The avant-garde join forces

“We have an awful lot in common” – this is the conclusion reached by Felix Baumgartner, founder of chronometer brand Urwerk, and Stéphane Violante, Marketing Pro- ject Manager at Starrag Vuadens. The greatest common denominator is that both companies are among the avant-garde of their respective industries, producing surprising and astounding innovations.

Avant-garde: With its UR-111C, Swiss brand Urwerk once again appears to have achieved the impossible – a mechanical wristwatch with a linear time display.

Mr. Baumgartner, key elements of your new wristwatch – the case and the movement – are produced in Geneva at the Niru workshop using a Bumotec s191V five-axis machining center from Starrag. Urwerk is considered something of an avant-garde pioneer of the industry. How do you plan to maintain this reputation with the UR-111C?

Master watchmaker Felix Baumgartner, CEO of the Urwerk brand, Zurich and Geneva: The UR-111C marks the next step toward a concept we started working on ten years ago – to create mechanical watches with a linear time display. The focus is on displaying the time not with digits or hands, but as a continuous, straight line. The C in the model name refers to the cobra, a snake.

Because time twists and winds like a snake?

Felix Baumgartner: Exactly. The minutes meander across the watch in a spiral effect using a roller, while the hour display of the 111C is digital. Instead of a crown at the side, there is a roller on the case, giving the wearer a whole new winding experience. Equally unconventional is the lever design for setting the time in 15-minute increments. The cylinder is only rotated through 300 degrees when wound, and it uses the winding force to “jump” the last 60 degrees. This jump moves the hour on.

And how are the seconds displayed?

Felix Baumgartner:  A precision-made fiberglass component transfers the second display, which is also digital, from inside the movement. This idea came from our chief designer Martin Frei. He took his inspiration from a piece of stone-like art on his desk that acted a bit like a crystal and created realistic three-dimensional impressions of small objects. Our fiber-optic block works like a visual projector rather than a magnifying glass.

And how does the Bumotec s191V five-axis machining center come into play?  

Felix Baumgartner: It is not possible to create the unusual case design using conventional production technology. Cases are typically encapsulated from behind using a cover, but we needed a compact case with a deep, spacious compartment into which we could insert the movement at the side. This slot at the side has a depth of more than 0.79 in, almost twice the usual dimension. This design resulted in an extremely slim watch that is easy to wear – which was precisely our goal.

It all sounds very much like what you might expect from an engineer – it’s certainly no surprise to hear that the case and movement are precision cut and turned to the last micrometer using a machine tool from a company also renowned for delivering typical Swiss precision. What else do the Urwerk and Bumotec brands have in common?

Felix Baumgartner: Buyers want a watch that sits comfortably on their wrist – a watch that looks good and is ergonomic and easy to wear. And the watch must be manufactured and assembled with the utmost precision. I passionately believe that a watch is the best type of jewelry a man can wear. 

Mr. Violante, this must sound familiar for Starrag and its brand message “Engineering precisely what you value”?  

Stéphane Violante, Marketing Project Manager at Starrag Vuadens SA: That’s true. When we are developing machines, we always start by considering the benefit to the customer, which in this case means considering the most effective way to manufacture a completely new wristwatch.

What do you see as the particular challenges?

Stéphane Violante:  Just like Urwerk, our focus is on new functions, an innovative design and a novel approach to manufacturing high-precision components. It is equally important for us that machine handling is ergonomic.So, it’s clear that both companies have the same mindset. 

The Urwerk homepage tells us that: “There has to be a strong bond with a mechanism that merges into your wrist: a machine becomes part of you and gives you information in return for energy.”

This brings us to the next similarity: Urwerk also considers a chronometer to be a machine. But what are the key things to understand about how this machine is manufactured?

Felix Baumgartner: "Form follows function” is another mantra we live by, and we consider the feasibility of actually implementing the ideas to be an extremely important function too. 

Stéphane Violante: Urwerk’s priority is using a precision CNC machining center to produce parts that will subsequently be finely finished by hand and then fitted in an extremely complex chronometer. We also focus on effectively combining technology and craftsmanship, which is why the guideways on our machine tools are still meticulously scraped by hand. 

After-sales service is important with machine tools: How does Urwerk set itself apart in this area?

Felix Baumgartner: Urwerk chronometers are inspected by us every two to three years. We use a special treatment on the casing that allows us to polish out scratches, even those that are years old. This is what sets our watches apart from many other brands. Urwerk: Bold horology solutions.