The Story Behind The Urwerk UR-111C With Founder Felix Baumgartner
An in-depth look at the creation of the latest Urwerk masterpiece.
Felix Baumgartner, co-founder of URWERK, has been surrounded by watchmaking since childhood. Both his father and grandfather were watchmakers, and a natural interest in his family’s work developed into a lifelong passion. When the master watchmaker met artist and designer Martin Frei in Zurich in 1995, the two discovered their shared passion for the concept of measuring time and began discussing ways to collaborate. Two years later, Urwerk was born.
In 1997, Frei and Baumgartner’s dreams and plans were realized in the founding of their company, making watches that combine traditional mechanical watchmaking expertise with original, modern and exceptional designs. The name URWERK means “original accomplishment,” a perfect name for the pair’s commitment to creating a new vision of time measurement.
The UR-111C: An Interview with Felix Baumgartner
Baumgartner and Frei’s latest creation, the UR-111C, continues the company’s ground-breaking tradition of thinking outside of the box, and introduces two more “firsts” to the watchmaking world: a barrel winding bar and fiber optic display. The watch’s minute track “was inspired by the linear speedometer displays in vintage cars,” says Baumgartner. In the 1960’s, some Buicks and Pontiacs featured linear speedometers, as did Baumgartner’s own car. “I had an old Volvo that had a linear speedometer,” he says. “I’ve been thinking of making a watch with a linear display for 18 years,” he continued. The 111-C marks an evolution of the UR-CC1 King Cobra, which also has a linear minute track.
The UR-111C is a limited edition of 50 pieces and features a winding barrel that sits prominently on the top of the case. The absence of a traditional winding crown “keeps a smooth feeling on the side of the case and is much more comfortable for the wearer,” says Baumgartner. The grooved barrel is parallel to the winding stem and rolling it with your thumb is “a new sensation,” according to the brand. “The winding is the part generating the most pressure and the most energy going to the wheels,” says Baumgartner. “We had to create a transmission with tough parts,” including miniature gearing, complex articulations and intermediate wheels. Despite the energy challenges involving the winding mechanism, the watch has a power reserve of 48 hours. To set the watch, a hidden lever swings out from the side of the case, allowing the winding roller to be turned in either direction.
Not content to just incorporate one original innovation in the new timepiece, Baumgartner and Frei created another first by incorporating an image conduit with the help of a German optical manufacturer. There are two open worked seconds wheels weighing in at just 0.025 grams each. The seconds numerals are mounted alternately on the wheels, with one indicating 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60, and the other marked with 5, 15, 25, 35, 45 and 55. As the wheels turn, they appear alternately, brought into view by a dense cluster of precisely aligned optical fibers that make up the image conduit.
The watch was originally intended to debut in 2017 but was deferred to 2018 due to the challenges of “the fiber optic, the transmission and the three-part casing,” Baumgartner says. URWERK is able to make just three UR-111C’s in a month, due to its complexity. “Our collectors are hungry fish,” he says. “They buy mostly satellite pieces, but now they want something new.”
While URWERK’s watches are officially named with their model numbers, Baumgartner and his team have internal “nicknames for all of the watches,” he says. The majority of the timepieces are named for animals. “Our watches are part of a zoo,” he jokes, “most of them give a feeling of a creature.” The names include Maltese Falcon, Hammerhead, Tarantula, T-rex and of course Cobra. “When you look at our watches, you can get the feeling of a creature,” he says. “The side view of the Cobra looks like the animal is staring at you.” Baumgartner admits that URWERK is not the first brand to take inspiration from the animal kingdom, “Patek Philippe had a cobra watch in the 1950’s,” he says.
So, who takes care of these creatures when they need a little TLC? After-sales service for an URWERK watch requires an expert watchmaker, who has to be specifically trained by URWERK. Apart from superficial fixes like replacing a strap, watches are sent to the brand’s Geneva headquarters. “We can turn a watch around in about four to six weeks,” says Baumgartner. “They go to the same watchmaker who made them,” he says. “Our collectors appreciate our personal touch.”