The URWERK UR-105: A Retrospective Journey Through Time
You may have recently read my article announcing URWERK’s final tribute to the successful and popular UR-105 family of watches, the UR-105 TTH Tantalum Hull. Man, that was a bittersweet article to write. On the one hand, we had a stunning new addition to the family, but on the other, it was the final chapter of the 7-year story of the UR-105.
URWERK first introduced us to the iconic UR-105 all the way back in early 2014 to replace the outgoing UR-103. When it launched, the UR-105 was quite unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Over the next 7 years, the UR-105 saw several stages of evolution and exploration, each with a unique personality. As a fan of the brand, it was an enjoyable journey from start to finish. Watching the brand explore the depths of its own creativity was as exciting from an outsider’s perspective as I imagine it was if I’d been sat inside the workshop with founders Martin Frei and Felix Baumgartner themselves.
Christmas in June?
At the tail-end of last week, we were super lucky enough to have 4 members of the expansive UR-105 collection loaned to us to get a feel for the family and appreciate it in more detail. Opening the box was quite an exciting moment. As a massive fan of URWERK, I knew I’d be thrilled regardless, but the watches that arrived were everything I’d hoped for and more. Each of the four watches was as wild and unique as the next one. This was the first time I spent time with the UR-105 in the metal, so my excitement levels were getting relatively high. I “may” have had to sit down for a moment or two.
UR-105M Dark Knight (April 2014)
First up is the UR-105M Dark Knight. It’s an apt first one to pick up as the Dark Knight was one of two models URWERK used to introduce us to the UR-105 family. The Dark Knight’s twin was called the Iron Knight and sported a brushed steel bezel. The Dark Knight’s livery was, as the name suggests, darker, thanks to an AITiN-coated (Titanium Aluminium Nitride) steel armor bezel. Its formulation, based on titanium and aluminum nanolayers, provides the coating with properties such as a low coefficient of friction and an excellent toughness, in addition to a high superficial hardness.
The UR-105M also saw the introduction of a new movement from URWERK. The new hand-wound UR 5.01 movement, combined the brand’s signature satellite display with a few extra indicators that gave real-time feedback to the wearer. Suppose I were to simplify to complex UR-105M. In that case, it uses a system of four-hour disks mounted on a Geneva cross to indicate the time on a fixed hour scale at the bottom of the dial. Peeking through the side of the case are two more indicators visible through sapphire crystals. Firstly, running seconds are displayed on a bright red disk with a marking every two seconds and numbers every 10 seconds. Second is the power reserve gauge, on which a white bar slowly turns black as the power depletes for the 42-hour reserve.
The Dark Knight rises
Turning the UR-105 M Dark Knight over reveals the “Control Board” and yet more information. The first thing that caught my eye was the second power reserve. While this is indicated on the side of the watch, the one on the back is more accurate and provides a more holistic view. Underneath this is an “Oil Change” indicator. No, you don’t have to change any oil yourself. The indicator counts up to five years, telling the owner when the watch should be serviced via red sections. Red is bad; don’t let it get to the red. Finally, there is an indicator allowing you to check the watch’s accuracy and micro-adjust if required. The green and red “+/-” indicator is extremely easy to read. I didn’t have to fiddle with this though, everything was running bang on time.
The inspiration for the UR-105 is subtly hinted at in the nicknames “Iron Knight” and “Dark Knight”. When designing the UR-105, Martin and Felix were inspired by the thoughts of knights participating in jousting tournaments. The end results saw a shield-like bezel on the top of the case and “eyeholes” in the side of the case, like in a knight’s helmet visor. I love URWERK’s ability to take its inspiration and envisage it in subtle ways that become obvious once you know.
UR-105 TA T-Rex (January 2016)
Next up with the UR-105 T-Rex. I would say this is possibly the most unique of the four watches I have here today. With its engraved dinosaur-scale carapace, it more than lives up to its moniker. The UR-105 T-Rex was probably the most divisive among the team too. RJ declared it his favorite and enjoyed stealing it away from me for some extended wrist time. In contrast, Bert, our photographer extraordinaire, was less keen. Different strokes for different folks, I guess!
Despite T-Rexs coming several million years before medieval knights in the timeline of the Earth, the T-Rex actually represents an evolution from the Dark Knight. The base movement was modified and upgraded in several ways, most notably transitioning from manual winding to automatic winding. Starting with the case back, we see the control board is out. Instead, a futuristic “Turbine Automatic” winding system with a single control level takes its place. This clever system allows the wearer to adjust the winding sensitivity to match their activity levels.
We are presented with three different settings: FULL, RED., and STOP. FULL means the turbine winding mechanism will operate at full efficiency. So, even if you are relatively inactive, the watch will still wind itself easily. RED. is short for “reduced” and is for more active individuals whose activity levels would quickly wind the mainspring at full efficiency. Finally, I think that STOP is self-explanatory.
URWERK creates dinosaurs
Moving to the front, we can see two obvious differences between the T-REX and the Dark Knight. The fuller carapace and the thick, scaly hide. Both are features in keeping with the T-Rex’s character. Where the Dark Knight left much of the satellite-hours canopy open and visible through a large sapphire crystal, the T-Rex protects its inner workings with this wonderfully unique carapace. I had seen images of both the different T-Rex models URWERK has made (UR-105 and UR-100) but seeing it in hand and getting that tactile experience brought a whole extra dimension to the occasion.
The scaly hide is made of bronze which is extensively hand-finished to achieve the weathered and aged look. As a result, the color is hard to pin down, only made more difficult by the natural properties that the bronze brings. At first, it appears to be a dark, tarnished gold color, but the more I look at it, I see green tinges start to come through. It really is a unique type of patination, quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. I’d love to see how it further evolves over the years. Does it darken further, or will it stay similar to how it is now? Does the green develop further?
UR-105 TA Raging Gold (October 2016)
Where the UR-105 TA T-Rex was a raw and ancient beast, the Raging Gold introduced a touch of opulent luxury and class to the UR-105 TA. There’s a lot to love with the transition from beast to social butterfly. I do feel that this watch is definitely an evolution rather than an outright new idea, as we see a hint of the T-Rex with the engraved pattern on the bezel and top of the case. The pattern may be similar, but it’s a whole world away from conjuring visions of dinosaurs’ scales. Instead, I get hints of art-deco and parties from the roaring ’20s. That’s what I see looking at this watch, and it’s incredible how small tweaks (in the grand scheme of things) can make such a difference.
The carapace of the T-Rex was extended to protect the movement, but the Raging Gold sees the hull retracted once again, with the satellite hours proudly on display once again. I think I prefer being able to see the movement in all its glory. While the T-Rex was a unique and impressive concept, this movement is so remarkable it feels such a shame to hide it behind a metal hull. Talking about that lovely art-deco pattern on the bezel, we see it carry on to the blacked-out satellite hours disc. I could just stare at this watch for hours on the wrist. The luxurious 4n red gold bezel is the epitome of luxury.
A class of its own
The movement remains the same, from a technical perspective, as in the T-Rex. The signature combination of analog minutes and digital hours may seem challenging to read the first time you see it. Still, I find it incredibly easy and intuitive to read. I challenge any naysayer to not have their opinion changed after wearing it for a few minutes!
On the topic of wearing, you may wonder how big the UR-105 actually is. Well, it is on the larger side in some dimensions. Still, the UR-105 Raging Gold is a perfect example of why a watch can easily outperform expectations built from measurements on paper. Watch has a very reasonable diameter of 39.5mm, and a length of 53mm — not unreasonable, but maybe a little large for some folk. The waistline of 17.3mm is definitely an eye-catcher, though. I can understand that this measurement could easily be enough to put people off. Still, you need to try these watches on the wrist to fully appreciate how well this height is spread out and counteracted with clever case ergonomics and weight balancing.
On paper, I would expect the watch to be moving all over the shop and not sit very well, but in reality, it was a very different and pleasurable experience. In fact, every URWERK watch I’ve ever worn has always been the epitome of comfort. This may not necessarily be the case for everyone but in my experience? Superb!
UR-105 CT Black (September 2017)
The final piece of the set loaned to us by URWERK is the most recent of the four. Last but definitely not least. In my mind, I have saved the best for last as it’s my favorite of the four. Not just because it was delivered on a bright yellow strap, that only compounded my love for it. No, my favorite thing about the UR-105 CT Streamliner Black is that it offers the wearer a choice. I briefly alluded to this earlier — I loved the cool carapace of the T-Rex, but I loved seeing the movement of the Dark Knight and Raging Gold. If only I had a choice to protect the movement but then be able to take a peek and appreciate the beautiful UR 5.03 caliber within. Wonder no more, Dave! With the UR-105 CT Streamliner Black, URWERK introduced the retractable hull concept.
The UR-105 CT is supposedly inspired by the city that never sleeps, New York. The octagonal oblong-shaped case and vertical linear decoration recall the magnificent Art Deco skyscrapers that dominate the city’s skyline. Situated in the middle of the lines that adorn the top of the UR-105’s case is a sliding switch. You can slide it open to reveal the stunning self-winding UR 5.03 caliber.
A 3rd generation movement
The UR 5.03 features some neat new upgrades over the UR 5.02 that we saw in the original UR-105 TA. You could even say it’s been “streamlined”. The wandering hour mechanism is now mounted on a lightweight aluminum carousel. By reducing the weight, you reduce the drain on the power reserve. The carousel of the UR-105 CT Streamliner models is now open-worked, making it lighter and stronger. The UR 5.03 also reintroduces the running seconds indicator (displayed in ten-second intervals) and power reserve indicator we last saw on the hand-wound UR 5.01 in the Dark Knight. These valuable pieces of information are displayed on the dial side of the watch, rather than the sides or rear.
Now I said that the UR-105 CT Streamliner Black was my favorite of the 4 we were sent, didn’t I? Well, trying it on only reinforced that position. I mean, look at it on the yellow strap. Given my penchant for that color combination, you can probably see why I was in watch heaven. I didn’t want to take this one-off, but thankfully the rest of the team seemed keener to try on the other models over this one. I guess that this reiterates a point I made earlier on, though. Despite all these watches clearly being from the same family, each has its own unique character and personality. Suppose you appreciate the technological wizardry that is URWERK. In that case, there’s little doubt you’ll be able to find a model in the UR-105 family to suit you.
What comes next?
Well, that’s a difficult one to answer as, at this point, we don’t know. The UR-105 TTH Tantalum Hull is the final farewell for the UR-105, but by closing this door, URWERK is opening another. The brand only produces 150 watches every year to be able to remain truly independent. URWERK’s co-founder, Felix Baumgartner, explained, “This means that we reluctantly have to “kill” a collection to bring a new creation to life. And time for the UR-105 CT is now running out”.
If we look at the brand’s history, we see patterns emerging. The highly advanced UR-210 made way for the even more impressive UR-220. In the same way, the UR-103 was the longest-running model before it made way for the UR-105. So I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say we will see further evolution. While I’m sad to see the iconic UR-105 come to the end of its lifecycle, looking at the leaps made in previous evolutionary steps, I’m incredibly excited to see what comes next. So far, URWERK has never disappointed. Why should it start now?
For more information about the UR-105, please visit URWERK’s website.
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