Once you have seen it, it is impossible to get the UR-111C Black out of your mind. It seems deliberately designed to mesmerize. At first glance, it is the fiery contrast of the orange markings against the dark case that captures the imagination. Then the case itself. You can almost feel its balanced and fluid lines molding to your wrist. Like all of Urwerk’s watches, it’s built to astonish, albeit on traditional mechanical watchmaking principles. And it’s true to Urwerk’s purpose — to demonstrate unusual and unexpected ways of telling the time on your wrist.
There’s one certain thing about the UR-111C Black. You’ve never seen anything like it before. The grooved case in black-coated steel and titanium curves along its ample length and width. The curved sides are held by transversal screws in half pipes. And what’s that roller in the middle for? Or the lever along the side of the case? Nothing is obvious, all is intriguing.
To appreciate a work of art, you must understand its creator. Martin Frei, Urwerk’s designer and co-founder, is a master of intriguing design in which every detail reveals another to draw you deeper into the soul of your watch. No feature is gratuitous, lines and volumes are meticulously thought out and coordinated into a coherent and harmonious living instrument.
Lateral Thinking: Creating the unknown necessarily involves a great deal of imagination with a commensurate amount of technical expertise. These are combined in the person of watchmaker, Felix Baumgartner, Martin Frei’s co-founding partner. The case had to be built around the unprecedented construction of the UR-111C Black’s movement, which put the indications at various and seemingly peculiar positions on the face. Furthermore, each indication is unconventional, if not original, according to Urwerk’s signature horological speciality. The relatively bulky and unusually shaped movement could not be cased up in the ordinary way, through the top or the bottom of the case. It had to go in through the side. The case is therefore made up of three parts; the first two support the flanks of the movement while the bigger central part fits closely around it.
The same lateral thinking that conceived the lateral casing up of the movement is equally applied to every aspect of the little machine on your wrist. If you step far beyond the bounds of conventional watchmaking, there are no longer any conventional solutions to the problems you create. Urwerk’s crew of watchmakers and technicians might be small, but they abound in creative imagination and the skills to implement the impossible. Thus, the glass plate indicating seconds alone, two different displays of the minutes on rollers, indications at the bottom of a sculptured case measuring 46mm long and 42 wide. If the UR-111C Black is beyond belief, it’s because it’s by Urwerk.
Ruling Without a Crown: Urwerk’s watches are deliberately puzzling because watches are not supposed to look like that. You do not immediately know how they work or how they are made. The UR-111C Black follows this fundamental rule. You will have to figure it out, but here are some clues. You will notice that there is no crown sticking out of the side of the case. Instead, there is a sort of lever. And then there’s this fluted cylinder across the middle of the face. Make the connection.
The two functions of winding the watch and setting the time have been separated. The short, knurled crown of the ordinary watch has been transformed into an accessible long cylinder that you roll with a thumb or finger to wind the watch. Fully wound, the UR-111 Black keeps going for 48 hours. To set the time, you swing out the lever on the right of the watch. This switches the roller to time-setting mode. Rotate the roller in either direction to set the time on the other cylinders. There are of course no hands on the UR-111C Black.
Double Minutes: In 2009, Urwerk introduced the CC1 King Cobra. It showed the time on a linear scale on a rotating cylinder and was the first of Urwerk’s special project watches. This collection comprises timepieces with original indications and functions that are apart from Urwerk’s wandering-hour based watches. The King Cobra was distinguished by its multi-level design with indications in separate zones and a complete absence of hands. In many technical respects, the UR-111C Black is its descendant.
Like the King Cobra, the UR-111C Black displays its indications on the bottom of the case. With the watch on your arm the indications are on the side of your wrist so that you can tell the time at a glance without having to turn your wrist. With your arm in its natural position when you walk, sit or drive, the time is always in your line of sight. Urwerk has arranged the time display in three zones shielded by curved sapphire glasses. Reading from the left, the hours are marked in Arabic numerals on a rotating cone instead of by hands. The cone jumps forward to the next hour on the hour. Opposite, on the right side of the watch, a matching graduated cone rotates once an hour to give an exact reading of the minutes. Between the two, a wide window repeats the minutes in a stunning display that provides a new slant on the linear minutes of the CC1 King Cobra.
The linear minutes display consists of a rotating cylinder marked with a helix line spiraling along its length. As the cylinder rotates, a section of the helix line moves along a graduated scale of minutes marked at five-minute intervals. But in the UR-111C Black, the scale slants diagonally across the display instead of being in line with the axis of the cylinder. This means that the cylinder only has to turn 300 degrees to bring the helix to the 60th minute at the end of the scale. Then the cylinder snaps forward 60 degrees to complete the rotation, bringing the helix line back to its start position, in an apparently retrograde action. In the UR-111C Black, the markings are in orange, the helix in Kryptonite green, while both the 60th minute on the linear scale and the 60th second of the seconds display are in yellow.
Dispersed Seconds: The studied and ergonomic layout of the UR-111C Black’s indications governs its design. The seconds are thus far from the hours and minutes, beyond the winding and setting roller, under a framed glass window. Digital seconds, orange against black, look strangely magnified as they pass across a circular window in sinuous progression. The five-second numerals are mounted on two wheels — split between even and odd numbers and appear in turn as the opposing wheels counter rotate. Each wheel with its numerals is skeletonized using a LIGA process, and weighs just 0.025 grams. The tiny numerals would be impossible to see were they not brought into visual range by a dense cluster of precisely aligned optical fibers situated a tenth of a millimeter above the numerals.
A Matter of Form: Urwerk’s outstanding designs are matched by the dimensions of its watches. The extraordinary displays of time can only find their true expression if they are clear and visible — and that requires space. The volumes and shapes are also governed by the artistic vision of Martin Frei.
Yet the UR-111C Black is certainly the Urwerk model that is most at home on a slender wrist. Comfort is assured by the form of the caseback, which follows the curve of the face of the watch. Try one on for a perfect fit of the bones and muscles of your wrists. You would not expect a timepiece of that unique size and shape to be so comfortable to wear. But then surprise is always part of the Urwerk experience.