What does it mean to tell the time? Or URWERK’s opera.

Well, what does it mean ? We’ve explored the various potential fundaments of time on these pages before,i but we haven’t yet dipped our toes into its perception. And what else is reality ?

Now, if it’s laser-like precision you need – and putting aside issues of clock drift, NTP, and the rest of the computing-centric (ie. political) consequences of either correctly or incorrectly perceiving time – a quartz watch is the best bang-for-the-buck choice for everyday timekeeping. This has been true since the 1970s and it remains so today.ii But if you’re neither a classicist enamoured with two- and three-hand dials,iii nor a wage slave forced to arrive and depart at precisely calculated intervals,iv what does the world of high horology have to offer you ? What would it mean to tell and perceive time in other, perhaps more genteel ways ?v

While digital displays, such as those of the cutting-edge A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk,vi offer Good Sir precision, complication, and battery-free operation all in one go, it’s still a bit jarring for a gentleman to watch time tick by with so much whip-cracking exactitude. I mean, where do you really have to be ?

Enter : URWERK.

With endless linearity and subdued circularity, the tripartite satellitesvii beneath the sapphire of URWERK’s 103-series timepieces present quite possibly the most refined, relaxed, and simultaneously avant-garde means of perceiving time. Juxtaposed against the typically round-and-round mannerviii that we’re accustomed to perceiving of time with conventional clocks and watches, the wandering hours complication characteristic of URWERK – since their very inception in 1997 – has offered the esteemed bearer a rhythm that’s really the most natural and in-line with our flowing, water-like perceptions of reality. Of everything on the market, and even of all of the case designs offered in the ground-breaking 103 series, the 103Tix is at once the most exposed and complete.x Much like the young woman undressed. And every bit as captivating.

Prior to trying on the manual-wind 103T myself, I’d imagined that all of Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei’s pieces were space-age monsters too large for my svelte 17cm wrists, but it turns out that the 103T is the perfect proportion. Unfortunately, the 103-series is getting on a decade old now and Frei’s designs have unfortunately grown markedly in dimension since then – the 105, 110, 210, EMC, and T8 are all bulky beasts. But that only makes the used market that much more attractive! And thankfully, unlike most Pateks or RMs, URWERKs don’t hold their value terribly well.

With legibility, luminosity, punchiness, owner control,xi and just enough accuracy for a flâneur, bon vivant, or otherwise independent gentleman, the URWERK 103T makes a hell of a case for itself, no matter the metal. It tells you the time and so much more.

Percei’ dat.

P.S. Yes, this was one of those rare instances on the pages of Contravex where Ol’ Pete more day-dreams and gives a snapshot review of an objet d’art than adds it to his collection. While any quick overview is inevitably more superficial than an ownership experience, I’d be a poor less rich man in no time flat if I bought everything I laid my Canada Goose mitts on, and hopefully there was enough of a story in and around this particular timepiece that it wasn’t too wince-inducing. It certainly made enough of an impact on me to dive sooooo much deeper into this and other sub-1000, even sub-100, per annum watch manufactures. And for that, I’m very grateful. Thanks for reading, and don’t worry, more ownership experiences are on their way!

___ ___ ___

  1. See Wasting TimeIt takes more than time. It takes generationsHow the adage “time is money” and the existence of Google+ prove that Facebook is worth less than dustBig TimeSpecs and designs for the first ever Blockheight Timepieces, and of course the seminal Does Time Back Bitcoin or Does Bitcoin Back Time?  []
  2. Whereas a mechanical watch’s oscillator vibrates at 3 or 4 or perhaps 5 Hz and is accurate to within a few minutes per year, a quartz crystal vibrates at 32`768 Hz and is accurate to within a few seconds per year. The gold standard is, however, the atomic clock, wherein cesium-beam resonators vibrate at 9`192`631`770 Hz, making the timekeeping accurate to within a few seconds per billion years. If you’re interested, you can read more about the remarkable history of atomic clocks here but suffice to say that they haven’t exactly hit mass-market.

    Although Bathys did a Kickstarter in 2014 for ten “atomic-powered” (and rather bulbous) wristwatches at $6`000 a pop, reports of their quality and reliability are suspiciously scant. A mile or so up the unobtanium ladder, URWERK recently released a new atomically regulated mechanical wristwatch called “AMC” at $2`000`000 a pop, but only 4-5 will be produced at the rate of one per year and they’re destined for museums, not you and me.  []

  3. Or your collection already has these boxes ticked. []
  4. Precisely calculated by your superiors, of course. []
  5. Ironically, as recently as five hundred years ago, it was only the princely classes that had access to personal timekeeping devices. And what devices they were! Each handmade for their patron (or tributary recipient by way of Türkenverehrung, granted), these were artistic expressions replete with astrolabes and automata in addition to their functions as practical tools of precision. The rest of the community had to rely on the largely unreliable clocktowers in the town squares or the roosters in their yards. The miniturisation and ultimately the commoditisation of clocks only began in the last two hundred years in Europe, an innovation at least as foundational to industrialisation as the Spinning Jenny or Cotton Gin.

    Europeans didn’t invent the clock, of course, no more than they invented paper money or gunpowder. As you may already know, the astronomical water clocks of 10th and 11th century China have the distinction of being the first of their kind, but the centralisation of Chinese authority at the time disincentivised the dissemination of astrological readings, as did the complexity and size of the machines themselves, the scarcity of individuals capable of undertaking their manufacture, the difficulty of obtaining precise measurements for driven rather than braked time-keeping mechanisms, and of course the invasion of the Chin Tartars in 1126 AD, which led to the dismantling of the clocks and the loss of the knowledge required to rebuild them. []

  6. As seen on my wrist here :

    A Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk 140.029

    My only gripe with the white gold piece seen hereabove is its lack of luminous display. What can I say, I’m a sucker for the practicality of Super-LumiNova (aka strontium aluminate photoluminescent pigments)! The platinum-cased Zeitwerk Luminous Phantom creatively fixed this shortcoming way back in 2010 with a semi-transparent dial, but with only 100 pieces produced, it now trades hands for twice its $100`000 MSRP (aka it’s almost keeping pace with “inflation“), placing it in a considerably headier league, though I could still see myself owning one.

    The FP Journe Vagabondage series is another mechanical watch with digital display, and the FPJ even has a jumping seconds complication in the third and final iteration, but that starts to be a lot of motion in the ocean, don’t you find ? []

  7. More technically, and to quote the manufacture :

    The four hour-satellites of the UR-103 are crafted in aluminium and are suspended under a grade-2 titanium orbital cross. The complication is mounted on a non-magnetic ARCAP P40 base plate providing superior strength and stability to traditional metals. The hour-satellites complete a full revolution under the orbital cross every four hours. As the satellite approaches the crown position, an internal Geneva cross causes it to undergo a 120 degree rotation on its own axis. This 120 degree rotation positions the next hour for its turn indicating the time at the front of the dial. Over a one-year time span each orbital cross completes 2190 rotations and each satellite 730 revolutions on its own axis.

    URWERK 103 dial exploded out

    Also, you gotta watch the movement in action! []

  8. Go figure that in our globalised, time-zoned world of atomically precise clocks, we still mentally visualise time going round-and-round, just as it did on the classroom walls of our youths. And yet this isn’t how our calendars work at all. At least not anymore :

    We can agree that the desexualisation of Hashem relative to his masturbatory competitors was a stark break in foundational mythologies, but I’d also cast a ballot for technology, viz. timekeeping. The linearity of the Hebrew calendar was a perfectly remarkable departure in world view relative to the other peoples of the Near East with their circular understandings of time. Counting years in perpetual succession seems obvious enough to those of us who timestamp documents with any regularity, but the calendars of the Ancient Egyptians and Chinese had no such delineations – they both reset the years of their respective calendars with each new Pharaoh or Emperor. Before the Jews started counting higher and higher and higher with each passing year regardless of dynastic duration, everyone basically just counted in circles, round and round and round. The linear calendar was an innovation made manifest by the decentralised realities of the frequently nomadic Jews.


  9. The “T” is for Tarantula. []
  10. The punchier Mexican Fireleg version of the URWERK 103T is seen on my wrist here :

    URWERK 103T Mexican Fireleg - Stainless Steel - wrist shot

    Steve Hallock recently had a tempting piece unique 103T MF for sale in AiTIN (Aluminium, Titane, Nitride)-treated white gold but… I couldn’t quite bring myself to toss 5 BTC at it,* even if it was arguably well worth the 55% premium over the steel pieces. Speaking of which, the other 59 pieces in the 60-piece MF series, including the one shown hereabove, are AiTIN-treated stainless steel. They all look the same – stealthy matte black – but the gold piece has a “750” printed on the back and is considerably weightier.

    The other Tarantula pieces consisted of a 60-piece run called “Shining T” with the fiery orange of the Mexican Fireleg replaced with shimmering silver. URWERK only produces about 100-150 timepieces per year so they’re mighty rare birds.
    ___ ___
    *When you re-read this article in 2022, maybe you’ll understand why! And it’s obviously not that I’m averse to trading coins for material goods now and again. It just has to feel worth it, which at this point means that a watch can’t really set me back more than a coin or two, but that’s obviously subject to change given that no timepiece yet conceived is worth five Haitis. []

  11. On the back of the 103T is a “Control Board” that allows Good Sir, with a nod to Abraham-Louis Breguet, to regulate the accuracy of the timepiece with the simple twist of a screw. This is exceptionally unusual and yet oh so very refined. []

One thought on “What does it mean to tell the time? Or URWERK’s opera.

  1. […] some in order to ensure that project perfection is achieved. These are the dentists, case lawyers, veblen-craftsmen, techno-utopians, and others who refuse to stop and refuse to settle for anything less than the […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>