The watches of Urwerk are a very new twist on a very old idea. In Urwerk watches, a “time satellite” carrying the hour indication crosses a sector of the dial marked with the minutes; as the satellite carrier reaches the 60 minute mark a new hour marker appears at 0 and the whole process starts over. The complication’s called a wandering hours display, and though it’s hundreds of years old, this ain’t your daddy’s wandering hour watch. Urwerk has been more successful than perhaps any other modern watch manufacturer in creating a new take on an ancient idea that not only makes it fresh again, but makes it into something its inventor could never have imagined. With a sleek, high-tech profile that conjures cybernetic beasts of prey (recent models have been dubbed the Hammerhead and Tarantula) the watches of Urwerk look like duty issue wrist machines for robot ninja warriors of the 25th century.
Their most recent watch is the Urwerk Torpedo, which was a radical new twist on their wandering hours design in a very literal sense: the minutes sector was moved from its position at the bottom quarter of the watch, where it created a very classical feeling bilateral symmetry, and placed instead on the right hand side of the dial. The aesthetic impact is out of all proportion to the simple description –the watch takes on a powerful, dynamic imbalance that makes it seem much more aggressively instrumental, as if it’s a sophisticated and sensitive instrument designed to measure levels of some hitherto unknown lethal radiation, or operate as the remote control of a time travel device. The dial has been completely opened up to allow a view of the time satellites: three rotating cubes mounted on arms rotating on a central pivot, which rotate to show a face with the right number for each hour as they pass across the minutes sector.
The latest version of the Torpedo is the UR-110ZrN – the watch instead of being clad in precious metal or stainless steel is instead armored in zirconium nitride, applied over a sandblasted steel bezel. Zirconium nitride is a ceramic, but lest you think of what happened when you dropped Grandma’s Wedgewood gravy boat be aware that modern technical ceramics are super-tough materials developed for high stress environments like ballistic missile nosecones and turbine blades in jet engines.
Not only is it a very tough material, it’s got a lovely frosted gold color that gives the watch a luxurious luster without the mass that gold inflicts on the wrist. High tech both inside and out, this highly exclusive watch from a highly exclusive haute horlogerie design house (Urwerk makes only about 200 pieces a year) will vanish quickly (Urwerk watches are among the world’s most avidly collected thanks to both their rarity and exotic design.)
Only 12 UR-110 ZrN Torpedos will be made. The will be available only through Chronopassion (Paris), Marcus (London), The Hour Glass (Singapore) and Westime (Los Angeles.) Price 135,000 in zirconium oxide over a stainless steel bezel, with titanium case.
Jack Forster is the Editor in Chief of Revolution Magazine, a quarterly publication celebrating the world of fine watchmaking, and he also manages Revolution Online www.revo-online.com the foremost information and discussion site on the internet for watch enthusiasts.