Cover Martin Frei (standing) and Felix Baumgartner, the founders of Urwerk

He also introduces the UR-120, a completely new line for the brand

Urwerk has taken the next step in its signature satellite time display with the UR-120. The first thing one would notice is how the minute tracker is now on the right side of the dial at 3 o'clock, a design decision that came from a feedback from co-founder Felix Baumgartner's father.

It makes perfect sense; having the indicator on this side instead of at the bottom or at the top of the dial as was the case previously, one only needs to move the shirt sleeve slightly upwards to read the time.

The second thing you would notice is how the rotating satellite discs are now fitted with two spinning studs each, and automatically splits after they complete their hour-long shift. The splitting motion recalls the Vulcan salute, hence the watch's nickname, 'Spock'.

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There is a very good reason why the studs perform this motion. According to co-founder Martin Frei: "The idea was to go in thinner, smoother, more elegant. To do that, we redesigned the entire satellite system. Each satellite is now made of two sub-elements to make it thinner, easier to read and to give it unprecedented fluidity."

The studs need to split before turning to a new number so that they don't 'hurt' one another during rotation. This  engineering ingenuity also translates into a perfectly ergonomic case measuring 44mm long, 47mm wide and 15.8mm thick—it fits comfortably on the wrist, which only makes it easier to be mesmerised by the various rotating motions executed by the satellite time display. 

Opening the satellite is a cool idea but to be able to achieve a smooth operation requires considerable constant force. "At the exact moment of the salute, a lyre-shaped spring opens and then closes the satellite. Managing energy then and there is complex and very subtle. We need to manage the opening and the stud rotation," explains Baumgartner.

"We ended up manufacturing the spring ourselves because we had to go through so many trials while defining its geometry and thickness. With the UR-120, we also experienced a considerable gain in readability: the hour markers these opening studs allowed have grown bigger by 35 per cent compared to the UR-110."

 

 

Frei also paid a small tribute to legendary watch designer Gerald Genta with the case design. "Martin insisted on a smooth, elegant appearance and having only four lateral screws to hold the case together," says Baumgartner. "They have to be very well-machined to get the right tolerance and waterproofness. These are quite a nice detail."

The case, as per Genta style, is made up of two interlocking parts, an upper case in sandblasted steel and a lower case in sandblasted titanium.

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As watchmakers, they love the challenge, to borrow the tagline from Star Trek, of going where no man has gone before. "We love to make things complicated. It's all about pushing the boundaries and limits. We're creating watches with the emotions and technical possibilities of today," declares Baumgartner.

UR-120 marks a great new chapter for Urwerk, which has become one of the best known independent watchmakers since the two founders officially launched the brand 25 years ago. A beaming Baumgartner believes that independent watchmaking is the way forward.

"We have our own interpretation, Max Büsser (of MB&F) has his own interpretation. I think the differences make for a very rich and diverse community. I think a lot of people are aware of independent watchmakers and there's a lot of faith and interest in these watches. Contemporary independent watchmaking is in good shape today."

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