The History of Urwerk
In 1995, Felix Baumgartner, a promising young watchmaker, and Martin Frei, an industrial designer, first met to discuss the idea of creating a new way to perceive time. From their meeting, Urwerk was born, a combination of the words Ur – the city where time was first measured over 6,000 years ago using sun-lit obelisks and Werk – which means "to create" in German.
Felix Baumgartner first learnt about watchmaking in his father’s atelier, who restored historically significant clocks, including the Campani brothers’ night clock from 1656, believed to feature the first ever wandering hours complication. He would later attend the prestigious watchmaking school in Solothurn and create complicated watches for independent Svend Andersen. The other half of Urwerk, Martin Frei has a background in graphic and industrial design, complementing Felix’s watchmaking abilities.
Following their meeting, the pair established Urwerk in 1997. In the same year, they launched the UR-101 and UR-102 watches at Baselworld, the first steps in their mission to push forward innovative ways of displaying time. With their atypical time display, use of modern materials and futurist design, the first Urwerk watches certainly surprised the rather conservative watch world. To give you a sense of context, Richard Mille and De Bethune, other brands which pioneered futuristic independent watchmaking, were only established in 1999 and 2002 respectively.
In 2002, the watchmakers sat at a crossroads. “We were sitting around the table. The company’s bank statement was lying in front of us. The balance was CHF 100,000. This is all that we had after five years of very hard work,” recalls Felix Baumgartner. In the face of financial struggle and potentially being unable to continue their journey, their pair decided to double down on their vision for futuristic watchmaking and introduced the UR-103.
This model marked a turning point for the independent watchmakers, thanks to its spaceship inspired case, innovative curved crystal, exposed satellite display and control board on the caseback. They presented the UR-103 at Baselworld in 2003, capturing the attention of the watch world, and obtaining commercial success. The UR-103 was eventually discontinued in 2010, marking an end to the brand’s first all in exploration of futuristic watchmaking.
The Wandering Hours Complication
It is believed that the wandering hours complication was first used on a night clock designed for Pope Alexander XII in 1656 by the Campani brothers, a well-known family of clockmakers in Rome. The insomniac pope requested the ability to read time in the dark, so an oil lamp was placed inside the clock case, illuminating the dial and allowing him to read the time through the open-worked numerals. The concept was briefly translated to pocket watches but was supplanted by the two-hand method of displaying time. It is either an improbable coincidence or an early source of inspiration that Baumgartner’s father was once involved in its restoration, at a time when his son would have been around the workshop.
A Futuristic Design
Aesthetically, the UR-103.07 embodies Urwerk's creative approach to watchmaking, with a futuristic design which has become synonymous with the brand. Deep, linear, engravings run vertically down the curved case surface, and when viewed in combination with the glass, the overall effect is reminiscent of a spaceship or helmet, further highlighting the whimsical nature of the design.
There are three rotating orbital “satellites” that are responsible for allowing the wearer to read the hour. A curved minute track runs at the bottom of the watch, where the hour discs move slowly across the dial to indicate the corresponding time. A recessed crown at 12 o'clock features deep engravings, allowing the user to wind and set the watch with ease. Whilst this too resembles some aeronautical exhaust system, it serves as a gentle reminder of the manufacture’s industrial, engineering background, combining form and function.
On the caseback, we find a world premiere in watchmaking: a control board. Dual automotive-like dashboard apertures in a grained finish show the running seconds and a 15-minute setting window, of which the numerals have been engraved into. Other than providing a welcome change in texture to the metallic case, these apertures allow for greater accuracy when setting the time, and aside from these, an arching power reserve indicator is also on the caseback, adding yet more functionality.
Powering the wandering hours satellites is Urwerk’s manual-winding Calibre 3.03, beating at 21,600bph/3Hz, with a power-reserve of 43-hours. Additionally, there is also a user adjustable fine-tuning screw on the caseback, that acts on the index which changes the rate of the balance, by altering the effective length of the balance-spring. The owner can thus adjust the rate of the watch to gain or lose up to 30 seconds a day. This was a feature commonly seen in pocket-watches, often left un-sealed so the owner could easily open the watch and set the index fast or slow. However, some makers, including Abraham-Louis Breguet, provided for adjustment without opening the case, as seen 0in this Urwerk 103.07. Such a device is extremely rare in modern wristwatches.
The watch comes with its original outer and inner box and is accompanied by a Certificate & International Guarantee (confirming sale through Istana jewellers, in Dubai).
If sold within the United Kingdom, this Urwerk UR-103.7 will be subject to 20% VAT.