Urwerk UR-111C: A New Titan Among Titans (Plus Video)
What has become of the titans today?
Harley-Davidson, the undisputed king of torquey v-twin motorcycles, is taking orders for its first electric motorcycle and has revealed two prototypes (of an eventual four) of further electric models, an electric moped, and an electric dirt bike.
Harley-Davidson, a company once dedicated to championing American iron and a posterchild for the rebels of society, it is looking to shift its image into the twenty-first century and become the leader in electric motorcycle development. Who would have guessed that might happen when it celebrated its one-hundredth anniversary in 2003?
Another titan of American industry, Ford, has decided to largely abandon cars to focus on SUVs, trucks, electric vehicles, and (get this) autonomous vehicles. The company that is largely responsible for the broad popularity of cars as a result of its forward-thinking ideas regarding manufacturing, and the company that has given the world some of the most iconic muscle cars, is hanging up that hat and focusing on a new future. What a shock to the system!
Except that it shouldn’t be a shock if you really think about it. Both companies have been leaders in innovation, at least during specific periods in their histories, and now is no different. It’s just that the innovation is going in a different direction than expected. But expectations are not what a company is built upon; its philosophy of growth and innovation is.
The driving factor that keeps any titan of industry on top is the anticipation of demand and technology. It is the desire to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible and trying new things, even if those things are a little different from what has been working for that company for years (or decades).
Attempting something outside one’s own norm can sometimes be viewed as a worrying event – or worse a bad omen. But it is the very signal that a company is healthy and ready to adapt, change, and grow. It is a beacon of hope.
The watch industry is no stranger to this cycle as brands garner wildly varying reactions to new ideas regardless of the reasoning behind the ideas. And sometimes a brand is built on a philosophy of new ideas, fitting an ethos of pushing down new paths.
One such brand is Urwerk, the extremely forward thinking, space-age, Philip K. Dick-channeling avant-garde watchmaker that has always felt more than a little ahead of its time.
In September 2018 Urwerk introduced a watch that pushed the boundaries of its already edgy design and mechanics called the UR-111C, proving that you don’t have to do the same thing repeatedly to be successful lest it lead to your eventual downfall. The UR-111C is only the second Urwerk timepiece to feature a linear time display and it is all sorts of cool.
Urwerk UR-111C: design and aesthetics
The UR-111C is a descendent of the UR-CC1 King Cobra, the brand’s first linear time-display model, which broke the already broken mold of Urwerk. While the UR-111C shares the concept of a linear display, the execution is drastically different and adds layers of complication and innovation over its forbear.
The UR-111C displays time linearly, but this time the minutes are both diagonal and quasi-retrograde, while the hour is a jump hour – but not linear and displayed in a pod bay in line with the minutes. There is a second display of minutes to the right of the central minute cylinder, adding another way to read the time in a more precise way.
Aligning all the indications along a shared axis creates a much more complicated assembly than that of the UR-CC1.
The running seconds are no longer linearly indicated but the result of an incredible industry first utilizing an optical fiber image conduit to create a dramatic way to display them. Also, instead of hiding the works underneath a cover plate to just display the numerals, the entire assembly is highlighted in a rectangular-shaped porthole window.
But the crowning jewel of the entire watch is the user interface. On the UR-111C a roller replaces a crown, presenting a new way to interact with a mechanical watch movement. The roller set into the center of the case provides smooth operational control without altering the silhouette of the case shape. Keeping the space-age shape from having protruding “knobs” (let’s be real, Urwerk’s delightful crowns are rather substantial) ensures that the aesthetic can feel cleaner and more refined, which this definitely does.
Urwerk UR-111C: how it works
But how exactly does it do what it does? Let’s start with the diagonal retrograde minutes.
A cylinder with a long, colored groove wrapping hectically around the circumference rotates 300 degrees over the hour before twisting and jumping ahead to zero (I’ll come back to that in a bit). The colored groove wraps in the opposite direction of the graduated minute display track that diagonally traverses the large curved sapphire crystal window, creating a need to make up some rotation angle with a jump.
The jump is powered by a very delicate yet long helical spring that is mounted inside the cylinder and attached to the driving axis.
This spring makes the minute cylinder a bit like a remontoire in that it is charged over the hour as the cylinder is driven forward 300 degrees while the axis rotates 360 degrees. At the end of the hour, the cylinder is released to jump forward the remaining 60 degrees (and back to zero for the display), which also triggers the jumping hours.
The hours are displayed on a truncated cone in a sort of pod bay on the left side of the case, in line with the minute cylinder. The cone has large, staggered hour numerals that jump at each hour, creating a very animated display at the top of the hour.
What’s more, there is a mirrored pod bay on the right side of the case with a secondary minute display on another truncated cone. This cone is connected to the driving axis and rotates a full 360 degrees over the hour undisturbed by the jump of the central cylinder. The display can be set forward and backward, but adjusting forward will get the full effect of the jump.
Now we reach the display of seconds, something truly unique within the watch industry. Two miniature “lacework” wheels have been produced using LIGA, a micro-manufacturing technique based on lithography and galvanic electroplating to create extremely small yet highly detailed and precise components.
The wheels, featuring skeletonized numerals on the end of skeletonized arms with a central pivot, has either the five- or ten-second splits, six spokes for each wheel. These two wheels mount on central pivots that also bear gear wheels to drive the display.
The numeral wheels overlap, causing the numerals to mesh from opposite directions and pass through the exact same spot. This is critical as the two wheels (and by extension the seconds display) are visible thanks to a highly specialized image conduit made from precisely aligned optical fibers.
An image conduit is made up of thousands of pure glass fibers that are miniscule, measuring somewhere between 12 and 100 microns in diameter. The ends are ground and polished to a perfectly smooth surface, which allows light to pass cleanly down the fibers and make whatever is directly on the opposite end appear as if it was on the surface.
Urwerk UR-111C: technology beats magic
This display seems magical, but it is the advanced research of precision optics making it possible. Knowing this doesn’t change the fact that it is still mesmerizing.
What has fundamentally changed is how one interacts with the movement. Gone is the large Urwerk-typical crown at 6 o’clock and in its place is a fluted roller subtly protruding from the surface of the case providing the link to the movement – thanks to some extra-delicate gearing translating its motion into input for the movement.
But the roller isn’t the only story; it is part of a two-part system that changes what the roller does. On the right side of the case is a lever that is pulled to “activate” the roller so the time can be set. When the lever is stowed in the closed position, the roller can wind the system just like a normal crown.
The above-described shift in how one manipulates the watch might feel like a minor detail, but to put it into perspective consider that in general the connection to the movement hardly ever experiences anything new, so this represents a decent chunk of innovation surrounding the humble crown.
Yet that type of innovation isn’t new to Urwerk whether it is in regard to the aesthetics, mechanics, or user experience. Urwerk is always pushing to try new things both minor and major, and it is often something that adds to the mystique and desirability of the brand. These convey a passion for research and a willingness to take risks.
Urwerk is not Rolex and it is not Patek Philippe, titans of the Swiss watch industry that continue to beautifully do what they do best. Urwerk however has created an expectation among its fans that the UR-111C exemplifies: fantastic design and mechanics with a purpose of being clearly different than anything that has come before it.
If all true creativity and risk-taking were gone from the industry, it would probably cease to exist within a generation. It couldn’t survive without people like Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei feeding it from within – which is why I am always thrilled to witness watches like the UR-111C coming to life, tangible evidence that passion and creativity are alive and well.
So let’s get to the breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 9.94 An Urwerk watch is almost the literal definition of wowza, so a score to compare is surely required.
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 111» 1,088.538m/s2 A serious heavy hitter in the house for sure, the UR-111C sets a standard for late-night appeal!
- M.G.R. * 70.8 With all the features of this watch it gets extremely close to a perfect score!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Is anyone surprised at this point that the most interesting watches end up being time only? I’m not. There is no need for Gotta-HAVE-That cream even though it is packed with so many extra features!
- Ouch Outline * 13 Stepping on a Lego! Urwerk has the ability to make it to the top of my list every time, and what I would go through to get one is almost incomparable. And, yet, I would happily walk on a treadmill of Legos if it meant I got this piece on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Look at those seconds! Of all the features, the optical fiber image conduit over the running seconds had me from the first moment I saw it. It was over. I was headed toward marital bliss!
- Awesome Total * 736 Multiply the number of pieces in the limited editions (25 each in polished and satin-finished stainless steel) and add the model number (111) for a near perfect awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.urwerk.com/en/collection-111.
Quick Facts Urwerk UR-111C
Case: 42 x 46 x 15 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber UR-111C
Functions: jumping hours, retrograde linear minutes, secondary digital minutes, digital seconds
Limitation: 25 pieces in polished steel, 25 pieces in gunmetal steel
Price: CHF 130,000