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.
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.