The 2018 launch of Urwerk’s UR-111C generated quite a bit of buzz among the watch community. A dissident from the signature wandering hours complication, the UR-111C flaunted jumping hours, linear retrograde minutes, a novel roller crown, and optical fibre-augmented seconds all the while remaining faithful to Urwerk’s Sci-Fi design ethos. Making its debut in two case materials – matte gunmetal steel and a polished and brushed steel version – Urwerk welcomed a third UR-111C to the club during Baselworld 2019 with this sleek, stealth Black Cobra version. As a descendant of the UR-CC1 King Cobra, the name of this new red and black model is a direct tribute to its ancestor.
The case of the Black Cobra is made from black-coated steel and titanium with smooth sandblasted and satin-finished surfaces and shares exactly the same dimensions as its brothers: a case length of 46mm, a width of 42mm, and a height of 15mm at the thickest point. Not a small watch by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, would anybody investing in a Urwerk watch want something demure and low-key? However, the matte black case does make the dimensions seem smaller. Coupled with the sleek cambered design and fluid curvature of the case, the watch sits high but very comfortably on the wrist.
The vertical grooves on the top part of the case reference the American Streamline Moderne movement of the late 1930s characterised by aerodynamic lines (just think Greyhound buses) to accentuate the idea of speed. Towards the rear end of the case and smack in the centre is the novel cylindrical roller, also etched with deep grooves, which replaces the crown. The idea was to offer owners a new interface and a new way to interact with the watch; by rolling the roller (sorry), the watch is wound. To set the time, a small lever tucked into the right side of the case can be extracted switching the roller to time-setting mode.
Obviously, the layout of the UR-111C Black Cobra has not altered and the hours and minutes are still displayed in three curved sapphire crystal compartments at the front of the watch. The jumping hours are on the left side of the dashboard, the large window in the centre showcases the retrograde minutes, and the window on the right repeats the minute readings in a rotating display. So far, no changes. The main design update is the new colour scheme used to highlight the numerals of all three displays. Instead of using white numbers, the Black Cobra incorporates bright red ones and has substituted the original red 60-minute marker for a yellow one. The idea behind this slanting time display is taken from the 2009 King Cobra, a drivers style display allowing you to consult the time without having to twist your wrist.
Moving up to the aperture above the roller, we can also see a similar colour scheme on board the seconds cabin. Urwerk has used optical fibres, positioned 1/10th of a millimetre above the seconds numerals to create the illusion of proximity. Thanks to this optical illusion, the magnified digits appear to graze up against the glass. In a similar fashion to the hours and minutes, the former white seconds have been replaced with bright red numerals and the 60th second is now picked out in yellow. These might seem like tiny design upgrades but when combined with the black case, the watch takes on a darker, more stealth personality.
To animate the impressive displays on board the UR-111C, co-founder and master watchmaker Felix Baumgartner had to come up with a pretty impressive movement. The unprecedented construction of the movement meant that the case had to be built around the movement. What’s more, the unusual shape of the movement also meant that it could not be cased up in the normal way and had to be introduced through the side of the case. The caseback is decorated with parallel vertical grilles that continue the theme of the front side of the case. Unfortunately, the mechanics are not revealed on the reverse side but the automatic movement powering the jumping hours, retrograde linear minutes, digital minutes and seconds has a 48h power reserve and a 4 Hz (28,800vph) frequency, and has been decorated with circular graining, Geneva stripes and features polished screw heads.
This third take on the UR-111C is more enigmatic, darker, racier and oddly enough generates more impact than its steel counterparts. The substitution of white for red numerals and the sleek black case adds a cool retro touch. Does it remind any of you of the flashing red grille on KITT, the Knight Rider’s car? And I don’t mean this disparagingly. Back then, it was the height of cool.