In-Depth Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner: the Origins and What NYC has to do with it?

How the Streamliner got its case and why New York was a game changer for Urwerk.
ic_query_builder_black_24px | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Rebecca Doulton | 7 minute read
Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner - Review

Launched to coincide with Urwerk’s twentieth anniversary in 2017, the UR-105 CT Streamliner is a celebration of the city that put the wind in Urwerk’s sails: New York. Three versions of the UR-105 CT are in circulation today, each one designed to capture a New York minute. According to co-founder and designer Martin Frei, the titanium and polished steel model is “like New York City in broad daylight, bright and shiny” while the Kryptonite model evokes a Gotham City atmosphere emitting its green lume in the dark. The most stealth interpretation of the three Streamliners is this titanium and black PVD-coated steel version, something the Dark Knight might have worn on his vigilante crusade to eradicate evil from Gotham City, New York’s fictional alter-ego in Batman movies and comics.

Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner - Review

More than just a mood, the Streamliners capture the Art Deco temperament and vitality of the city that never sleeps. Before we look at the darker soul of the sleek black PVD UR-105CT Streamliner, let’s take a look at how these micro-mechanical marvels materialised in the first place and why New York has been such a fundamental fountain of inspiration.

Dream Team: the mechanic and the aesthete

Renowned for its avant-garde architecture and an unconventional indication of time, to understand how Urwerk has consolidated a look that is as distinctive as it is daring, you have to understand the unique chemistry of its founders. United by the conviction that the traditional horizons of watchmaking needed to embrace a contemporary design language, Martin Frei and Felix Baumgartner fused their respective skills and founded Urwerk 21 years ago. A designer, artist and documentary filmmaker, Martin Frei is the creative component of the dynamic duo, responsible for the radical shape of Urwerk’s cases.

Martin Frei and Felix Baumgartner, founders of Urwerk

Felix Baumgartner is a hardcore watchmaker and the micro-mechanical genius who makes the watches tick. As the son and grandson of watchmakers and restorers, Baumgartner grew up with watch formula in his baby bottle and minute repeaters and perpetual calendars as his toys. Convinced that there had to be another way of presenting time, the dream team put their heads together in 1995 and embarked on a 21st-century watchmaking odyssey.

As with any credible journey of self-discovery and transformation, there had to be bumps along the way. When Baumgartner and Frei launched the UR-101 and UR-102 in 1997, their first timepieces with wandering hours and a case inspired by the Millennium Falcon spacecraft of Star Wars, the reaction was mixed. As Frei points out “people essentially thought that we were crazy.” With dwindling funds and a growing sense of despair, Frei invited Baumgartner to join him in New York to soak up the architecture and vibrant energy of New York.

Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner - Review

For more details about the story behind Urwerk, take a look at the following video here.

The Big Apple, Bryce and the dawning of the machine age

It is impossible to understand Urwerk without making an obligatory pit-stop in New York. The experience was life-changing for both the designer and watchmaker and it is no coincidence that the UR-103, the watch that got Urwerk noticed, had its genesis in New York.  Abandoning the round, almost tame cases of the UR-101 and UR-102 watches, Frei recalls how the game-changing UR-103 – a radical proposal at the time with an elongated and rounded octagonal case, a sleek metallic breastplate shielding the movement, a massive crown at 12 o’clock and a small arc at the bottom to consult the wandering hours – was conceived.

Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner - Review

While living in Brooklyn, Frei bought himself an Apple computer and installed Bryce, a 3D programme for modelling and animation. “The programme was pretty simple to use and the technological possibilities allowed me to get crazier with the case, which I designed directly on the computer,” he tells me during our chat. “Before the 103, we were literally making hand-made watches carving the case out of metal. With the 3D programme, I could explore complex new shapes and the use of a CNC machine forced us to adopt a very different machine-age kind of production. The 103 was our first watch that got recognition.

The anniversary piece, the UR-105 CT is a direct descendant of the UR-103 and is baptised the Streamliner – for good reason. As the epicentre of the Art Deco movement in the United States, New York’s skyline is pierced by magnificent skyscrapers of this period, like the Empire State and the Chrysler building. The elegant geometric minimalism can be clearly felt in Frei’s architectural cases. “I was really inspired by New York and Art Deco and that optimistic outlook on technology and materials that the city embraced.

Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner - Review

As its name indicates, the UR-105CT is closer in spirit to the American Streamline Moderne period that followed directly on the heels of Art Deco. A celebration of the modern machine age and the new passion for speed, Streamline Moderne of the mid-1930s is characterised by sleek, aerodynamic lines that emulated the profiles of trains, ocean liners, aeroplanes and cars. Described as ‘Art Deco on the move’, streamlining touched every aspect of life from clocks and toasters to refrigerators, and from diners to cars, buses and buildings. Horizontal speed lines and grilles were used to accentuate the streamlined ethos along with the incorporation of new, man-made materials like aluminium and Bakelite.

Urwerk’s UR-105CT Streamliner is clearly a child of this design school and the prominent vertical grooves on the protective breastplate and sides of the case evoke speed and accentuate the aerodynamic form of the watch. Fitted with a hinged cover, sort of ‘Targa’ feature that evokes the UR-103 model of 2003, the sleek black PVD-coated armour gives the watch a defiantly dark look interrupted by the bright yellow accents on the minute track and numerals to enhance legibility.

From the Pope’s wandering hours bedside clock to revolving satellites

By sliding the catch on the top of the case, the hood/hatch rises and reveals the movement of the UR-105 CT, a wandering hours indication traversing a 60-minute scale that has become Urwerk’s distinguishing trait. Hardly a novelty, wandering hours have been wandering around on the watch scene since the mid-17th century.

a 17th-century clock by the Campani Brothers, with wandering hours

Attributed to the Campani brothers, wandering hour clocks dispense with the traditional arrangement of concentric hands and combine the hours and minutes in a single indicator. A highly intuitive way to read the time, almost like watching the sun rise and set, a wandering hours clock made for Pope Alexander XII by the Campani brothers (fitted with a candle in its interior to ensure the insomniac pope could consult the time in the dark) got Baumgartner going. The next step was to catapult the concept into the 21st-century leading to the creation of Urwerk’s patented orbiting satellites.

Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner - Review

Life is a carousel: calibre UR 5.03

Compared to earlier versions of the UR-105, the movement inside the UR-105 CT Streamliner has been upgraded and streamlined. The wandering hour indication is based on an aluminium carrousel bearing four satellites with three revolving numerals for the hours, picked out in Super-LumiNova®. The carousel of the UR-105 CT Streamliner models is now openworked making it lighter and stronger. Other upgrades include a digital seconds counter capable of indicating tens of seconds placed on an aerated honeycomb structure and a power reserve indicator on the right.

Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner - Review

In keeping with its Haute Horlogerie vocation, the finishes are exceptional with circular graining, sanded and brushed surfaces and chamfered screw heads. The reverse side of the case features two pneumatic turbines governing the self-winding rate adjusted by a lever. The lever can be set in three positions: in FULL position to harness the slightest movement of the wrist to rewind the barrel spring; in STOP position to disengage the automatic winding; or in RED (for reduced) to engage the turbines to dampen the winding rotor and avoid overstressing the mainspring.

Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner - Review

The UR-105 CT Streamliner in a titanium and black PVD-coated steel model retails for CHF 65,000 (before taxes). For more information, please consult www.urwerk.com.

2 responses

  1. Yes, it takes great genius to create a confusing display, put it in a bizarre, B-grade sci-fi movie prop looking angular case, AND make it incredibly expensive. There’s a sucker born every minute.

  2. Why would I want a watch that has been in Grace Jones mouth? Unreadable, silly, preposterously overpriced and without a doubt good press and interesting addition to the history of horology. I always liked rock and roll, punk angst never meant a thing for me.

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