We find ourselves in an era where there are a handful of indie manufactures challenging the status quo of how a watch should look as well as how it should represent the time. One manufacturer leading the charge is URWERK. The concept of URWERK was first discussed during a meeting in 1995 between Felix Baumgartner (co-founder and master watchmaker) and Martin Frei (co-founder and chief designer) who was objectively a talented artist and designer. In short, these two young men were united by their common passion for measuring and portraying time in a different way to what we had come accustomed. What transpired was a lengthy discussion on philosophies and dreams, culminating in a decision to create their own vision of time. URWERK was officially founded in 1997 and presented their first timepiece with the AHCI at Baselworld that same year.
One man, with a passion for Indie brands such as URWERK, as well as classic vintage chronographs …oh… and shoes! Is one of the industry’s true gentleman, @whatmakesmetick. This week we got to discuss his UR-103. A watchmaking marvel and certainly not a piece you come across in the wild very often. We discuss what he believes the future holds for URWERK, why Indie brands appeal so much to him and that dinner party where first spotted an URWERK and it happened to be on the wrist of the legend Max Busser.
So @whatmakesmetick, when did you buy your URWERK UR-103?
I first bought a rose gold 103.3 around 2005 and when the 103.8 with TiAlN ( Titanium Aluminum Nitride) case coating came out a few years after, I also bought it. I was smitten by the aubergine hues of the case and especially with the angular crystal. My understanding is that less than 10 pieces in this combination were made. I later sold the rose gold model and just kept the 103.8.
In fact the story of my first encounter with the 103 was quite interesting as I was having dinner with Max Busser – who at the time was still at Harry Winston or had just left… but was wearing one on his wrist and it looked so good that as soon as I went back home, I got one!
What are URWERK up to that impresses you so much?
Today, you see lots of brands with a lot of design hype but no horological substance, but you shouldn’t forget that Urwerk was founded by a designer AND a watchmaker. And both go hand in hand in their watches. Horologically, the watches are quite complex. Just getting the rotating discs or the cubes in the UR-210 models perfectly interacting is quite a feat.
I also have to admit that the team is amazing, may it be Felix Baumgartner, Martin Frei or even Yacine Sar (who is not a founder but the head of communications), they are all genuinely nice people and for me the human approach is almost just as important as the horological substance. And with Urwerk I get both!
For those who (understandably) may not be able to tell how this watch works, can you explain?
I think the best would be to look at one of the numerous videos you can find on YouTube but generally speaking you have rotating discs with the hours which when on the bottom part of the dial actually face the minutes inscription. It’s much easier to read than it sounds. (and as you can see in our video here, it is actually easy to read).
What drew you to the UR-103 from their range?
At the time they only had the 103 range.
What is it about independent watchmaking that appeals to you?
Its not all of independent horology but just a few, those who are honest and have substance and not just a design. What I love about the latter is that they put their soul in their watches and don’t give a damn about appealing to the larger masses. They have a vision and they apply it. Also, as I was saying earlier the people are also just as important and engaging with the men and women behind the brand is also a great plus.
When do you find yourself strapping the UR-103 on?
Whenever I’m meeting someone from the Urwerk team… (laugh). More seriously I wear it a lot and it even looks good when I’m in a suit so it’s not on special occasions, just really when I miss it and want to wear it.
For those unsure, in your mind, what are URWERK doing here that commands the price tag?
The technicity and the complexity of their watches is just incredible. Getting all these moving parts to interact and function with such low tolerances is mind blowing! Everyone may think a tourbillon is complicated but its childplay compared to some of what these guys are doing!
What advice would you give others looking to invest in indy brands?
I would say don’t buy if you’re thinking of an investment! However there are quite a few independents who can appeal to different people and the most important is to find an independent you feel a connection with, in terms of watchmaking, design and philosophy.
What are your thoughts on the future for URWERK?
Urwerk have been around for close to 20 years, they are well established yet the team is quite young and I think they will continue surprising us. I also have had the privilege of having had a peek at things to come and it will be quite exciting.
Where does this UR-103 sit in your collection given you tend to own plenty vintage pieces as well?
I don’t look at my collection thinking a specific watch needs to fill a specific gap, I have a pretty eclectic collection of vintage and modern independents with a few mainstream watches here and there.
Do you have watch geeks coming up to you and asking to stroke it?
I have people who have no idea on watches who ask me to see it and they often think that the case opens like a spaceship!
What three words sum up your UR-103?
Exciting, complex and innovative!