Munich-based UTS has carved out a niche: German-made professional divers’ watches, all with cases made in-house from single blocks of steel by engineer Nicolaus Spinner. Learn more in this feature from WatchTime’s December 2011 issue.
Most of us, when we’re looking for our ideal watch, simply do our homework — visit retailers, read magazines and catalogs, browse websites — before finally settling on the one that bests suits our tastes. But what if nothing on the market offers the exact combination of design touches and technical details that we’re seeking? This is the situation that faced Nicolaus Spinner a few years ago. Unlike the vast majority of us, Spinner, a mechanical engineer from Munich, Germany, whose company makes CNC machines and tools for automobile manufacturers, defense contractors and watch companies, had the means and expertise to do something about it. Rather than settle on something “close enough,” Spinner decided to go into his workshop, order the Swiss components he needed, and make the exact watch he wanted — the crowning touch of which would be a case that he would design and manufacture himself.
Spinner’s first homemade watch, which he called the Commander, had a manual-winding movement, a screw-down crown with a special sealing system and removable lugs that enabled the timepiece to be worn as a wristwatch or pocketwatch. And while the Commander was not a divers’ watch, it boasted a case that, at the time, was one of the most water-resistant in the watch world, to 3,000 meters. A longtime lover of watches whose job had given him an appreciation of how they work, Spinner’s ambition was not, at first, an entrepreneurial one; rather, it was solely to make one watch that he would want to wear.
However, Spinner could not resist posting pictures and information about his watch project on his personal website, where they eventually caught the eye of a fellow watch lover and engineer (albeit of the computer variety) in the United States, Stephen Newman. Newman had spent nearly two decades in the tech business — starting software companies and helping to launch internet start-ups — and he had been a watch hobbyist for even longer, starting in childhood when he used to take apart and reassemble the insides of the mechanical clocks his parents collected. While surfing the Web for watch news, he happened upon Spinner’s site, and was intrigued not by the Commander itself but by the other project that Spinner was tinkering with, a manual-wind chronograph. Newman contacted Spinner, offered to buy that watch, and thereafter offered to help the German turn his hobby into a business.
That company, founded in 1998, is called UTS. The initials call to mind some sort of government agency, but they actually stand for Uhren Technik Spinner, German for “Watch Technology” plus the founder’s surname. Newman, whose title is president and CEO of UTS Watches, Inc. North America, is the brand’s face in the U.S.
Except for the variety and number of watches produced — UTS now makes about 200 pieces per year, and most models are limited to 200 pieces, total — little has changed since Spinner first assembled his personal Commander watch. All UTS watches are assembled in the factory outside Munich where Spinner (and his brothers, with whom he co-owns it) continues to produce machinery for other industrial clients. They contain Swiss-made mechanical movements, primarily from ETA, but also from a few other ébauche makers. And Spinner — all on his own, with no assistants — not only assembles them but mills all of their cases, on his own CNC machines, from single blocks of German stainless steel. This is no mean feat; many larger watch companies, even those producing expensive luxury models, use the more common, more industrialized stamping method to make their cases, which involves forcing heated metal into molds and dies. Spinner’s process is far more hands-on and far more labor-intensive. The finished cases have a high-tech, robust look, with the solid casebacks and separately milled lugs securely affixed by the brand’s trademark hex screws. Spinner applies the cases’ brushed finishes by hand.
It was Newman who convinced Spinner to apply his breakthrough development, the hand-machined, 3,000-meter-water-resistant case, to a model where it would be of most interest and use, a divers’ watch. It is this type of watch for which UTS is best known today, and the company makes several variations of that style, distinguished by their levels of water-resistance. UTS makes two watches rated to depths of 1,000 meters. One is the 1000M Dive Watch ($2,600; all prices are manufacturer’s list prices), a model that has been recently upgraded with a slightly larger dial and a redesigned bezel. The new dial has a two-layered appearance, with a galvanic black finish over an inner sunray pattern (on the black-dialed models referred to as “Black Horizon,” on the blue-dialed ones as “Pacific Horizon”). Its movement is an automatic ETA 2824-2, which Spinner has adjusted to five positions. The other model, the GMT Dive Watch Professional 1000M ($3,250), uses the same case (43 mm in diameter and 14.5 mm thick, with an extra-thick, nonreflective-coated sapphire crystal) but contains the automatic ETA 2893-2 movement, which has a GMT function. The hands and indices, including the red GMT hand, are coated with a thick layer of blue Super-LumiNova, so both the current time and the time in a second time zone are readable in the dark or deep underwater. UTS says it will make a handful of models that also include a 24-hour bezel, effectively giving the wearer a third time-zone option.
The 2000M Dive Watch ($3,250) not only has twice the water-resistance as the 1000M models; it also has a slightly bigger case (44-mm diameter and 16.5 mm thick) and is the only UTS divers’ watch with a helium-release valve. Otherwise, the watch has similar attributes, including an engraved bezel with 60 click positions, a thick sapphire crystal, Super-LumiNova on the hands and markers, and a screw-down crown. It also uses the same ETA 2824-2 movement.
Additional technical details were necessary to give the 3000M Dive Watch — which, of course, actually preceded those other divers’ models — its impressive level of water-resistance (rated at 3,000 meters, but like all UTS watches, it is actually tested beyond those specifications). The case is 43 mm in diameter and 16.5 mm thick; the crystal is one millimeter thicker than that of the 2000M (5 mm). It also has a specially constructed bidirectional bezel, affixed by hex screws, that turns by a ceramic ball-bearing system and has a clever locking mechanism, devised by Spinner, at 2 o’clock. The crystal has an extra level of security, held in place by a stainless-steel ring that is affixed to the case by seven additional hex screws. The screw-down crown is at 4 o’clock. The watch is listed at $4,500.
UTS also introduced a chronograph, the 600M Chronograph Diver ($4,000), which is powered by the reliable ETA 7750 automatic chronograph movement and uses the same case as the 2000M Dive Watch. To help this watch achieve its 600-meter water-resistance, Spinner invented a new locking system for the chronograph pushers: instead of screwing them down to lock them, you unscrew them upward.
Not all of UTS’s models are technically divers’ watches. The Adventure GMT ($4,000), for example, doesn’t have a rotatable bezel, but it is still water-resistant to 500 meters. It also has one of the largest UTS cases, at 45 mm in diameter; it has to be big to accommodate the big movement inside, ETA’s automatic Valgranges A07.171, with a GMT complication and 42-hour power reserve. There are also manual-wind Adventure models ($3,000), which contain the Unitas 6497 movement. The red GMT hand and GMT scale stand out against the galvanic, sunray-patterned black dial.
As perhaps his crowning technical achievement, Spinner has even developed a tourbillon watch that can descend to depths of 1,000 meters. The UTS 1,000 Meters Tourbillon has a manual-wind tourbillon movement, the STT 13.75, developed by the specialist movement atelier formerly known as Progress Watch and now owned by Bovet, which gives the watch an impressive power reserve of 110 hours. The movement’s decorations — including skeletonized bridges and cocks, engine-turned Clous de Paris and hand-engraved surfaces, and flame-blued screws — are visible through a sapphire caseback. The list price for this very limited-production watch is $45,000. More recently, UTS introduced a watch that can descend to 4,o0o meters underwater, with a 6-mm-thick sapphire crystal and a 45-mm-diameter steel case.
UTS watches are only available for purchase on the company’s website, www.utswatches.com, which also features testimonials posted there by the brand’s hardcore fans. While Spinner is no longer making watches only for himself, he is still making them for a passionate few.