Martin Frei of Urwerk shares how he took the idea of an old Volvo speedometer and transformed it into a futuristic-looking wristwatch

The inspiration

Martin Frei, one of the founders of Urwerk, notes that it is a desire for authenticity that leads to the brand’s unconventional creations. “We want to be personally engaged and to be able to stand behind our creations. Most watches look alike and so the question is how do we put our own individual stamps on our watches.”

With the new UC-111C, Urwerk has pushed it another step further with a watch that tells time linearly and digitally via a cylindrical minute track.

Powered by an automatic calibre with a frequency of 4Hz and a power reserve of 48 hours, its genesis happened a long time ago when Frei became intrigued by the speedometer of an old Volvo car belonging to the brother of his partner, Urwerk’s co-founder and master watchmaker Felix Baumgartner. “I made the first drawing in 1995,” reveals Frei. “Back then a linear indication like this did not appear on a wristwatch but it had been used on table clocks.”

Finding no viable solution to realise it technically back then, the design was put on the backburner - but it was never forgotten. As chief designer, Frei is always preoccupied with finding an answer to a problem. “We don’t ask why, only how. What I enjoy most about my job is realising our ideas,” he says.

Also see: The spectacular MB&F’s HM9 ‘Flow’

Straight time

Housed in a steel case either polished (limited to 25 pieces) or with gunmetal finish (also limited to 25 pieces), the linear minute track first appeared in the CC1 King Cobra watch. However, Frei wanted a different look: “I really wanted to show off the cylinder this time around.”

The track is longer and now displays the numerals diagonally across the aperture in a helix fashion instead of horizontally, making it more visually interesting.

On the left side of this track is the jumping hour rotating on a truncated cone. There is a second minute display on its right, a retrograde indication that also rotates on a cone.

Every second counts

Frei and his 17-strong team didn’t stop at the minutes; they have also conceived a brilliant seconds display at the top of the case. Two tiny wheels, each displaying different sets of numbers with 10-second intervals and crafted with miniature metal lacework technique, are mounted next to each other. However, a dense cluster of precisely aligned optical fibers positioned only a tenth of a millimeter above the numerals make the seconds seem closer to one another as they move across a circular window than they are in reality.

 

Pull and roll

The winding system has also been completely rethought. Instead of the conventional crown, winding – or in this case, rolling – the watch is done via a roller integrated into the top of the case. Pull out a lever at the side of the watch to unlock the roller; to lock it, just push the lever back into its hidden position. The idea behind this is to create a personal engagement between the watch and the wearer. As Frei puts it, “Moving the cylinder with your thumb is a sensation that creates a strong bond with the mechanism.”

Check out how Cartier reshapes time with the Libre Collection

 

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