, was needed to incorporate both these indications.
Other subtle, but delightful details can be seen on close examination. For example, at the base of the minute track, the word, ‘Swiss’ is set against a black background, while the word ‘made’ sits atop a grey panel (not shown on all pictures). The resultant appearance looks sublime. Furthermore, both words are positioned asymmetrically with the grey section sitting deferentially against the black section. Further nuances include new typography on the dials, incorporating numerals with a slash mark. As a designer, Martin’s attention to detail is breathtaking.
The case shares the same length and width as the UR-210, 43.8mm x 53.6mm, but the newer watch is thinner and sleeker, measuring 14.8mm. In addition, the caseback is curved, improving wearability. The reason for the slimmer case profile is that, unlike the UR-210 which featured an automatic movement, the new model is endowed with the hand-wound movement, the Calibre UR-7.20. Similar to its forebear, the UR-210, the UR-220’s crown is positioned at noon, mitigating the likelihood of it impinging on wrist movement or marring wearer comfort.
An arcing sapphire crystal spans the dial area. Interestingly, both the top and underside of the case are not only curved, but also follow a parallel, arcing trajectory. Part of the charm of this model is the repeated juxtaposition of curving lines and straight edges.
Adjacent the dial, the case is adorned with numerous concentric circles, a function of the superlight carbon CTP case which is formed of 81 ultra-thin layers tightly compressed together. When a block of this material is introduced to a CNC machine, it proves far more time-consuming than milling steel or gold, a factor which inevitably increases costs. As stated earlier, the numerous layers imbue the case adjacent the dial with a series of grey and black rings, while the sides of the case are enriched with numerous straight, fine lines, resembling a strata-like formation. By using carbon CTP and eschewing the self-winding mechanism of the UR-210, the weight of the UR-220 is significantly less, improving wearer comfort. Indeed, the curved shape, low mass and slimmer profile should make this new model more appealing to prospective purchasers with small wrists.
The case is a lug-free design with the strap nuzzling the watch head and securely affixed with sturdy-looking screws. The absence of lugs is another reason why the watch appears much smaller when worn. Urwerk has equipped the UR-220 Falcon Project with a rubber strap, however, typical of the luxury marque, this is not ordinary rubber. ‘The strap is cured, moulded and textured by the Vulcarboné process which gives it a touch like velvet’. Near the watch head, the strap resembles an armadillo’s scutes (scales). The strap features a black DLC buckle and Velcro fastening.
Remove the watch from the wrist and you will be confronted with an unusual sight. An oil change indicator, positioned on the caseback, displays months using two rollers. On receipt of the watch, the wearer removes a pin to the rear and presses a pushpiece. This latter process actuates the oil change indicator which records the running time of the watch in months. Once 39 months have elapsed, the watch should be taken to an authorised retailer who will arrange a service and oil change. Once the service is completed, the service indicator is reset and the pin is replaced.
The previously mentioned hand-wound movement, the Calibre UR-7.20 is made in-house. It features a Swiss-lever escapement and shares many details in common with a ‘conventional watch’ movement.
However, there are some distinct differences with this watch. The wandering hours are presented using a satellite complication comprising of aluminium hour satellites, together with carrousels and screws formed of Grade 5 titanium. Likewise, the baseplate is made in ARCAP P40, a strong alloy that the brand has used on some of its other models. Urwerk clearly expend much energy seeking the best materials for each component.
Despite embracing state-of-the-art materials, the Swiss firm has not shied away from traditional handcraftsmanship. Circular graining, polished bevels, vertical brush, satin finishes and polished screws are all in evidence. Although the luxury marque makes avant-garde watches, its products are clearly worthy of the term, ‘Haute Horlogerie’.
Prior to seeing the Urwerk UR-220 Falcon Project, I could not understand why the brand would discontinue the UR-210. As I have made it clear, I will forever be a fan. Clearly, Martin Frei, when designing the new watch, was mindful of the UR-210’s allure and chose not to jettison everything that made this model desirable.
He has refined small details on the dial and, along with Felix Baumgartner, selected a very interesting case material, carbon CTP. By moving to a hand-wound movement, Urwerk has made the watch lighter. Furthermore, by using lightweight carbon CTP for the case, creating an ergonomic caseback and lastly, equipping the model with a special rubber strap, everything contributes to the model’s impressive wearer comfort. In addition, the UR-220 will also suit those individuals with slender wrists, allowing the brand to engage with new audiences.
While the oil change indicator elicits a smile on my face, it is the display of the hour and minutes which steals the show. It sidesteps the mediocrity of some watches, delivering interest and theatre but, most importantly, it remains practical, imparting information clearly and free of ambiguity.
The Urwerk UR-220 Falcon Project is a remarkable watch for many reasons, most of which are detailed herein. Most pertinently, the composition is avant-garde, but rich in traditional watchmaking craft. Martin Frei and Felix Baumgartner have looked to the heavens for inspiration and conceived a futuristic watch which remains highly practical and suitable for daily wear.
Ralph Lauren is one of the greatest style icons of today. He is an aesthete with an eye for beautiful objects. The fact that he owns an Urwerk UR-210 says much about Martin’s design prowess and, indeed, the creativity of both founders. If I subsequently hear of Mr Lauren acquiring a UR-220 in years to come, it won’t come as a surprise.
- Model: Urwerk UR-220 Falcon Project
- Case: Carbon CTP; dimensions 43.8mm x 53.6mm; height 14.80 mm; sapphire crystal to front
- Functions: Wandering hours; retrograde minutes; double power-reserve indicator, oil change indicator
- Movement: Calibre UR-7.20; hand-wound movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 59 jewels; power reserve 48 hours
- Strap: Vulcarboné© cured rubber, reference “Kiska” with black DLC buckle; Velcro© fastening
- Price: CHF 145,000 excluding tax (RRP as at 5.11.2020)