Digging Into URWERK’s Special Projects With The UR-111C Black
While we may be most accustomed to seeing URWERK watches display the time via the iconic satellite hour complication, the Swiss brand is far more than a “one-trick pony”. Most of URWERK’s horological creations are not designed to be read at a glance like a traditional watch with hands. At least, that’s what I believe. Being disciples of art and design, the brand’s founders, Martin Frei and Felix Baumgartner, want their customers and fans to study and appreciate the timepieces every time they look at them. The brand’s departures from its signature theme of the satellite hours complication are always spectacular. The UR-111C Black from URWERK’s Special Projects collection is no exception.
How often have you looked at your watch to check the time and glanced away so quickly that you’ve not even read it correctly? I don’t know about you, but I frequently do it. I’m fortunate to have some beautiful watches in my collection, but I find traditional “handed watches” sometimes do not demand your attention with every viewing. Then again, that’s not their intended purpose. After all, watches were originally designed to serve as a tool for us, their masters. URWERK sees its watches as far more than a rudimentary tool to tell the time. A watch is an artistic canvas of expression and mechanical design. Combined with non-traditional time-display methods, it becomes a horological puzzle for the wearer to examine and decipher. One of those “if you know, you know” types.
A mechanical connection
Indeed, it’s not only me saying this. Felix has previously described wearing a watch as a source of pleasure and pride. He said, “There has to be a strong bond with a mechanism that merges into your wrist and communicates with you. A mechanical watch is like the first step towards enhanced intelligence — a machine that becomes part of you and gives you information in return for energy. It’s an exchange. You take care of your watch, and it will provide you with a lifelong service.”
The futuristic UR-111C Black
Let’s take a look at the UR-111C in front of us. Upon holding this watch for the first time, the first thing that struck me was the lack of a crown. I obviously wanted to set the time when I picked it up, but how? Of course, there were easier ways than “figuring it out”, but that’s the fun with a watch like this. It helps develop and build a personal connection which is imperative when spending this kind of money on a watch. My immediate thought was to the puzzle boxes that I quite enjoy watching reviewed on YouTube (if you don’t know what I’m on about, here’s an example; it even features a dog). Instead of a crown, you may notice a lever in its place. Then there’s that odd fluted, cylindrical roller across the middle of the front of the watch. How does it all fit together?
URWERK has separated the two functions of winding the automatic movement and setting the time. You use the roller as you would the crown but pull down the lever to switch between winding and setting. It’s totally over-engineered and unnecessary, yet it’s one of the slickest and smoothest movements I’ve had the pleasure of operating. The interaction with the watch strangely feels more personal with the UR-111C than it does with a traditional crown. Does the novelty factor play a part? Perhaps. But breaking away from the usual method of operation that you become used to allows you to appreciate the watch differently and in more detail. It’s the same concept as the time-display method — it’s fluid and easy. But breaking away from the usual routine helps you take that extra second to engage with and understand the watch.
The evolution of the UR-111C Black
The UR-111C is something of a missing link between some current and older URWERK Special Projects models. It connects the UR-CC1 to the UR-112. While it may not be immediately apparent, the evolution becomes more evident when you take a moment to look at these three watches side by side.
URWERK introduced the UR-CC1 King Cobra in 2009. It displayed the time on a linear scale using a rotating cylinder. It was the first of URWERK’s Special Project watches, a collection comprising timepieces with original indications and functions different from URWERK’s satellite-hour-based watches. The King Cobra was distinguished by its multi-level design with indications in separate zones and a complete absence of hands or discs. From a technical perspective, the UR-111C Black descended from the UR-CC1, taking inspiration from the multi-level and zonal design.
The incredible movement within
Despite the evolution in design language, the movement which powers the UR-111C Black was wholly developed from the ground up. It took Felix and the team around two or three years to design and build it. While that is a long time, it’s also an incredible feat, considering the complexity involved. The number of innovations and complicated features on this watch is awe-inspiring. Among them, you’ll find the roller and lever system, the jump hours (which you can set forwards or backward), the rolling minutes, and double-disc seconds display with its optical fiber viewfinder. Combining them to work together in perfect harmony is nothing short of magic.
As you can see, the UR-111C’s movement was a non-typical construction. This meant that the watch case had to be built around the movement as it couldn’t be inserted in the traditional way (from the back or the front). Instead, the relatively bulky and unusual movement is inserted into the case through the side. Therefore, the case comprises three main parts, and the first central section is closed by two “end caps”.
What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?
Like the UR-CC1, the UR-111C Black displays the time along the bottom of the case. This means the indications are on the side of your wrist when you’re wearing the watch. Thanks to this, you can tell the time at a glance without turning your wrist. With your arm in its natural position when walking, sitting, or driving, the time is always accessible. URWERK arranged the time display in three separate zones, shielded by beautiful curved sapphire glass. Reading from the left, the jump hours are marked in Arabic numerals on a rotating cone. On the opposite side of the watch, a matching cone displays the accurate reading of the minutes. A wide window between the two cones repeats the minutes using the stunning linear-minutes format found on the UR-CC1 King Cobra. It’s genuinely beautiful to look at. I know I might be a little biased, but hot damn!
An incredibly unique seconds display
I want to talk more about the seconds display, too, as the level of microengineering here is pretty darn impressive. Felix chose to locate the second indication a fair distance from the time display. Why? I guess that exact seconds are not the most imperative of information for the average person in the grand scheme of things. You can spot the seconds display towards the top of the case. The window is a little peculiar, and it takes a moment or two to work out what is going on. On either side of the window, you can see wheels moving in opposite directions. In the center, a strangely magnified display shows the digital seconds in increments of five. Each wheel uses a LIGA process to achieve the skeletonization and weighs just 0.025 grams. The tiny numerals would be near impossible to see were they not brought into view by a dense cluster of precisely aligned optical fibers situated a tenth of a millimeter above the numerals.
How does it wear on the wrist?
On paper, the watch is not exactly small. A 42mm diameter, 53mm lug-to-lug, and 15mm thickness might sound slightly larger than some folks would like, but a clever case design hugely offsets those numbers. The lugs are visually very subtle, and they also curve down sharply from their point of attachment on the lower edge of the case. The case itself has gentle curves, following the natural shape of your wrist. With these features combined, I found they meant the watch hugged the wrist beautifully and belied the actual measurements in wear.
Apart from the UR-100V, most of URWERK’s watches are a little on the larger side of raw measurements. As a guy who prefers average-sized watches, these watches are larger than my typical taste. Still, you only have to strap any of these watches on to appreciate the ergonomics of Martin’s designs.
Robert Downey Jr. approves this watch
URWERK is fortunate to count some high-profile celebrities among its fans. Six-time NBA Championship-winning NBA All-Star Michael Jordan is one such name. The basketball legend has been papped wearing URWERK’s creations on his wrist on multiple occasions. But perhaps the most famous customer is the award-winning actor Robert Downey Jr. Perhaps most well known for his portrayals of Marvel Universe character Iron Man/Tony Stark, the actor owns several URWERK watches in his enviable collection. For those of you familiar with the character of Iron Man, I think we can all agree that URWERK is the most logical choice for the eccentricity of Tony Stark.
The connection between RDJ and URWERK is organic and not a paid partnership. The actor chose to wear a UR-105 TA “Raging Gold” in the Avengers Endgame movie. This watch was subsequently auctioned off for charity last year, raising CHF 85,000. Perhaps more relevantly, the actor wore a UR-111C Black to the premiere of Avengers Endgame. That exact piece was also auctioned for charity, where it raised CHF 226,000.
Gone but not forgotten…
What’s that? You’ve fallen in love and want to go out and buy a UR-111C Black for yourself immediately? Well, sadly, you will struggle, I’m afraid. URWERK only made 25 pieces of the UR-111C Black, and they are all sold out. It’s worth keeping an eye on the pre-owned market as it’s always possible that one may appear. But with a futuristic brand like URWERK, the exciting thing is looking to the future. Where will the brand go next? Well, the UR-111C evolved into the even more incredible UR-112. You’d think that that brand will struggle to top this. As I like to say to my friends and colleagues, “URWERK gonna URWERK”. Always expect the unexpected. Nothing is impossible.
Read more about the UR-111C on URWERK’s website, where you can find out more about the Special Projects Collection.
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