Geneva-based Urwerk has been reinventing the art of horology since 1995. The name “Urwerk” is taken from the Sumerian city of Ur, whose inhabitants were the first to use giant sundials to measure time over six millennia ago, and the German “werk,” meaning “work” or “creation.” It’s also a play on the German word for “clockwork,” which gives a subtle indication of the nature of the brand’s “werk”–to reinvent the traditional art of horology and portray time in a futuristic, almost other-worldly, way.
Brothers Felix and Thomas Baumgartner, along with designer Martin Frei, debuted their first designs at Baselworld in 1997, at the AHCI booth (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants). The UR-101 and UR-102 presented the time as a wandering hour on two discs that rotate clockwise, meant to signify the Sun’s passage over Earth’s horizon–this, in turn, takes inspiration from a pocket watch presented to Pope Alexander XII in 1656. The case itself, at 38mm (in 18k yellow gold in the UR-101 and stainless steel in the UR-102) is modeled after Han Solo’s freighter, the Millennium Falcon, in Star Wars. The UR-102 was then released in an anodized and ceramicized aluminum case inspired by Sputnik. This established Urwerk’s acclaimed series of black watches, arguably on of their signature styles.
The release of the UR-102 initiated a fallow period for the brand, but this period was ended with the triumphant release of the UR-103, which spawned several successors in the series. The UR-103, intended as a driver’s watch, displays the time in three dimensions, on four cone-shaped satellites at the front of the case. This is made possible by a rotating element designed by Felix Baumgartner, upon which are mounted four chamfered discs that display the 1, 5, 9 on the first disc; the 2, 6, and 10 on the second; 3, 7, and 11 on the third; and, finally, the 4,8, and 12 on the fourth. The size of the case, a formidable 36 by 50 mm, is necessary for maximum weight distribution and guarantees perfect synchrony of the movement’s elements. Once fully-wound, the cal. UR-03.01 movement (which beats at 21,600 a/h), boasts a power reserve of 42 hours.
After the success of the UR-103, Urwerk was asked to design a model for Harry Winston’s Rare Timepiece’s Opus series. Urwerk followed this honor with several iterations in the UR-103 series, including watches in PVD-coated platinum (the UR-103 Blackbird) and watches that featured elliptical windows that extended the satellites to the sides of the watch (the UR-103.05). The UR-103 was also released in a steel case coated with TiAlN, a treatment comprised of Titanium, Aluminum, and Nitride.
Urwerk continues to release timepieces that delight and captivate both critics and collectors alike. In 2011 the brand was awarded the Design Watch Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève for their UR-110. Their exciting and futuristic designs renew the traditional, sometimes staid, art of horology without subverting it, and will no doubt continue to do so well into the future.