Think Watches Are Boring? This $68,000 Masterwork Begs to Differ
Originally published by Jon Bues on Hodinkee.
This is the latest timepiece from Urwerk, the UR-105 CT Streamliner, and it's a watch that comes to us on the 20th anniversary of one of the most offbeat and creative independent watch marques in existence.
It’s interesting to reflect on Urwerk at 20. Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei were real innovators for launching a company wholly predicated on an unusual mechanism and system for displaying time—and they did it way back in 1997. It's tough to overstate how different things were back then. The whole idea of innovative, modern horology was basically unheard of at the time, and Baumgartner and Frei are a big part of why we now take this whole segment of the watch market for granted. The UR-105 Streamliner is the result of some reflecting on the early days of their company, so let's look a little closer.
In 1997, Frei and Baumgartner had only recently hatched Urwerk, but Frei left Switzerland and set out for New York. He’d graduated from the College of Arts and Design in Lucerne, and wanted to set up a shop in the creative hub of late nineties Brooklyn. Felix, meanwhile, was living in Geneva. Neither of these guys knew for sure whether they should continue with a watchmaking pipe dream that was eating into their savings.
Felix visited Martin in New York, and, as they tell it now, they wandered the city streets, taking pictures and gazing at the Art Deco buildings, and, according to Urwerk's press release, the city’s “gleaming subway.” Perhaps it gleamed 20 years ago, but I can't think of any New Yorker who would reach for such a word today. But I digress …
The UR-105 CT is a timepiece inspired by these initial impressions of New York, its magnificent Art Deco skyscrapers, and the metallic tubes ferrying commuters through a subterranean labyrinth. Its eight-sided shape recalls the metallic ribbing along a subway car and the skyward-reaching lines of the Empire State Building.
Situated in the middle of the lines that adorn the top of the UR-105’s oblong octogonal case is a catch, which you can slide open to reveal the mechanism that guides the wandering hour mechanism. This kind of display is textbook Urwerk, but the specific openworked version presented in the UR-105 CT is something new.
“The UR-105 CT is a watch with a fleixble design,” say Baumgartner. “When it is closed, it looks austere, with only the time indication visible. Open the protective cover and you delve into a metallic environment that is quite cold. The Streamliner’s carousel has been completely redesigned, becoming lighter, stronger, and far more effective.”
On the dial, you can also read the the amount of power remaining in reserve (out of a total of 48 hours), as well as the digital seconds, which are meted out in increments of ten. This mechanism was manufactured using photolithography and has been openworked to achieve of total weight of less than a tenth of a gram.
As you’ve seen before from Urwerk, there are pneumatic turbines on the back that govern the self-winding rate. You can set these according to your anticipated activity level via a simple lever mechanism. If you decide to do something crazy like play golf with this watch, you’ll want to turn the self-winding all the way to stop to avoid putting stress on the mechanism. Also, if you decided to do that, give us a call—we'd love to see the watch in action.
The movement here is the selfwinding UR 5.03 caliber, which, for all of its unusual features, runs at a conventionial rate of 28,800 vph. Some of the exotic materials used to construct this caliber include beryllium bronze for the satellite hours on Geneva crosses, aluminum for the openworked carousel, and an alloy called ARCAP for the aforementioned super light digital seconds display.
The UR-105 CT Streamliner comes in two versions, both of which will set you back 65,000 CHF (approximately $68,000 at time of publishing). One is in titanium and mirror-polished steel, while the other is titanium and black PVD-coated steel. Stylistically, the black version might be the "most New York," but the titanium and mirror polished steel version really drives home the Art Deco theme.
For more, visit visit Urwerk online.
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