TAK­ING THE RISK

Ven­tur­ing close to the cage of the beast seems a temp­ta­tion too great to re­sist, and a suc­cess in mak­ing your mark and draw­ing your ter­ri­tory is cer­tainly the golden cup.

Esquire Malaysia Watch Guide - - Watch Innovasions of 2014 - Words by Leong Wong

THE TRA­DI­TIONAL school of watch­mak­ing has been around for nearly 250 years and noth­ing much has changed. In a lot of ways, this is some­thing to be thank­ful for—it helps raise the emo­tional level of the in­dus­try, and has brought back pre­cious skill that oth­er­wise would have been re­placed with soul­less elec­tron­ics. The other school of watch­mak­ing takes a mod­ern ap­proach, mak­ing bridges and break­ing ground wher­ever pos­si­ble. The road less trav­elled is gain­ing ground amongst the younger watch­mak­ers—who are grow­ing in num­bers—as it’s their way mak­ing their mark on the in­dus­try. The lat­ter group have the lat­est tech­nolo­gies and sci­ence be­hind them, which can aid them in more ways than one in solv­ing 250 year-old prob­lems.

Urwerk is a watch company tak­ing the mod­ern route. Urwerk was founded in 1997 by Felix Baum­gart­ner (the watch­maker) and Martin Frei (the chief de­signer), after they met in 1995. The part­ner­ship has pro­duced some of the most in­no­va­tive and amaz­ing time­pieces in re­cent years, ex­e­cuted with ground­break­ing in­no­va­tions while pay­ing re­spect to the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of watch­mak­ing. Over the years they have pro­duced a pro­lific range of amaz­ing time telling de­vices that will blow your mind with their fu­tur­is­tic looks—105, UR-110, 200, UR-1001.

Last year they un­veiled the pro­to­type of a new project called the EMC (or Elec­tro Me­chan­i­cal Con­trol), which was in its fi­nal de­vel­op­ment stage and all was shown was the move­ment it­self. Ear­lier this year the EMC got its body, and stick­ing very much to the company’s DNA, it has a square shape with com­plex beveled sides. Noth­ing about Urwerk time­pieces is sim­ple and straight for­ward. “We make our own move­ment in-house,” the two founders told me. “It only makes sense as they are quite com­pli­cated to make and it is eas­ier to con­trol the qual­ity and fix a prob­lem if one arises.”

What makes the EMC so spe­cial? “With EMC, it’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent ap­proach to watch­mak­ing,” Felix Baum­gart­ner ex­plained. “With the help of minute amount of elec­tric­ity we are able to make the move­ment where you can con­trol the pre­ci­sion of the move­ment and it can be cor­rected by seconds to the day.” The process of at­tain­ing the ul­ti­mate ac­cu­racy is the close mon­i­tor­ing of the beat­ing of the heart of the move­ment, and EMC keeps that in check, rang­ing from 4hz vph to 16hz. In other words you can fine-tune the watch your­self and ad­just it to suit your life­style to main­tain the de­sired isochro­nism.

This is all done in a very mod­ern and clever way, if you aren’t afraid to en­list the aid of elec­tric­ity. “We use mi­cro sen­sors and place them where they can mon­i­tor the vi­tal parts, so it can send the in­for­ma­tion back to the wearer and tell him where, when and how much needs to be ad­justed. Which then cuts out the in­con­ve­nience of go­ing to the watch company to get it ad­justed, which can be costly,” Baum­gart­ner shared.

How did that idea come about? “The idea of the EMC was in­spired by the mon­i­tor­ing ma­chines we have in our lab,” Martin Frei ex­plained. “We used th­ese large ma­chines to check and mon­i­tor move­ments for our watches to see how they per­form and ac­cu­racy and ad­just it from there. So that in­spired us to cre­ate a move­ment where we can mon­i­tor the watch within the watch right there it­self and ad­just it then on the spot ac­cord­ingly. So we have this idea to minia­turise all th­ese large equip­ment into tiny sen­sors.”

Work­ing with elec­tron­ics has al­ways been frowned upon in the watch­mak­ing in­dus­try. How do Urwerk rec­on­cile th­ese two sworn en­e­mies? “The watch is purely me­chan­i­cal,” Baum­gart­ner as­sured us. “The mea­sur­ing de­vice where the elec­tric­ity is in­volved is con­tained in a sep­a­rate unit.”

Top: Case­back re­veal­ing the elec­tronic mon­i­tor mod­ule on the right.

Left: Martin Frei and Felix Baum­gart­ner.

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