Haute Horlogerie: URWERK

URWERK is a brand that produces fine, luxurious timepieces. It is the brainchild of an artist (Martin Frei) and a watch maker (Felix Baumgartner). The name, unique, creatively stems from a city and the German language. Felix Baumgartner, co-founder and Chief Watch-maker of the company, further explains the name in descriptive detail, the brand’s identity, and a new, innovative complication the two founders are working on.

A&H: Where does the name of the company—URWERK—stem from?

Felix Baumgartner: URWERK literally means “original accomplishment” in German. Our URWERK has its origins in the town of Ur in Mesopotamia. In 6,000 B.C., the Sumerians charted the passing of time by observing the moving shadows of the obelisks of Ur. These giant sundials unveiled the mysteries of the earth’s movement through space. By witnessing the passage of these shadows, the Sumerians divided the year into 12 parts, laying the foundations for measuring time. URWERK’s work is a tribute to this past so much it’s linked up to our present.

A&H: Tell us about the creation of the company? What inspired the beginnings of URWERK?

FB: Martin Frei and I are the co-founders of URWERK. We met by chance and discovered a common fascination with the measurement of time. Our very first watch, developed in the early nineties, was inspired by the 17th century night clock built by the Campanus brothers. In it, each hour on a rotating disc rises and sets in an arc like the sun. The wandering hour concept has since formed the basis for URWERK’s creations.

A&H: Who is responsible for the brand’s identity?

FB: URWERK translates the hearts and minds of both of us. I am a watch-maker like my father and my grandfather. I graduated from the Solothurn Watch-making School, but I had learned the secrets of minute-repeaters, tourbillons, and perpetual calendars at my father’s bench. Martin Frei is my artistic counterweight. He studied into the Lucerne’s College of Art and Design in 1987. Martin delved into every form of visual artistic expression from painting and sculpture to video.

A&H: How important is precision timing to the company?

FB: It is essential to us. Before all, we are creating watches. They may be provocative and we hope they’ll create emotions, but they are watches and are made to show time in the most reliable way.

A&H: What materials are used to craft URWERK timepieces?

FB: We use traditional and new materials. As an example, all our base plates are made of ARCAP P40, a non-magnetic alloy providing superior strength and stability to traditional metals. We are using titanium and aluminum to craft the key elements of our complications and technical coatings like AlTiN or TiAlN to enhance the resistance of the metal to oxidation or scratches.

A&H: Tell us about your 110 collection? 

FB: The UR-110 continues URWERK’s radical tradition of telling the time using orbiting satellite complications. In the UR-110, the time is always shown on the right side of the watch. The satellites follow a vertical line, graded from 0 to 60 minutes, in a downward motion. The ingenuity of this layout lies in allowing the wearer to view the time discreetly and elegantly without the need to pull a cuff or sleeve back.

A&H: What’s next for Urwerk?

FB: Martin Frei, the co-founder of URWERK, is an artist. He has his own atelier where he works not only on watches but also on artistic performances. This is key for us because he has the opportunity to get his inspiration from many sources: architecture, music, sciences, and arts in general. His curiosity and openness is our blood.

We are working on a new revolving satellite complication which is spectacular.

A&H: Where can URWERK products be found?

FB: In some of the most renowned watch retailers. More than shops, we are working with haute horlogerie amateurs. Their names are famous: Michael Tay in Singapore, John Simonian in the U.S.A., and  Laurent Picciotto in Paris. Our strongest markets are Asia and the U.S. This is not the result of a marketing effort, but we are appreciated and our work respected as far as the other side of the world, which is a blessing.