One look at the blackened platinum Urwerk UR110PTH, pictured on this month’s cover, and you can see why Urwerk co-founder and head watchmaker Felix Baumgartner calls this red-dial final edition of the automatic 110 series “Urwerk’s bad boy.”
Introduced in 2010, the 110 series features a time display on the right side of the watch, which gives a completely new visual to the emblematic Urwerk satellite system.
“We are looking at a moving future at Urwerk,” Baumgartner says.
Half Man, Half Machine
This year, Baumgartner and Urwerk added not only this reddened 110PTH, but the Geneva-based independent brand also updated its UR210 line, which debuted in 2012, adding a case made of a titanium aluminum nitride alloy (AlTiN) with a hardness of 3,500 Vickers.
“The 210 displays a relationship to its owner,” Baumgartner said. “In a way, half man, half machine.”
Its skeletonized retrograde aluminum hand containing the hour numeral also indicates the minutes: like magic, when the hand arrives back at the start after the passing of an hour, the numeral has inexplicably become that of the following hour.
And there’s more. In a first for a wristwatch, the 210 monitors “the symbiotic relationship between man and his mechanical watch,” Baumgartner explains. A further evolution of the automatic turbines that have graced Urwerk’s recent movements allows this wristwatch to “communicate” with its owner. An indicator at the 11 o’clock position lets the wearer know how much he or she is moving around.
How does the watch know this? Since the kinetic motion of the wrist supplies an automatic movement’s rotor with energy to wind the mainspring, it can be used to determine the owner’s activity level. When Urwerk’s clever indication shows red, it means the wearer is not moving around enough to keep the mainspring supplied. If the hand is in the green area, it means the current arm motion is sufficient to keep the watch optimally wound.
Thus, in effect, your watch communicates with you.
New model : EMC
But almost even more exciting than the immediate present at Urwerk is its future, exemplified by a prototype movement shown under the table at the recent BaselWorld. The new movement will be officially launched in the fall within a brand new watch destined to kick off a whole line at Urwerk.
Called EMC, the new movement was devised by Baumgartner and his “U” research division, a sort of experimental laboratory within the dozen-strong company. This division is reserved for the craziest of projects–mechanics that other watchmakers certainly only dream of. Thus far, this division has brought forth the UR-CC1 King Cobra (limited to twenty-five pieces in white gold and twenty-five in AlTiN) and the UR-1001 Zeit Device (limited to just eight pieces).
The idea behind the EMC was one that has long occupied Baumgartner’s brain and was already detectable in the 210: the interactivity between a mechanical watch and its wearer.
In this new caliber, Baumgartner has made very real the idea that a watch could electronically determine its own rate and convey that data to the owner immediately.
Like wearing a Witschi machine, which is a brand of a movement rate-reading device found on every watchmaker’s bench, the new caliber will in effect communicate information to its wearer regarding the movement’s rate precision. The EMC is designed to practically take its own pulse and “tell” the wearer the result, after which he or she can adjust the rate thanks to a cleverly positioned screw on the back of the watch case.
This latter concept was first seen on the UR-103. It allows the wearer to regulate his or her own watch using the precision adjustment function found on the control board on the case back. By combining electronics with mechanics in what is to date Urwerk’s first full-blown in-house movement, the upcoming EMC movement can measure its own rate.
“This movement is outfitted with an electronic eye to monitor the mechanics,” Baumgartner explains in his typically low-key, yet emotional, way. “It merges haute horlogerie and electronics for the first time, making individual regulation of the movement possible.”
The high-performance capacitor in the EMC must be wound to charge it. This is done using a foldout winder found on the case. The winding charges a miniscule motor within the case, which in turn powers an LED sensor placed on the balance wheel—Urwerk’s own balance wheel, in fact, created in ARCAP, an alloy that the Geneva-based brand prefers due to its nonmagnetic and anti-corrosive properties.
The little optical sensor strategically placed on the balance measures its motions, which are then translated into +/- seconds per day and shown on a display that comes to life when a button on the case is pushed. The wearer can then regulate as needed.
A moving future
The upcoming EMC launch is the biggest step forward into holistic manufacturing that Urwerk has ever undertaken. The EMC is the brand’s very first completely integrated in-house movement. It will boast double spring barrels for eighty hours of power reserve and will likely never be usable in another watch, making it a true bespoke movement for the forthcoming timepiece.
The mechanics beat at 4 Hz, while the electronic oscillator beats at 16,000,000 Hz. Its “artificial intelligence” is capable of calculating the difference between the movement’s rate and its reference oscillator—and translating it into seconds per day.
“This is a revolution in the world of precision watchmaking,” Baumgartner proudly adds. If so, the new EMC could be Urwerk’s next “bad boy.”