The famously audacious independent artisanal watchmaker adds an unusual indication in its deeply wearable UR-100 family: the rays of the sun
The most wearable of Urwerk’s line-up and arguably the ideal gateway into the world of Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei’s brand of haute horlogerie, the UR-100 series is still an eye-widening piece of micro-mechanics. This year, this dynamic duo looked to the sun and the sky for inspiration to create the new UR-100V LightSpeed, which houses a 3D planetarium featuring eight celestial bodies from our solar system. Most fascinatingly, this watch aims to put in focus the relationship each of these eight planets has with the sun.
“Wearing this creation is like having a piece of the universe on your wrist, a vision of the cosmos in miniature, on a human scale,” Frei says. “Starting from the sun, we calculated and illustrated the time taken for a ray of light to reach each of the planets. The sun’s rays take 8.3 minutes to reach the Earth, while the same ray reaches the surface of Jupiter 35 minutes later. A journey through space and time with light as the medium, the most magical of all vessels.”
“This is the story we were all told as children,” adds Baumgartner. “It is the one that explains our place on Earth, the immensity of the universe and our out-of-step relationship with the present moment: by the time the light of a star reaches us, that star has probably long since ceased to shine. What we see is no longer there; we perceive a time, a past that no longer exists.”
Weave through the duo’s lyrical prose, and what we have is a watch that tells us how long the sun’s rays will take to arrive at each of the planets in our solar system. The idea, as per Frei and Baumgartner, is to remind us of the dizzying distance and ephemeral beauty of our solar system. The light we see today is an echo of the past, an instant frozen in cosmic time. Within our space-time system, the Sun’s light reaches Mercury in 3.2 minutes, Venus in 6 minutes, Earth in 8.3 minutes, Mars in 12.6 minutes, Jupiter in 43.2 minutes, Saturn in 79.3 minutes, Uranus in 159.6 minutes and Neptune in 4.1 hours.
Reading the time with the UR-100 family is done via Urwerk’s unique satellite time system, cleverly extrapolated from a 17th century clock. Three satellites with four hour numerals revolve around the central dial, while the minutes are indicated via the curved linear display near the bottom of the dial by three arrow-tipped pointers. This hand attaches to the visible part of the satellite hour system, then hides under the periphery ring, before it emerges again. The description makes the watch sound unwieldy, but as is often the case, is much simpler in real life and reading time in this way is remarkably easy to get accustomed to.
The watch is powered by the self-winding Calibre 12.02, boasting 48 hours of autonomy. But this isn’t a watch you will be particularly eager to take off – the black carbon case boasts a comfortable weight, and its 43mm size sits at ease even on smaller wrists. The asymmetry of the top and bottom lugs is a notable design quirk and very much on brand with the Urwerk team’s aesthetic approach – the upper lugs over the top-mounted crown is very 70s-era chic, while the bottom part is slick and sporty.
The materials used in the rest of the watch add to its light weight and solid feel – satellite hours in aluminium set on beryllium-bronze Geneva crosses, an aluminium carousel, triple baseplates in ARCAP alloy, a watertight titanium inner container and a black PVD-treated aluminium rotor, whose design is reminiscent of the sun’s rays. A textured rubber strap completes the look.
Although the moon and the stars are commonly visited themes in watchmaking, anchoring a timekeeper on the sun goes back to the origins of haute horlogerie when we relied on sundials to set the schedule of our day-to-day lives. Urwerk has poetically channelled the power of light for the new UR-100V LightSpeed, tapping into the brand’s distinct approach to watchmaking, putting creativity and a touch of whimsy in the service of technical excellence.