When one encounters a watch with a black PVD case, one would usually expect the base metal under the dark coating to be steel, or possibly titanium. But Urwerk — which most recently had tongues wagging, and whisky palates salivating, with its development of the world’s most complicated flask — has never been known to do the expected. Hence its headliner release at SIHH 2018: the Urwerk UR-210 Black Platinum.
A platinum watch with a black PVD coating is a true rarity in the watch world — I can’t, offhand, recall ever seeing one previously — which makes the Black Platinum more exclusive and luxurious than of all the UR-210 models that preceded it. The heavy weight of the watch’s unusually shaped, 53.6 mm x 43.8 mm case was an intriguing surprise when I first picked it up, and its black-with-red-highlights aesthetic is certainly eye-catching, but there are even more surprises inside the case and behind the sapphire crystal. The Black Platinum combines the revolving-satellite time display emblematic of the UR-210 collection with an unconventional flyback minutes device.
The prominent, three-dimensional minutes hand acts as a high-tech cowling that encloses the hours and carries them in turn smoothly across the minutes scale. When the end of an hour is reached, the flyback function jumps into action at rapid speed — less than a tenth of a second — and returns the hand to zero to begin the next hour, which is indicated on one of the revolving satellites.
At the heart of this system is a central central hub, turning on ruby bearings, that ensures that the mechanism remains stable. It uses a cylindrical spring of the type used in marine chronometers along the shaft to accumulates the power for the retrograde action. This minutes hand has uncommon dimensions, machined to the hundredth of a millimeter and measuring 22.29 mm long, 8.03 mm wide 7.3 mm high and weighs only 0.302 grams. The main part of the hand is in aluminum, while its counterweight is made of brass. A star-shaped, double coaxial cam governs the retrograde action; its gearing and then its rotation determine the trajectory of the minutes hand.
The case is engraved with a series of radiating “shock waves” which Urwerk co-founder and designer Martin Frei says is a visual allegory for the rotations of the hours satellites and the sharp, quick impacts of the flyback minutes hand. As he puts it, “We’ve added an extra tactile dimension to a 3D watch. The rotations of the hours satellites are replicated in the metal of the case. As if we had created a shockwave powerful enough to displace matter and bend platinum. The deep furrowed arcs also accentuate the smart hexagonal design of the case.”
Gazing more closely at that wild dial, we can spy at 1 o’clock a traditional power-reserve indicator: the watch’s automatic movement holds 39 hours of running autonomy in a single mainspring barrel. Meanwhile, at 11 o’clock, a similar-looking indicator is actually displaying the watch’s winding efficiency during the last two hours. This world-first device calculates the movement’s energy flow, as determined by the ratio between the energy generated and the energy consumed. Unlike a torque indicator, it doesn’t depend on the tension of the barrel spring. This means that a wearer who has been sitting or lying down for some time will see the indicator move gradually into the red sector while another wearer who has just gotten back from a workout will see it move into the green.
How is this useful? Knowing his watch’s winding efficiency enables the wearer to adjust its winding rate using the adjuster on the back of the watch — another hallmark of Urwerk timepieces. If the indicator shows that not enough energy is being generated, simply turn the winding rate adjuster to FULL, which will cause the rotor to become sensitive to the slightest motion, converting that motion into energy. The rotor is connected to a turbine that ensures an optimum winding rate while dampening shocks. If, conversely, a wearer’s excessive motion is creating too much energy — thus overwinding the mainspring — he can turn the adjusting wheel to REDUCED mode, which absorbs some of that energy to prevent unnecessary stress on the mechanism. This process uses a turbine mounted on ruby bearings that starts to spin after this adjustment, acting as an air compressor and creating a resistance that slows down the winding rotor. Finally, one may opt to adjust all the way to the STOP position, which disengages the self-winding system and essentially renders the UR-210 a manually wound watch.
The Urwerk UR-210 Black Platinum will be a limited edition of 25 pieces, priced at 155,000 Swiss francs. As I am sure many are wondering what this high-tech, black-draped giant looks like on the wrist, a live photo from SIHH appears below.