Urwerk is one of these independent watch brands that counts and this is confirmed by its presence within the “Carré des Horlogers” of the SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie). Founded in 1997 by Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, respectively a master-watchmaker and a designer, Urwerk has since then developed its own and unique style based on a reinterpretation of the concept of the Wandering Hour display (also known as a Floating Hour or Chronoscope). It is always amusing to see how many comments I receive each time I wear an Urwerk watch…in particular coming from ladies. It undeniably catches the eye and intrigues the observer, which will systematically end up asking how on earth the time is read. However, the wandering hour display is not any sort of modern invention. It has actually existed since the XVIIth century and Urwerk’s inspiration essentially comes from the night clock built by the Campanus brothers for Pope Alexander XII in 1652! A clock featuring that exact same system of a moving hour-window display that follows a semi-circular trajectory (just like the sun) can be seen at the Capitole Museum in Rome.
I particularly enjoy this form of presenting time for it is both calm and playful. It only takes a few minutes to get used to it and the reading of time is then just as instantaneous as with the traditional hands indicators. You only need to take a quick look at the position of the hour indicator along graduated minute line to read at first glance all the information. With a bit of practice, one even tends to forget about the graduation and focus only on the position of the hour indicator to grasp the minutes information relatively precisely. Throughout the years, Urwerk has developed different types of mechanisms featuring telescopic or retrograde hands. But the basic element stays the same. The wandering hour display invariably remains, but with the additional Urwerk particularity of being in the form of satellite hours, through the usage of several satellites rotating on themselves and around a central carousel.
I recently met Felix Baumgartner in margin of SalonQP in London and had an interesting conversation with him about feminine horology. For him, no doubt at all: the potential is considerable and many concepts are yet to be invented in order to meet the expectations of this demanding clientele. This is the reason for which he wants Urwerk to be increasingly implicated in this segment. And the UR-106 Lotus (or Black Lotus) does exactly that since it is the first watch from his collection dedicated to women. Of course, Urwerk had already reached out to ladies in the past with its UR-101 Star Diamond featuring a diamond-set and hand-engraved case by Jean-Vincent Huguenin. But this was “only” an adaptation of an existing model and not a specific development.
The creation of a ladies watch represents a real challenge for Urwerk since considerable work needs to be done to reduce proportions and come up with a case perfectly compatible with a thin and delicate wrist. This requires a complete rethinking of the entire display mechanism, the carousel and the satellite hours, in order to account for the reduced available space. Actually, the main difference between this UR-106 and its masculine counterparts such as the UR-105 or previously the UR-103 resides in the fact that it only utilizes 3 satellites, each bearing 4 numbers, instead of 4 satellites with 3 numbers for the men’s watches. The display animation is therefore different, but the reading of time stays the same. Also to be noted that the automatic movement behind this display mechanism is a Girard-Perregaux calibre with a power reserve of 48 hours.
The carousel and its hour satellites, produced in sand-brushed titanium and with a satin hand-finishing, appear in the shape of a permanently evolving lotus flower, in total harmony with the passing time. Its appearance is highly elegant and refined whilst maintaining an excellent readability. The minute graduation is also specific to this model since a finely serrated rail appears slightly detached above the numerals’ playground area. The explanation for this suspended rail is that it enables the positioning of the moon-phase indication immediately below, in the background. I really like Urwerk’s approach of enriching the existing functions of the watch with a slow and poetic complication that, beyond its aesthetic interest (the background of the moon phase disc is in lapis lazuli), is completely coherent with the rest of the display. If the movement of the wandering hour evokes the trajectory of the sun, why not complement it with the slow evolution of the moon phases?
This duality can be found in the two versions of the UR-106: the UR-106 Lotus is bright and luminous thanks to its diamond-set stainless steel case. The UR-106 Black Lotus is its perfect opposite, revealing a darker yet highly attractive character through its black PVD case finely set with black diamonds. Each version of the watch has been produced in a strictly limited edition of only 11 pieces. Interestingly, the two models emit quite different vibrations. I usually tend to prefer brighter timepieces but in this case I must admit that the “dark side” of the Black Lotus has something very appealing and mesmerizing. The black diamonds offer discrete and mischievous reflections and through its darker colour it also gives the impression of being a bit smaller and less bulky.
The titanium case back also gives us the opportunity to appreciate the work produced on the diamond-set crown. Martin Frei took particular care when designing it so as to make it easy for the user to push it out with his thumb, thus avoiding all types of fingernail accidents. Such small details are just an extra demonstration of how far Urwerk is capable of pushing the boundaries of design. The UR-106 is obviously an original timepiece but it is above all comfortable and easy to wear for a woman. It is clear that the ergonomics of the watch and the way that it sits on the wrist have been extremely well studied. The UR-106 is not a small watch as it features a width of 35mm and a length of 49,4mm. However, the strap ties are situated slightly below the case, which prevents the watch from occupying too much space on the wrist.
The UR-106 is I believe the perfect example of a well-accomplished feminine watch by an independent brand. It is original, creative, offers a non-conventional reading of time and generates numerous emotions and reactions. The UR-106 is a complete reinterpretation and we can sense a total absence of compromise. Its execution is flawless and it really stands out from its masculine counterparts. This is really the nicest tribute that Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei could give to women.
– François-Xavier Overstake, Equation du Temps