It’s funny that, despite being relatively rare specimens, some models keep coming back in our instalments of The Collector’s Series. A watch with an extremely bold design, produced by a niche independent watchmaker, today marks the third appearance of a Urwerk UR-103 in this series of collector’s interviews. We’ve talked about this important piece already with @whatmakesmetick and more recently with François-Xavier a.k.a @equationdutemps. And not only do they have a different edition of this UFO of a watch, but they also share pretty different opinions about it. Today, as you’ve guessed, we welcome another UR-103 and its proud owner, Pedro a.k.a @detroitwatchguy on Instagram. This 37-year old watch aficionado will tell us about his unconventional, non-mainstream watch that he considers a cornerstone of the brand, if not its most important watch ever.
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – Why Urwerk, and how did you get to know about them?
Pedro a.k.a Detroitwatchguy – Hard to tell… but I think my mind is dissonant to a point. I like to see things complicated getting uncomplicated, and things uncomplicated getting complicated… the way that Urwerk chose to tell time is rather complicated movement-wise but very intuitive to read the time, and that fascinates me highly.
Also, I truly believe in Urwerk brand’s identity and aesthetic language; I mean you know it is a Urwerk from afar. They are true to their design language, straightforward in their strategy and their DNA is so unique. I would like to believe that I share some of these qualities and, therefore, the brand and watches resonate with me. Every one of my watch friends who saw the watch on me said yes, it fits you very well; you are made for one another.
When did you get in touch with the genius watchmakers at Urwerk?
Oh, the wonders of social media! I would say that my first contact with the brand was on Instagram, and after enjoying what I saw, I dove deep down and started researching, following each and every new launch from the brand. My first contact with the brand was probably around 2012 or so if I am not mistaken. I’m hoping that next year I get to visit their atelier!
How would you describe your contact with them?
Every time I would comment on a photo or story, they would reply. At some point, I started asking questions particular about the UR-103T, and the folks at Urwerk were always on top of things and would always reply back. Always courteous and ready to help, this to me is an important key factor when deciding on a watch, giving that piece much more meaning than before.
Ah, and what attracted you to the brand in the first place?
Everything! I love how they have always been “ahead of time” regarding their designs and how they have a very exclusive and unique way of creating watches. I really admire how they have remained “true to themselves” regardless of anything. This resonates with me a lot. Be yourself regardless of what others think; it’s as simple as that!
But you have to be a certain type of guy to wear this UR-103!
The UR-103 is by far the most important watch from Urwerk. It was the watch that really put them on the map and, in my opinion, the model that helped carve the way for the independents in general. A very aggressive, unapologetic, and unmistakable design/piece that shows why independents deserve recognition. And in all the variations of the model, the “T” with the full crystal showing the entire mechanism has always been my favorite. Nicknamed Tarantula, it has a titanium and AlTin-coated case. It’s a strap monster and a very versatile beast (or shall I say insect!) to be worn daily.
So you do wear it a lot?
All the watches that I have get a lot of wrist time; otherwise there is no reason to keep them around. Any occasion, pretty much… have been working from home for almost two years. Most of the time, I am home with my wife, our two dogs, and now our baby, so I am always wearing a watch and I hardly ever take it off. Ever since the UR-103T arrived, the honeymoon has been going strong… I wear it for several days straight, then I put it in the safe, wear something else for some hours, and then I just swap back to it. I am sure I will find the right cadence, but for now, I just enjoy wearing it all the time, and I am sure all other watches are very jealous about it, lol!
When did you buy it?
This was a journey in itself… So I’d been looking for one for a while, and a friend in Miami DMed me on IG said that his friend had a UR-103T and that he might be willing to sell the watch to me since he had not been wearing it at all. He put the two of us in contact, I started talking to the guy, and we agreed on a price, but he told me that he would spend the whole summer travelling outside Miami and that I would need to wait until his return in early autumn. As you can imagine, this is one of the last things a collector who is close to finally acquiring one of his grails wants to hear, but I put my “Buddha” hat on and said, okay, sounds good, I can wait, no problem… Obviously, two seconds after I said that, my left eyebrow started to twitch.
Anyway, I patiently waited and waited and waited, but deep down inside, I had a gut feeling that this wouldn’t work, especially because I had another friend, this one from Toronto, who had a rose gold UR-103 for sale, but since I gave my word to the Miami dude, I wanted to keep it.
So comes Labor Day, which I patiently spent almost only and literally thinking about the watch, but I didn’t want to bother the guy just yet; “one more day“, I kept repeating in my head. Then the 6th of September came, and I finally sent him a message asking if I could wire the money so that he could ship me the watch as soon as the wire was cleared and, not to my surprise, unfortunately, the first sentence of his message was: “I got bad news for you…” You can imagine the remainder of the content.
Anyway, after calming down from feeling so stupid for not listening to my gut feeling, I started from zero again. It turns out that my friend from Toronto had just sold his watch too. In one of my daily Google UR-103T searches, I found a website with a store in Miami that had one of the Ts. I contacted the guy, and he told me he didn’t have the watch with him, that it was a consignment from Europe. That to me was already a red flag, but given the limited amounts UR-103Ts produced, I knew I couldn’t afford to not “dig deeper”, and that is what I did…
I asked for photos, videos of the watch and talked to the store owner for a good hour. The conversation was great, we had a bit of back and forth about the price that lasted for a week or two since the owner was somewhere in Europe. So we closed on the final price, and then I had to figure out how not to get scammed since I had never heard about this dealer before and after some Instagram investigation apparently none of my friends had either. The store owner told me about an escrow account that I could use, although it would cost roughly 1% of the transaction, which I happily accepted since 1% didn’t sound like a bad deal to avoid getting scammed, and three days later… European dude shipped the watch, and the Miami store overnighted it to me after my friend, who had referred the dude who did not go through with the sale, went to see the watch in person and gave me the green light. So, I have had the watch for over two weeks now. And after around 5-6 years of constantly dreaming about it, all I can say is that it is better than imagined and expected… literally I am truly in love with my Tarantula!
What a story! No wonder you wear it every day!
Yeah, and like I said before, this watch has historical relevance to the world of independents and obviously to Urwerk. I have been in love with it since I first saw it in 2012 or so. The looks of it, how the time is displayed and mainly the people behind it (Felix Baumgartner & Martin Frei) are the reasons why I had to buy it. A watch is just an object, but it becomes much more when these variants come into play, and to me, this UR-103T is more like a grail of Haute Horlogerie, almost a talisman that every time I look down to check it, a smile comes to my face: that is the true meaning of a grail watch!
What do others say about it when they see it?
My wife is my biggest support by far; she always pays attention (or pretends to) when I show her watches. My closest non-watch friends don’t care that much. Some will look at my wrist every now and then to see if there is anything new and if so, they would ask questions, but they normally regret it when I remove the watch and start nerding out about it! Hardly ever do I get reactions out in the wild, I think because most of my stuff is indie, not everyone knows about it, which is great by the way… stealth wealth.
Why are indies so important to you?
My watch collection is always in transformation. It keeps evolving ever since I started (seriously) about 10 years ago. I don’t have too many rules, always aiming for diversity and not caring if it is hype or not. I try to keep less than 10 watches, always striving for less quantity and more quality, that’s for sure, eventually, I might get to either three or four big grail ones, but this might take another decade or so – or never really happen! To me, the passion, the hobby itself, is what matters; I also tend to avoid purchasing anything that isn’t or hasn’t got a special touch; therefore, independents tend to be my “go-to”. Nothing is better than interacting with the watchmaker of a brand, the person who gives a “soul” to the watch and makes it more personable. Can’t recall how many times I have spoken to Torsti Laine, Miguel from Ophion, The Gro Bros, and even some folks from Urwerk. That is precious to me, without a doubt!
In fact, several interesting brands come to mind… such as Laine and Ophion, for example, bringing high-quality pieces at an “affordable” price level. Urwerk, MB&F, and De Bethune are always introducing new grails to the scene and pushing the limits of this rather traditional industry. Armin Strom also comes to mind with their new pieces. Romain Gauthier is pushing the “traditional look” as well, and I love it, as I do Rexhep Rexhepi with Akrivia. There’s so much out there nowadays; people need to look off the beaten path because there is so much to enjoy!
Do you know the current market value of the watch, and would you ever sell it again?
Yes, I know the value of it. In fact, I have a whole spreadsheet where I keep all of my collection updated, how much I paid, how much is the current market value, and what is/was the retail as well and another tab where I plan any actions to acquire the next one. The UR-103s, in general, are still underappreciated, in my humble opinion, but I think that has been changing slightly in the last years. Before you could purchase a pre-owned one in the mid $20ks, nowadays prices are anywhere from mid $30ks to mid to high $40ks. I paid mid $30ks on mine.
Would I sell it? I say nothing is “safe” in my collection besides my son’s watch. Having a very limited budget to spend on watches, unfortunately, I am unable to keep them all forever. I also believe that as watch collectors, our tastes evolve over time and therefore moving pieces, consolidating and going after the grails is a part of watch collecting. Unfortunately, due to the current situation and the growing number of flippers out there, it gets mixed with you becoming a flipper. I am all about experiencing the watch and enjoying it, but once this “flame” is no longer burning, I don’t have any problem parting ways with it and trying something else. Having said that, though, I always wanted a Urwerk in my collection, and the only reason I would sell my UR-103T would be to get either a UR-100 or a UR-220 (if I ever win the lottery!).
Then there will be a Patek 5167 hopefully soon, and also on my list are the Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force, maybe in the next 2-3 years, MB&F LM101 hopefully in the next 5-8 years or so, maybe a big consolidation for an Akrivia/Rexhep Rexhepi at some point?! Never know, right?
Once I get the Patek, I will take it easy and enjoy my collection, but always keeping an eye out and saving up for the next one; the key here is really to be grateful and enjoy what you currently have. Always seeking the next one makes you blind in a way and stops you from enjoying your own pieces. I always keep that in the back of my mind.
What tips do you have for Urwerk collectors?
Be patient, be very patient! Indies are tough to come by, and there are very few trustworthy sellers out there. Create your own network, and that will be very helpful!
Well, I’m in touch with several other collectors! You should see my Instagram DMs. Some have become great friends that I talk to daily, some share my thoughts about my watch-collecting strategy, and they share theirs with me. We call it “mental masturbation” because it is really what it means… we talk, we do the math, to see how much such and such pieces are worth and what could be bought at that level, sometimes we do the opposite, such grail costs so much and what is needed to be sold. Sometimes we see/check other options as well. Anyway, these are friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. To me, Instagram is worth it on that basis alone, it is all about the community of like-minded individuals sharing the same hobby and passion, and it is marvelous! I have been to several places and always can meet up with a fellow #watchfam, and we become friends instantly, it is really wonderful!
Finally, could you share your tips for people who would like to start collecting watches?
Try them all, buy some, read and learn everything you can, go to RedBar events and try on all the watches possible, watch YouTube channels, and again read about the watches in blogs and forums. This is the best way to “educate” yourself and buy what you like, not hype. With social media, our tastes end up being very influenced by Instagram, Facebook, etc. Therefore, we need to really understand what we like. Also, start from the beginning, even if you have a good budget to get started with bigger pieces. I truly believe that experiencing different levels, brands, types of finish, types of watches will help you pave your own way to the best watch collection for yourself. I like putting intention into everything that I do, and watch collecting isn’t any different; every single piece had a lot of thought behind it, a lot of discussions with close friends too.
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Another great point is not to get too attached to a piece; I often see folks who get way too attached, be it because they relate that piece to a life event, and then they cannot get rid of it afterwards. Sometimes it is fun to relate a purchase to something special, but if you relate all your pieces and then cannot get rid of any, chances are that when your taste changes, you will be “stuck” with several pieces that you won’t wear anymore and that will jeopardize your purchasing of new pieces, especially new grails.
Now, having said that, some collectors are all about tying pieces to moments/milestones and if that is you, then go for it; at the end of the day, there’s no universal recipe for all collectors, with time and experience, you will truly find what makes you happy.