Felix Baumgartner,URWERK, Harry Winston and the Opus V

Felix Baumgartner,URWERK, Harry Winston and the Opus V



Part Three - The URWERK 103.03

by Ian Skellern
(c) May 2005




(click on images for larger size)

 


As if the Opus V was not enough.


As if a project of the complexity of the Opus V would not be enough to keep anyone busy for a year or two, Baumgartner and Frei also found time to design and construct a major evolution of the 103. This watch, the 103.03 is, in my opinion, their best model to date. While their previous watches have been space age, minimalistic and functional time machines (with the emphasis on machine), the targa shaped crystal on the 103.03, turns it from watch that stunned because of its unique design, into a truely stunning watch.

The 103.03 was a radical re-think of the URWERK philosophy as well as the look. Until this model, the idea had always been to show only the absolute minimum on the dial. It was only as the design developed that Frei and Baumgartner realised how much more was added visually in showing how it all worked. The large crystal gives another major advantage over previous models, in that it is much more resistant to scratches than a fully metal cover.


*Three generations of URWERK's 103. From left to right the original 103, the 103.02 and the 103.03

URWERK’s strengths include the fact that designer Martin Frei does not come from a horological or technical background. Unshackled by knowing what is believed to be technically feasible, allows his imagination to roam without limit; he can concentrate purely on art and form. To physically manufacture the complex crystal he designed for the 103.03 stretched the very limits of the possible - par for the course from Frei. Within the form of the crystal are a series of complex curves making production extremely difficult. The form first runs parallel to the rotating satellite and then flattens out slightly to match the reduced curve at the top of the case. Difficult by itself - but that was the easy part!

URWERK asked five specialists in crystal manufacture to make prototypes: four failed completely and one had only very limited success. The problem was cutting out the inner bite from the crystal where it faces the crown. Whereas external cuts and shapes are relatively easy, internal cuts are extremely problematic. Further research and development meant that while these elaborate forms are now possible, the reject rate is still one in two. For every 100 watches URWERK makes, they order 200 crystals and throw half of them away.


A 103.03 in the process of assembly and casing.

Brass is one of the most common metals used in watch component manufacture; however, is usually plated with gold, rhodium or palladium to minimise tarnish. URWERK fabricates many components from ARCAP P40 instead. ARCAP is an extremely resistant copper nickel alloy; more stable (and expensive) than brass and which does not corrode like brass. That intriguing finish, where the parts are micro-blasted then polished with a fine goat-hair brush, is a unique URWERK speciality. In addition, the dials of the gold models receive a coating of black PVD on the dial whereas the limited edition platinum models have perlage.



Felix Baumgartner pretending to work but actually posing for the camera





A side on view of the 103.03 movement showing the depth of the satellites.


VIDEO ! Click on the image above to see the 103.03
in operation. Warning-file size 5.2mb!


The look of the Control Board on the back brings us closer to earth, but not too close: just from outer space to a low earth orbit. The dials on the back are actually black; however, when caught a certain angles to the light, the anti-reflective coating on the crystal makes them look blue.

One unusual feature about the movement in this watch is that it is upside down. The minutes, seconds and power reserve on the control board (back) are actually on what would be normally the dial side of the movement. The satellites on top are driven by a tiny 0.3mm pinion that passes through a friction fit hole in the center wheel.




A closer look at the titanium satellites. Here you can clearly see the virtually
friction-free Geneva cross system.



The massive crown is a pleasure to operate.



On the Control Board we have the minute and second dials for setting the time plus the power reserve indicator (right).



Parts for the power reserve mechanism and fine tuning adjustment inside a paperclip for comparison.





The above images give an idea how the watch wears on the wrist.



Design does not stop with the watch . . . even the presentation case has a stunning form.



A beautifully engraved specially commisioned unique piece. The sapphires in the crown set it off very nicely.



On the left the 103.03 in rose (pink) gold, while on the right, the limited edition (25 pieces) platinium version.


Specifications

CALIBER UR-3.03
- dimensions: 50 mm (including lugs) x 36mm x 13.5mm
- manual winding
- 21 600 VPH 3 Hz
- hour satellites in grade 2 titanium with black PVD coating
- orbital cross in grade 2 titanium

CONTROL BOARD
- titanium grade 5
- 15 minute dial and seconds dial
- 43 hour power reserve indicator
- fine-tuning screw: adjustment +/- 30 seconds per day




And the future? Well, we will have to wait and see, though one thing is for sure;whatever else URWERK has in store for us next year, it is unlikely to be boring. This is a company where thinking 'out of the box' is just standard operating procedure and the impossible simply means you trying again a little harder.

If URWERK could come up with a watch like the 103.03 while developing, constructing and managing a project like the Opus V, what might they come up with in a 'quiet' year ? How long now to BaselWorld 2006 ?


And that should have been the end of this trilogy; however . . .


Click here to continue to Part Four - URWERK 103.03 - A User Review

or

here to return to Part One - Background

or

here to return to Part Two - The Opus V



Ian Skellern - May 2005

We welcome comments, suggestions, and corrections to this article.

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* Images of the 103, 103.03 and 103.03 courtesy of URWERK.