Urwerk The One That Got Away: Urwerk UR-103.01
In this new episode of our « The one that got away » series, this one really got away … from me. This was my first watch crush. She is no longer made, she was amazing, she opened my eyes to everything watchmaking can be. She was a total bombshell
We've all had one of those love affairs that didn't even happen but keeps popping up in our minds. A true beauty we've let get away, mostly in stupid circumstances, and whom we'll never forget. The horological equivalent of this situation is the very idea behind this column, which has been running for the past nine months. And it took me as long as a pregnancy to finally tell the story that made me want to create this column. This one is a very personal piece, intimate even, because this Urwerk UR-103.01 was the first watch to give me a real rush. A flash of yearning. A crazy need to have it, to wear it and to feel it. Something truly physical, sensual, all the stronger as this piece is very tactile, due to its immense, white gold, grooved hood.
I wasn't even a watch journalist yet, but I had traveled to Baselworld 2003 on my own dime. All booths were private access only. I was glued to the outside displays like an orphan on a restaurant's in a Dickens novel (much less miserable, though). And as I had left what used to be Hall 1, the big brands' pantheon, I almost bumped into the AHCI (Association des Horlogers Créateurs Indépendants) booth. Calling it a booth is a stretch. It was a series of tables which a cloth on, standing on the side of a wide corridor, with nothing circumscribing the area. And there stood Felix Baumgartner, one of Urwerk's three founders, who's still its watchmaking soul, along with his friend, designer Martin Frei.
I step forward and I see the watch. It is spectacular. I've never seen anything like it, nothing that crazy, that large, that matte, that textured and that very very mind-blowing. So I start a conversation with Felix. Yes, I've earned the right to be on a first name basis with the man since. Back then, Urwerk was in its early days; so despite the certifiable nature of their work, they didn't really draw a crowd. The public wasn't ready yet, and neither was I. The thing is, I was no one, just a tourist, a kid, a gaper. Yet Felix talked with me for a good 10 minutes. I touched the watch, put it on, he explained it to me and I honestly didn't understand the first thing about it. But I fell hard for it. The great kindness and simplicity of that young watchmaker, who still had everything to prove, played a part in it. And he's still as kind as he was then.
UR-103.01 © Urwerk
The UR-103.01 wasn't the first Urwerk, but the second one. The fist one was the 101. It looked like a Sputnik for the wrist with a hint of LSD. The 103.1 was much more mature. No one can venture into that kind of business without knowing exactly what they want to create. But at the same time, they had taken a huge leap of faith. There didn't exist a market for such a watch, or clients for that matter. This was utterly new.
The crown at 12 o'clock, as big as an assault rifle muzzle, the wide, thin and curved display window along which the wandering hours show, the sculptural caseback with separate indications, which include a movement-setting stud, the outline, shape and volume of the case, all of those features have endured and become unique signatures of Urwerk. What has kept changing is the extent to which the upper hood of the watch has been opened, gradually, in order to go from full metal to full sapphire. This striptease of the upper piece, which has been named a shield on some models, is a variation guideline for every Urwerk reference.
And that hood what the bomb. First of, it was a long as an old Cadillac's. Its sheer size gave it incredible style. Plus it was entirely made of gray gold. It must have cost a fortune to make. Yet it didn't feel like it weighed a ton because it was so large. Its weight felt logical, expected even. Then there was the feel of it. Even though its deep grooves were machined in a block of solid matter, it wasn't rough at all. The finishings were a big part of Urwerk's intention, which was about creating a contrast between finger and eye. Conflicting sensory inputs made for a great surprise, one more of those anyway.
Urwerk UR-103.01 © David Chokron/Worldtempus
It was too big for me. Even today, most of what Urwerk creates is too large for my petite wrist. But I couldn't have cared less. And I didn't have a hundredth of what it cost on my bank account. Even today, even second hand, it's still too expensive for me. But who cares. The pictures in this piece are from 2010, when I managed to put it back on. And I did it again in 2021. I was at Urwerk's and they had just received one as part of their CPO program. Each time, the emotion was intact, as was the yearning. I've loved her at first sight, I'll never forget her but it let her get away. I'm such an idiot.
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