As part of the brand’s ‘Special Projects’ line, the UR-111C is Urwerk at its best, a mature watch that soars with mechanical ingenuity and a design ethos straight out of Blade Runner. Although it does not bear the hallmark satellite hour hands we have come to associate with the brand, the Urwerk UR-111C Iron is packed with imaginative displays (jumping hours, linear retrograde minutes, optical fibre-augmented seconds) and a look and feel that is 100% Urwerk.
Alternative ways of displaying time via satellite hours on board futuristic vessels are the bread and butter of Urwerk. So when the brand unveiled its latest opus, the UR-111C, without its signature satellite hour complication, everybody’s ears pricked up. The UR-111C is a fascinating machine and draws on inspiration from the former King Cobra model. Presenting time in multiple formats (linear and digital) located in different portholes on the case, the other surprising feature of this watch is the new interface. Dispensing with a conventional crown, Urwerk has incorporated a novel roller in the centre of the case with an extractable lever to set the time.
First presented by Brice when it made its debut in September 2018, we’ve now had the opportunity of handling the Urwerk UR-111C Iron and getting a feel for its personality and presence. Like all Urwerk watches, a brief introductory course on how to read the time is useful along with a certain open-mindedness and willingness to be transported into another dimension of horology. The new UR-111C shares some traits of the UR-CC1 King Cobra another dissident model that departed from the wandering hours formula by incorporating linear and retrograde indications. Like the King Cobra, the UR-111C displays the hours and minutes in a linear driver’s-style display at the front of the watch, but that’s about where the similarities end.
Like a driver’s watch, the display of the Urwerk UR-111C Iron is designed to let you consult the time without having to lift your hands off the steering wheel or flight controls. A gentle pivot of the wrist and the time is revealed in the three rounded sapphire crystal glass compartments located just above the lugs at the bottom of the case. Jumping hours are read on the left side of the dashboard thanks to a rotating cone that performs a brisk jump on the hour.
The real show-stopper, occupying most of the allotted space in the central window, is the linear representation of minutes placed along a diagonal track and read by a rotating helix with a thick yellow marker. The barrel with the minute markers is fixed and has a diagonal slash in its middle to reveal the position of the slanted yellow marker and indicate the minutes. Behind the minute barrel is another, larger barrel decorated with dynamic cut-out vents to reveal parts of the coiled spring lurking below deck. Thanks to the coiled spring, the drum with the yellow marker twists its way up the minute track and, upon reaching the red 60-minute marker, performs a larger, instantaneous jump back to zero forcing the hours to jump ahead. The cone on the right is not for the seconds but instead repeats the minute readings in a rotating display, providing the watch with two very different formats to consult the minutes. Of no real practical value, the second rotating minutes display is really there to provide visual balance. I did find, however, that the metallic markings on the inside of the conical sapphire crystal reflected a lot of light and at times it was not easy to see the hours or minutes.
The seconds are given their very own cabin on board the Urwerk UR-111C Iron and are located underneath a large sapphire glass aperture towards the top end of the case, bolted down with four screws – in keeping with the industrial design ethos of Urwerk. Reminiscent of the window on those front-loading cassette recorders of yesterday, the round digital seconds counter below seems to float very near the surface. For a more detailed explanation of the miniature mechanics involved here, Brice’s article elucidates it all.
Composed of two separate wheels with odd and even numbers, the fun thing here is the way the digits seem to push up against the glass, as if they were located closer to the surface than they actually are. Instead of a conventional Cyclops lens, Urwerk has performed a world first in watchmaking by using optical fibres (an image conduit) positioned 1/10th of a millimetre above the numerals to create the illusion of proximity, while in reality the numbers are ensconced far below. Although it takes a bit of adaptation to get used to reading the different time formats, you can’t complain about a boring, conventional display!
Compared to the King Cobra, the case construction of the UR-111C is far more sophisticated and aerodynamic. The conspicuous curvature of the case follows the contours of the wrist beautifully. Although many might balk at the dimensions of Urwerk’s wrist machines, the UR-111C is perhaps the most wearable model to date. Crafted in two different finishes of stainless steel – one in polished steel that gleams like a Greyhound bus from the 1950s, the other in a darker gunmetal steel – the case is 46mm long, 42mm wide and 15mm in height at the thickest point. (As a point of reference, the Apple Watch Series 4 is now available in a 44mm length.) Not demure statistics by any stretch of the imagination, but the curvature of the case, the sleek cambered design and pliant front lug go a long way in mitigating its bulk.
The model we had in for review was the gunmetal steel version with an inviting sandblasted matte finish that feels great to the touch. Once again, you can feel designer Martin Frei’s elegant geometric minimalism at work here. Along the lines of the American Streamline Moderne (aka ‘Art Deco on the Move’) school of the late 1930’s, characterised by sleek, aerodynamic lines emulating the profiles of trains, ocean liners, aeroplanes and cars, the case of the UR-111C features vertical speed lines on the breastplate and curvaceous indentations that bring a highly streamlined and tactile appeal to the watch.
Traversing the centre of the case is a cylindrical roller etched with deep grooves to match the rest of the decoration. Instead of a conventional crown perched on the top of the case, Martin Frei and Felix Baumgartner wanted to create a new way for the wearer to interact with the watch and came up with the idea of creating a roller to wind the watch. The sensation of rolling the fluted cylinder is extremely satisfying and, like any conventional crown will stop when the watch is fully wound. In addition to respecting the streamlined dynamics of the case – not interrupted by a hulking crown – this original approach to reinventing the crown and engage the wearer is, in my eyes, one of the triumphs of this watch. Another neat little device is the time-setting lever ensconced on the right side of the case. By extracting the lever you can roll the roller to set the time. Because of its unique architecture, the movement has to be slotted in from 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 (28,800 vph) frequency, and has been decorated with circular graining, Geneva stripes and features polished screw heads.
Rest assured that although the brand’s signature wandering hour display has been jettisoned in favour of other formats, this watch is Urwerk to the core. Sleek, streamlined and flight-ready, the matte gunmetal finish of the model gives the watch a stealth/industrial/Sci-Fi look that is also extremely seductive to the touch. Despite its dimensions and commanding personality, the UR-111C is much more compact than other Urwerk watches and its curved case makes it altogether wearable, even on small wrists of 17cm (as photographed). Although some of the information relayed (two separate minute registers) might not be vital, and for some even superfluous, it animates the watch no end. The original reinterpretation of the crown with the central roller is what fascinated us most about this watch and the way it invites a higher level of interaction between man and machine.