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Editorial - An Evening In La Chaux-de-Fonds

Editorial An Evening In La Chaux-de-Fonds

On the occasion of the 2020 edition of the Prix Gaïa…

Last Thursday evening, I was in La Chaux-de-Fonds. That was the first time I had been there this year, whereas any other year would have been replete with visits and meetings in this UNESCO-listed city, rich in horological history and watch companies both new and old. 

In this instance, I was there attending the awards ceremony of the Prix Gaïa, where a few friends of ours, namely Antoine Preziuso, and Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei (Urwerk) were being honoured for contributions to the field of time measurement. Antoine received the award in the Craftsmanship–Creation category, while Felix and Martin received the award in the Entrepreneurship category.

Although I had already planned to attend the ceremony, held at the Musée International d’Horlogerie, and had marked it down in my calendar, registering my presence online through the event website (attendance was strictly controlled for this edition of the Prix Gaïa, for health and safety reasons), the evening turned out to be a little more special than I had expected. The winners were announced some weeks before the actual ceremony, and the lovely Yacine Sar, head of communications at Urwerk, rang me up to ask if I would say a few words introducing Felix and Martin and their achievements on the evening itself. 

In a few minutes — hardly enough to even touch upon the depth and breadth of Urwerk’s impact on our industry — I attempted to describe the significance of pioneers and envelope-pushers such as Martin and Felix. Because of their audacious watches, we have learned to talk about contemporary watchmaking in a completely different way. This is especially impressive when you remember that Urwerk was founded in 1997, making them essentially the first brand to adopt the futuristic, space-tech aesthetic that later became popular. 

What has always been far more interesting to me than their watches, however, are the mechanical systems they have introduced, based on the idea that the dynamic between watch and wearer, between man and machine, can be a two-way relationship. Right from the beginning, their UR-103 with its fine-adjustment screw conveyed this idea. The latest evolution of this philosophy is the groundbreaking AMC, with a synchronised atomic clock and mechanical wristwatch, paired in a system first proposed by Abraham-Louis Breguet.

Occasions like this are important. They remind us that our field, which is based on a centuries-old métier, is still very much alive and evolving. They remind us that creativity and ingenuity are the source of pleasure in life. They remind us that you can always find things to celebrate, even in hard years (perhaps especially so).

In less than a month, I will be up in the Musée International d’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds again, for the opening of the touring exhibition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). The 84 watches competing in the final round of the GPHG will be available to view there, for the first time all together in 2020. That’s something else to celebrate. Will I see you there?   



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Few brands are as closely associated with the rise of avant-garde independent horology in the new millennium than URWERK, the Geneva-based brand with Swiss-German mechanical foundations.

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