The UR-103 The watch that saved URWERK.

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The UR-103 The watch that saved URWERK.

Early Days and Tough Decisions

The basic idea was incredibly daring: to imagine and invent fine watchmaking complications of the future instead of copying the past; creating the complications of tomorrow, but built on the solid foundation of traditional watchmaking culture. In 2003, this challenge was taken up URWERK's founders, master-watchmaker Felix Baumgartner and artist-designer Martin Frei, with everything they possessed . . . and more. Their goal: to create at the beginning of the 21st century a postmodern timepiece for the 21st century.  It would become the UR-103!

Before the 103 were the 101 and 102 models, both ahead of their time. Launched into watchword that was not ready for them, something we now know due to the popularity of the 25th "Reloaded' anniversary models. But sadly, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, these models did not set the world on fire. In fact, co-founders Felix and Martin, were down on their luck. These young cavaliers had a hard decision to make; down to the last of their funds the choice was to take their remaining money split it and close URWERK. Or go all in and launch the next model. If it failed to excite the collectors and the watch media, they would be left with nothing.




Enter Our Savior- The UR-103

The UR-103 model's journey begins with two visionaries: Felix Baumgartner, a master watchmaker, and Martin Frei, the chief designer. Inspired by sci-fi, Asimov, Star Trek and Star Wars, the UR-103 was conceived. A sculpted block with a wing-like aerodynamic form and an oversized crown carved like a Roman column was placed at the top of the case instead of the more common side position, making it comfortable for lefties and righties. The design is severe, slender, and smooth, reflecting both the futuristic inspiration and the meticulous craftsmanship of its creators.



Launch and Reception

The UR-103 debuted on April 3, 2003, at the Basel watch fair in the AHCI booth. Now was the time for the world to be ready for URWERK and the UR-103. Well, I think you already have an idea about the outcome, or you wouldn't be reading this!

The initial reception was as much hated as it was adored. It created awe and scandal in equal measure. Awe due to the totally unconventional way it indicated the time with its four orbiting satellites replacing the traditional hour hand. With the UR-103 reading the time was transformed into a sensory experience. The artistic dimension of this creation upset temporal perceptions, perceptions acquired and embedded over a lifetime. No hands? Reference marks were missing or distorted and must be somehow recreated. The UR-103 was also outrageous because, for the first time, a timepiece featured both an incredible new complication coupled with a totally new innovation: orbiting hour satellites on top and a control board on the back.

To our benefit though most of the collectors and media saw the UR-103 as a breath of fresh air in the watchmaking world. The gamble paid off. The UR-103 model marked the beginning of a new era for URWERK, setting a high standard for future innovations.



Technical Innovations

One of the UR-103's standout features is its unique approach to time-telling. Instead of a standard flat dial and traditional hands, it uses a carousel rotating on a central axis with four satellites, each holding three-hour markers that glide along a 120-degree arc that displays the minutes. This design enhances readability and adds a dynamic element to the watch's appearance. The UR-103 was the first watch to include a control board on the case back with an oil reserve indicator to let the wearer know when it's time for a service. Also displayed are 5-minute and seconds dials for precise time-setting and a user-adjustable fine-tuning screw for the balance if the watch is running too fast or slow.



Design Philosophy

The UR-103 encapsulates URWERK's avant-garde philosophy. Unlike other brands that focus on conventional watchmaking feats like chronographs or tourbillons, URWERK emphasizes the unique display of time. The collaboration between a watchmaker and a designer/artist results in functional pieces and works of art. Unlike anything that came before it, the UR-103 was a real head-turner. Over twenty years later, it still has a retro sci-fi look and feel, like it has been sent back from the future, making it a truly timeless classic.


Evolution Over Time

Produced from 2003 until 2010, the UR-103 saw several updates and special editions. The first 103 only had a small sapphire window exposing the time display and nothing else; future models gradually opened up the 103. First, the Targa and then the 103T "Tarantula" opened up the display to show off the timing carousel, giving the UR-103 more depth and spectacle. Each had challenges creating sapphire in such unusual shapes and curvature. 



Materials were a big part of the URWERK journey and laid the foundations for future models. Precious metals like gold and platinum to more experimental versions like using steel coated with AlTiN - Aluminum, Titanium, and Nitride, providing exceptional oxidation resistance and extreme hardness. It also gives the watch a stealthy black finish. Or the more exotic TiAlN version, which has a similar coating mixed differently, resulting in a unique purple/brown finish unlike anything seen on a watch before.


The Grand Finale

Come 2010, the UR-103 journey came to a close. Felix and Martin agreed they had taken the watch as far as it could go and wanted to concentrate on new models. So, to send it on its way, the last two editions were created to give the 103 a proper send-off!

First, the UR-103T Mexican Fireleg, a limited edition of 60 pieces. It has a black case and a touch of venomous bright orange in the display, inspired by the formidable Tarantula spider of the same name, which has frightening orange/red legs.

The UR-103 Shining T. It has a black case, a black carousel, white markers, and a little something different you might not notice straight away. The four-hour satellites are machined from sapphire crystal, giving the Shining T a look of lightness and transparency like never before.

This is a fitting conclusion to its illustrious seven-year run. Each version maintained the core design principles while introducing subtle enhancements. 



Cultural Impact

The UR-103 significantly impacted the watchmaking industry, establishing URWERK as a force to be reckoned with. Its unique design and technical prowess attracted high-profile admirers, inspiring some with confidence to go on and create their own brands, to prolific watch collectors and even celebrities like the GOAT Michael Jordan and fashion designer Ralph Lauren. Collectors and horology enthusiasts alike appreciated the 103's departure from tradition, showing that dreamers and misfits can make it in a world that at that time was only just getting used to the idea of independent watchmaking. A time before websites, Instagram and TikTok. The UR-103 paved the way for URWERK, solidifying its place in watchmaking history.


Legacy And Collectibility

Today, the UR-103 is cherished by a select group of collectors. While it may not be widely recognized among new watch enthusiasts, those familiar with its history understand its significance to the URWERK brand. Its legacy continues to influence the design and philosophy of modern independent watchmaking. If it were launched today as a fresh new model in the digital age of social media, I am sure it would grab the attention of today's audience just like it did over twenty years ago.


Personal Insights

Reflecting on the launch of the UR-103 at the 2003 Basel watch fair on April 3 as such a pivotal moment when the first orders came in, Felix reminisces, "At 28 years old, I suddenly felt like I was King of the world!"

 Martin Frei also shares his thoughts: "The 103 was URWERK's first true masterpiece, full of audacity and challenge. It symbolized a perfect balance between elegance and engineering."


Gone But Not Forgotten

The evolution of the 103 collection stopped in 2010. A collection that fought bravely to win its place in collector's hearts. Revolutionary at its beggining the, now a classic.

Classics never fade away. Classics never go out of style.

The UR-103 remains a testament to URWERK's innovative spirit and dedication to redefining watchmaking. Its history is a story of resilience, creativity, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. As URWERK continues to push the boundaries, the UR-103 will always hold a special place in the brand's legacy. The creation of our Certified Pre-Owned collection once again lets us delve into our past and reshare these stories and creations from our early years, whether it would be helping a seasoned collector find a piece they missed when first launched or introducing a new collector to URWERK with one of our historical models. If they choose a UR-103, they are not just purchasing a watch but buying into URWREK and owning a piece of our history.













Shop the UR-103T Mexican Fireleg

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