Urwerk’s latest watch ‒ the UR-120 ‒ would make Spock proud
The successor to the UR-110 is finally here after more than a decade, and it is a highly logical advancement.
In partnership with The Hour Glass.
To call Urwerk’s creations “watches” can be a bit of a stretch. To the layman, they resemble little spaceships you can strap to your wrist, with a display that looks like it can just as likely generate a warp field as tell the time. So, co-founder and artistic director Martin Frei’s desire to redesign the award-winning UR-110 to “go in a thinner, smoother, more elegant direction” was both intriguing and baffling, as “elegant” is another word that people don’t immediately associate with Urwerk.
But they did it. The new UR-120, lovingly nicknamed “Spock”, is indeed a more streamlined version of its 2011 predecessor. The UR-120 case measures 44mm long, 47mm wide, and 15.8mm thick, and while these aren’t exactly dainty proportions, it is noticeably more compact than the UR-110, which was 47mm wide, 51mm tall and 16mm thick. The removal of the exposed screws on the case also contribute to the UR-120’s subtler design.
The real work, however, was in redesigning the brand’s signature satellite hours. The first time Urwerk debuted its revolving display was in the Harry Winston Opus 5, a collaborative concept that served as the foundation for the UR-201 that followed two years later. The UR-201 featured three cubes, each with four faces presenting four numerals that circle the dial. As the time passes, the cubes gradually flip to show the current hour. Each cube also had a telescopic minute hand that would extend as it reached the retrograde minute track. This innovation has seen several reinventions in numerous models since, and the UR-120 happens to be the latest to reinvent the wheel.
The calibre UR-20.01 uses the same concept of a carousel fitted with three arms, each bearing a satellite for the hours. When a satellite reaches the left side of the dial, it actuates a trigger that changes the satellite face – and this is where the (new) magic happens. Instead of simply rotating to show the new hour, the satellite splits open to reveal two rectangular studs that resemble the V-shaped Vulcan salute Spock is known for, thus earning the watch its nickname. Once separated, the studs spin on their own axis and shut again to display the new hour unit. So, three revolutions are occurring here: the satellites orbiting around the central axis, the individual satellites counter-spinning to maintain an upright position for easy readability, and each stud spinning on its own axis.
Co-founder and master watchmaker Felix Baumgartner was apparently “over the moon” at the prospect of opening the satellites. “Managing energy then and there is complex and very subtle,” he explained. “We need to manage the opening and the stud rotation. We ended up manufacturing the spring ourselves, in-house, because we had to go through so many trials while defining its geometry and thickness,” he said, referring to the lyre-shaped spring that opens and closes the satellite. Another benefit of rethinking the satellites this way is that the hour markers of the UR-120 are 35 per cent bigger than the ones in the UR-110, making them easier to read. The overall design isn’t a large departure from the UR-110, but Frei was inspired by pre-eminent watch designer Gerald Genta to infuse more fluidity into the case. “I’ve always loved the way his cases are constructed, with an intertwined lower case and upper case. Technically speaking, that’s very smart,” added Frei. So, the UR-120’s chassis is made up of two interlocking parts – stainless steel for the top, and titanium for the bottom – that connect via lateral screws. And unusually for Urwerk, the watch also features articulated lugs, which will help the still-substantial watch wrap more comfortably around the wrist.
Flip it over and you will find a grooved case back with an arc-shaped sapphire crystal window that lets you see the Windfanger, Urwerk’s patented star-shaped component that regulates the rotor’s winding capacity. All the Maltese crosses and lyre-shaped springs are 24k gold and PVD-treated, and embossed calf leather was chosen for the strap over the usual technical fabric, all in service of added refinement.
Evolving a classic isn’t always easy, but the UR-120 “Spock” proves that Urwerk is one independent maverick that will live long and prosper.