Urwerk UR-T8

In this article about the Urwerk UR-T8, Angus Davies also discusses the UR-T8 Skull and the UR-T8 Colibri, recently launched at Baselworld 2019.

This feature about the Urwerk UR-T8 appraises the watch in detail and points out its many attributes. Moreover, the article also looks at the Swiss brand’s predilection for collaborating with artisans.

Urwerk UR-T8

Urwerk UR-T8 All Black

In the 17th century, the Campani brothers produced clocks for the pope which imparted time using wandering-hours. Today, this means of articulating the time is synonymous with Swiss brand, Urwerk. Indeed, while other brands offer watches with revolving hour displays, they pale by comparison with Urwerk.

Back in 2017, Urwerk celebrated its 20th anniversary by unveiling a new timepiece, the UR-T8. While this model incorporated a wandering-hours display, perpetuating the brand’s love affair for this genre of watch, it also featured much innovation.

A modern-day ‘transformer’ watch

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso, released in 1931, featured a reversing case which could be flipped over,  protecting the face from the possibility of damage when playing polo. The Urwerk UR-T8 upholds this idea, transforming from a watch to a ‘mystery object’ worn on the wrist and, in so doing, protecting the dial beneath a titanium shield.

Urwerk UR-T8

Urwerk UR-T8 Bicolor

Two buttons, gracing the exposed sections of the caseband, release the case from its cradle, allowing it to be flipped over, transforming the watch as previously mentioned. Prior to being flipped over, the case is rotated. Personally, I smile at two exposed captions, ‘Transform’ and ‘Rotate Further’. There is a wonderfully endearing aspect to Urwerk’s character.

Familiar but different

Where the UR-105 employs four satellites, each carrying three hour numerals, the UR-T8 employs three satellites, each carrying four hour numerals. The display of the UR-T8 is generously proportioned, augmenting readability. While the UR-T8 is clearly an Urwerk timepiece, it is also new and brimming with innovation.

Urwerk UR-T8

Urwerk UR-T8 Bicolor

The exterior

Courtesy of its significant scale, the Urwerk UR-T8 is endowed with a graduated diamond-like motif, covering expansive sections of the case. This richly textured pattern flirts with light, enriching the appearance of the watch with a tapestry of light and shade. The motif decorating the caseback, or titanium shield, matches the aforementioned pattern but is framed with a plethora of screws.

Urwerk UR-T8

Urwerk UR-T8 All Black

The sapphire crystal allows the wearer to easily see the prevailing hour numeral kiss the adjacent minute track. Meanwhile the elaborately formed sapphire crystal reveals the three satellites slowly pirouetting. The complexity of the crystal heightens cost, but the sublime appearance of the watch justifies this expense.

The crown graces the left hand flank of the case. By locating the crown in this position, it does not inhibit free movement of the wrist or chafe the skin. Its position is eminently logical.

The movement

The UR-8.01 is an automatic movement consisting of numerous parts. Indeed, its complex composition would challenge the capabilities of most watchmakers, perfectly illustrating the impressive skills of Urwerk’s personnel.

Urwerk UR-T8

The motion of the uni-directional oscillating weight is regulated by an ingenious ‘gilded spinning vane’ that ‘absorbs any sudden and violent movements of the rotor without compromising its winding efficiency’. While Urwerk watches exude style they are also packed with mechanical ingenuity and technical virtue.

A single barrel is capable of harnessing sufficient energy to deliver 50 hours of autonomy. The frequency of the balance is 28,800 VpH (4Hz).

While Urwerk is an exemplar of avant-garde design, it does not eschew finissage. The brand states the movement has been embellished with ‘matting, circular graining and diamond-cuts’.

My thoughts about the Urwerk UR-T8

With the Urwerk UR-T8, the proclamation of time is unequivocal and proves simple to interpret. However, this watch also celebrates time itself, revealing the thought processes of the satellites for the delectation of the wearer.

This horological magic is made possible by conceiving and, subsequently realising, a highly ingenious and beautifully engineered movement. Its complexity is breathtaking and it wonderfully showcases the brand’s immense watchmaking expertise.

Surprisingly, the aspect I like most about this watch relates to the tactile encounters it generously provides. Like many men, I have not lost my childhood inquisitiveness. I can still remember adults admonish me by saying, ‘look with your eyes, not your hands’. However, Urwerk encourage wearers to look with both. The process of ‘transforming’ the watch confers a sense of theatre. Pushing buttons, lifting, rotating and closing are steps which invite the wearer to produce a childlike soundtrack. Lastly, the diamond-like motif adjacent the dial and gracing the titanium shield proves irresistible to curious fingers. Quite simply, you just can’t help touching this watch.

The advent of the Urwerk UR-T8 provided the Swiss company with a fitting means to celebrate 20 years of operation. However, typical of this dynamic brand, it has not chosen to stand still. At Baselworld 2019, the high-end firm released two new versions of the UR-T8, the Urwerk UR-T8 Colibri and the UR-T8 Skull. While I liked the latter watch, appreciating the charms of its Grade 5 titanium and bronze case, the UR-T8 Colibri stole my heart. I will return to both watches later.

An empathy for materials and an appreciation for artisanal crafts

An interesting facet to Urwerk’s character is a fondness for using interesting materials and an appreciation for artisanal crafts.

The Swiss firm has employed cutting-edge materials for its movements such as ARCAP baseplates. Furthermore, the brand has also used unusual case materials such as ebony e.g. UR-110 – Eastwood Macassar Ebony. This latter watch and a similar ebony clad model, the UR-110 Eastwood Red Ebony, also drew on the expertise of world-famous tailor, Timothy Everest, who selected exquisite tweeds for the straps.

Urwerk UR-T8

Urwerk UR-110 Eastwood

In 2015, Urwerk unveiled the EMC Pistol. The case of this watch was elaborately engraved by Florian Güllert. Based in Austria, Güllert is a trained gunsmith with an adroitness for embellishing the appearance of firearms with intricate scrolls and cursive letters. His work on the EMC Pistol, imbued the avant-garde EMC with a classical character. The juxtaposition of the modern architecture with age-old artisanal aesthetics conferred a sublime appearance. To complement the case, Urwerk sought sumptuous bespoke straps made in Geneva by two skilled craftspeople, Joséphine Morf and, her colleague, Sylviane.

Urwerk UR-T8

Urwerk EMC Pistol

Clearly, appreciating the allure of engraving, the Maison has recently collaborated with Johnny Dowell a.k.a ‘King Nerd’. Dowell cut his teeth working for esteemed gunmaker James Purdey & Co. In this instance, he has taken the Urwerk UR-T8 and imparted his own personality on the watch. Five watches, named the UR-T8 Skull, formed of Grade 5 titanium and bronze, have been hand-engraved with a haunting depiction of a skull framed with intricate scrolls. A benefit of using the UR-T8 is the generous proportions of the case. It is the notable scale of the case which, by default, provides an expansive canvas for artistic expression.

Urwerk UR-T8

Urwerk UR-T8 Skull

The UR-T8 Colibri

Spending time with Urwerk and writing about its watches is an educational experience. The brand has an impressive knack of introducing new disciplines and industries few members of the public previously knew about, myself included.

Urwerk UR-T8

Emmanuel Esposito

Urwerk has recently collaborated with Emmanuel Esposito. The Italian craftsman produces ‘art knives’. These folding knives are collected by connoisseurs around the globe and prized for their artisanship and aesthetic beauty. While the knives are fully functional, they are unlikely to ever be used in anger as their owners typically seek to preserve their showroom-fresh appearance.

Urwerk UR-T8

Clearly, this is an esoteric world. Indeed, Esposito only makes about 10 knives per annum. Similar to Urwerk, he works with high-tech materials, but he is also not averse to using traditional mediums such as gold and mother of pearl. Esposito enjoys combining the avant-garde and the traditional, a penchant which no doubt resonates with the team at Urwerk.

Urwerk UR-T8

Urwerk UR-T8

In his collaboration with Urwerk, Esposito has used the UR-T8 as his canvas and artistically created a vista featuring glorious panels of mosaic inlay. This inlay is comprised of hundreds of individual pieces of black-lip mother of pearl. Each of these pieces is carefully positioned, ensuring it matches or optimally contrasts with its neighbour. The infinitesimal scale of the pieces makes the inlay process incredibly time-consuming. The intersection between each piece of pearl is punctuated with an 18-carat gold pin. One wayward piece of pearl would immediately stand-out and spoil the harmonious composition of the pearl inlay.

Urwerk UR-T8

Esposito has expertly arranged each differently-hued pearl to coquettishly toy with light. Despite taking numerous photographs at Baselworld, I was unable to capture the breathtaking allure of each inlaid panel. Only the brand’s images seem capable of doing justice to the inlay work.

Urwerk UR-T8

The UR-T8 Colibri is a unique piece, presented in a case with a matching folding knife. The inlays on the knives match the panels on the watch, a feat which will have necessitated much skill on Esposito.

The ability to dream

Urwerk has shown that it is happy to use existing models, collaborate with new partners and conceive objects brimming with artisanal craftsmanship. It is these synergistic relationships which continue to yield something new and spectacular. Indeed, the appeal of this independent brand continues to grow and, based on its ability to dream, shows no signs of abating any time soon.

Further reading

Technical specification

  • Model: Urwerk UR-T8 Colibri
  • Case: Grade 5 titanium; dimensions 60.23mm x 48.35mm x 20.02mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and solid caseback
  • Functions: Wandering hours; minutes
  • Movement: UR 8.01self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); power reserve 48 hours
  • Price:  Price on application (supplied with Colibri T-8 art knife
  • Pièce unique

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