In a galaxy far, far away, Martin Frei and Felix Baumgartner dreamed up a watch brand they called Urwerk. Convinced there was another way of approaching watchmaking, Frei and Baumgartner embarked on their 21st-century watchmaking odyssey in 1995. The Electro-Mechanical Control (EMC) model, Urwerk’s hybrid mechanical/electronic watch, was the ultimate interactive model allowing the owner to adjust the precision and gauge the amplitude of the balance. Having appeared in various guises, the EMC Time Hunter appears for the first time in Urwerk’s history in a white ceramic receptacle, a nod to Frei and Baumgartner’s love of Star Wars and the signature white armour of Stormtroopers.
As any Star Wars fan knows, Stormtroopers are the elite shock troops of the Galactic Empire. Easily recognised by their imposing white articulated armour and E-11 blaster rifles, Stormtroopers appeared in George Lucas’ first Star Wars film of 1977. Designed to look “terrifying, but also supercool, super clean” with helmets evoking skulls, their armour was designed by Ralph McQuarrie.
EMC Time Hunter
The EMC Time Hunter joined Urwerk’s collection in 2013, a mechanical manual-winding watch with traditional – albeit eccentric – hours, minutes and seconds, and a rather odd-looking gauge in the upper left-hand corner. Without going into excessive detail about the innovative hybrid movement mixing a manual-winding mechanical heart with an electro-optical circuit powered by a generator – covered in great detail in Frank’s first review and Brice’s 2016 article – suffice it to say that the Time Hunter is a unique interactive watch that lets you gauge the amplitude of the balance and adjust the running rate of the watch.
The idea behind Baumgartner’s invention was to provide the owner of the watch with information that in normal conditions, only a watchmaker can visualise. He wanted to create “a precision timepiece with a system whereby the owner can accurately calculate the timing rate of the movement so that it can be finely adjusted to the owner’s lifestyle and habits”.
The really fun part of the whole set-up is the independent generator feeding the micro-circuit. Instead of using a battery, the power is supplied by a hand-turned Maxon generator, a retractable lever that is cranked, like an old car. The processor, which operates at a hyper-precision frequency of 16 MHz and serves as a reference oscillator (benchmark) can compare the amplitude and rate deviation readings of the balance and communicate them to the counter on the dial.
We’ve seen the EMC Time Hunter in different case colours over the years ranging from military green to a sleek black X-Ray Skeletonised version and a Desert Sage model. However, the Stormtrooper is the first time Urwerk uses the colour white in a watch.
It’s funny how the unusual shape of the EMC Time Hunter case is almost like looking head-on with the helmet of a Stormtrooper, especially now that its stainless steel hood is micro-beadblasted and then given a hard, white matte ceramic lacquer treatment. Like other Time Hunters, the proportions – 43mm wide x 51mm long x 15.8mm thick – are XXL. The shape of the case is vaguely rectangular with sloping edges that curve down to shield the movement. In keeping with its ‘dual-measuring instrument’ spirit, the shape is dictated by the mechanics, and the matte grainy finish is reminiscent of military equipment.
The asymmetrical dial is matte black with clearly delimitated areas for the different functions. In the middle of the dial, which is decorated with a chequered hand-grenade pattern, are the hours and minutes with fluorescent green Super-LumiNova Arabic numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock and a white minutes track. There are two unusual markings on the black grenade background; a δ just to the right of 9 o’clock, and a P under 12 o’clock (explained below). The seconds, appearing in five-second increments and picked out with lume, appear in a small aperture at 1 o’clock and are displayed via a disc and a red triangular pointer. A power reserve indicator sits at a diagonal from the seconds at 7 o’clock and relies on an arrow running along a white and red arc.
The indications linked to the chronometric monitoring function (precision and amplitude) are housed in a counter at 11 o’clock. The rate accuracy is graduated from -15 to 15, using seconds as the measurement for the daily deviation rate, and the amplitude ranges from 180 to 330 and is measured in degrees. Just in case you get lost, Urwerk has printed the indications Seconds, Power and EM-Control on the black screwed-down bezel.
Interaction is the name of the game with the EMC Time Hunter inviting its owner to engage in a true ‘time hunting experience’. To determine the amplitude, all you have to do is extract the black lever on the right side of the case, press the button on the left side of the case and check whether the hand indicates δ (processing underway) or P (not enough power, which means you need to wind the handle again). The precision hand will then move anywhere along the -15/+15 scale and indicate the current precision followed by the amplitude of the balance relayed on the 180-330 degree scale.
There is also a red LED light on the precision display that will glow green for ‘OK’ and red if one of the EMC indications falls outside acceptable parameters. To tune the watch to optimal functionality, all you have to do is turn the screw on the black bezel of the caseback – indicated below an arrow and the words Fine Tuning. By turning the screw, you are effectively modifying the length of the regulating balance spring.
The reverse side is made from grade 5 titanium and has a large window to view the hybrid movement. A timing adjustment screw (marked Fine Tuning) on the caseback lets you fine-tune the oscillation speed of the balance and correct the variations in rate accrued over time. By turning this screw, the length of the regulating balance spring is modified. On the left side is the grey-coloured balance wheel made of an anti-magnetic alloy (ARCAP) with the optical sensor. On the right is the double vertical barrel providing a robust 80-hour power reserve to the movement, and at the far right is the electronic circuit board partially concealed under a metallised grille pattern on the crystal.
The finishes correspond to classical Haute Horlogerie touches like Côtes de Genève stripes on the plate, snailing, micro-bead blasting and bevelled screw heads The manual-winding movement, which was designed, developed and produced by URWEK, has a Swiss lever escapement and beats at 4Hz frequency.
Availability and price
The Urwerk EMC Time Hunter Stormtrooper is limited to five pieces and retails for CHF 115,000 (excl. tax). More information at urwerk.com.