Urwerk is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, a surprise given how avant-garde it is, but the brand was launched in 1997. In its two decades the brand has presented some incredible creations imbued with sci-fi inspiration and a futuristic approach to watchmaking. Yet there is more to come, as the new UR-105 CT Streamliner reveals. But before that, it’s time to look back on 20 years of creativity, and to have a peek at the brand’s future.
In 1997, two friends, one a watchmaker and the other a designer, met to create one of the most emblematic brands of independent watchmaking. Everything started at Baselworld at the AHCI booth, where the two exhibited for the first time with an impressive watch that was visually simple yet highly futuristic, while being technically complex. It certainly made an impact and it was the UR-101.
With its case shaped like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, the style was disruptive – even if the 101 is small and restrained compared to today’s timepieces. However, the 101 remained rooted in historical horology with the famous wandering-hour display – inspired by 16th century Italian night clocks made for the Pope. It relies on a carrousel driving an hour-module, with discs pointing to the minutes on a semi-circular track, a simple display that is highly intuitive yet unique at the time, even today. This 101 was quickly followed by the 102 using the same movement but with a slightly different case.
The first major design evolution took place with the UR-103, a watch far more audacious in terms of style and mechanics. If the 101 and 102 are regarded as early attempts at establishing an identity, then the 103 is what gave birth to today’s Urwerk watches. The typical oblong case with the crown positioned at 12 o’clock and a small circular aperture at six showing the time, the use of textures and lines on the case, shaped sapphire window – all the ingredients of Urwerk as we know it were in the 103.
The brand then moved to even more complex watches, with the UR-202, the UR-110 and the UR-210, all of which featured a satellite cube hour display pioneered on the Harry Winston Opus V that Urwerk built. Operating on principles similar to the wandering hours of the 103, but much more complex, the satellite cube display established Urwerk as a leading technically oriented independent watchmaker.
However it was 2014 that Urwerk returned to its origins and the 103, unveiling a watch more pure than the previous creations, one that was more focused on the time display and the styling of the case: the UR-105.
The UR-105 made its debut with the hand-wound UR-105M “Iron Knight” and “Dark Knight”, later followed with an automatic version, the UR-105 TA. The UR-105 later served as the base for several later editions, using the same chassis and movement, but with different forms, materials or finishing. Examples include the bronze T-Rex, the colourful Clockwork Orange, and the extravagant Raging Gold.
Earlier in 2017 Urwerk unveiled the first 20th anniversary version, the swivelling and reversible UR-T8, the very first Urwerk with a rotating case. And now Urwerk introduces the second commemorative model, the UR-105 CT Streamliner.
The UR-105 CT is a perfectly suitable tribute to the brand’s 20th anniversary. Even though it is a significant evolution of design and case, the UR-105 CT also is a step back into the past, reminiscent of the brand’s early watches.
While the product history of Urwerk is well known to collectors, few are aware of the difficult beginnings for the brand in its early days. In March 1997, Martin Frei graduated from the College of Arts and Design in Lucerne, Switzerland, and moved to New York where he joined other Swiss artists in founding United Swiss Artists (USA), an association of Swiss designers.
Felix Baumgartner, on the other hand, was still based in Geneva, but not for long. While the young company was struggling – even though the UR-101 and UR-102 were critically acclaimed, the company wasn’t financially viable – Felix hopped on a plane to New York to join his friend. Felix was 22 then, and Martin slightly older. Together in the city of their dreams they wandered the streets, taking in the sights of New York, the redbrick townhouses, Art Deco skyscrapers and gleaming subway cars. These pictures filled their minds and would never leave them.
The memories of the city have been revived in metal with the Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner, designed to echo Art Deco and New York City. Its unique shape is an octagon with deep grooves along its length. Art Deco influences are apparent in its geometric angularity and symmetry. It is a minimalist design with few frills and clean lines, just like the Empire State, the Chrysler and the Rockefeller Center.
Another notable detail of the Urwerk UR-105 CT Streamliner the “Targa” casem a label that was first used by the brand for the UR-103, but now it makes even more sense with the UR-105 CT. On top of the case is a protective, hinged hood that can be opened to reveal even more of the time display. When closed, the lid only reveals the essential, just the current hour and minute track. That gives it a rather austere look, as the front is almost all metal, with only a small curved window visible. But once the cover is open, the watch reveals a complex, technical and metallic face – with the entire carrousel carrying the satellite complication visible.
The UR-105 CT Streamliner is available in two versions, both very Urwerk: a titanium and mirror-polished steel version, livened up by a handful of red accents, and a titanium and black PVD coated steel model with the signature bright yellow accents on the dial.
Changes have also been made to the movement and time display. The carrousel for the hours is now fully open-worked, while the movement base-plate similarly skeletonised and lighter. Also, the UR-105 CT Streamliner sees the addition of a digital seconds on the left of the time display, while the power reserve indicator sits on the opposite side – two features that were absent from the standard UR-105.
The principles of the time display remains the same, with the wandering hours running across a 60-minute scale, and the signature self-winding mechanism with two turbines on the back to govern the automatic winding rate, which can be set with a lever.
This new UR-105 CT Streamliner is a memorable tribute to the earliest days of the brand and to its creators, while representing a perfect continuity in the Urwerk line-up. In other words, a fine timepiece for the Urwerk collector!
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Frank Geelen – The Netherlands
Frank Geelen is an expert on Haute Horlogerie and beautiful hand-finished mechanical movements make his horological heart beats faster. He loves to explain all technical details of complications like tourbillons, minute repeaters, constant force escapements and column-wheel chronographs and he has been doing that for nine years.