Urwerk Introduces the UR-111C Two-Tone

Matte black and brushed steel.

Two years ago, Urwerk unveiled the UR-111C, inspired by the UR-CC1 King Cobra of 2009, which was itself based on an experimental watch built by watchmaker Louis Cottier and jeweller Gilbert Albert for Patek Philippe in 1959.

Displaying the time in a linear fashion, the UR-111C marked a departure from the wandering-hour satellite indication that has become the hallmark of Urwerk’s aggressively futuristic watches.

Having already presented four variants of the watch in various finishes, as well as an engraved unique piece, the brand has now unveiled the UR-111C Two-Tone, featuring a case that combines a black coating with brushed and polished steel.

The central portion of the case is executed in brushed steel, flanked by black-coated ends that close off the tube-like central portion. The use of different finishes accentuates the architecture of the case, drawing attention to its centre, which contains the key functions, including the time display and roller-style crown.

Cosmetics aside, the UR-111C Two-Tone is otherwise identical to the earlier versions. At 42 mm by 46 mm and 15 mm high at its thickest point, it is by no means a small watch but the curvature of the case ensures it sits flat and comfortably on the wrist.

Despite its complex design, time is presented in a fairly straightforward manner with three rounded sapphire windows located at the front edge of the case to facilitate better readability while driving.

The jumping hours and progressive minutes are displayed on rotating drums on the left and right respectively while the retrograde minutes is displayed in the central window via retrograde linear indication.

The numerals on the retrograde track are set at a 30° diagonal slant. Behind which is a cylindrical drum, marked with a yellow line, that makes one revolution per hour, thereby indicating the minutes as the line progresses upwards along the minute track.

At the top of the hour, the drum makes an instantaneous jump, bringing the marker back to zero. This is achieved with the use of a coiled spring inside the drum that charges as the drum rotates and progresses towards the top of the hour, before releasing to return the drum back to zero. At the same time, the hours to the left jumps forward.

The digital seconds are displayed at the top of the case with two skeletonised wheels, each carrying alternating five-second numerals pass  a circular window which projects the numbers towards the sapphire crystal aperture via optical fibers.

And lastly, instead of a conventional crown, the watch incorporates a roller in the middle of the case for winding the mainspring, along with an extractable lever for setting the time – even while on the wrist.


Key facts and price

UR-111C Two Tone

Diameter: 42 mm
Length: 46 mm
Height: 15 mm
Material: Black PVD and brushed steel
Water resistance: 30m

Movement: UR-111C (base movement Zenith Elite)
Functions: Jumping hours, retrograde linear minutes and digital minutes, digital seconds
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4Hz)
Power reserve: 48 hours

Strap: Alligator with pin buckle

Limited edition: 25 pieces
Price: 130,000 Swiss francs


 

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Young Japanese Watchmaker Norifumi Seki Makes His Debut

The Sphere Moon Phase Pocket Watch.

Just 23 years old – he was born in 1997 – Norifumi Seki graduated from watchmaking school last year, and recently completed his first timepiece, the Sphere Moon Phase Pocket Watch. Though inspired by the works of past watchmakers, Mr Seki’s creation is surprisingly novel in both aesthetics and construction, especially since it is essentially a school project.

Based in Tokyo, Mr Seki has trod a short path to create this impressive watch. After graduating from junior high school, which is for children aged 12 to 15 in Japan, his interest in mechanics and craftsmanship led him to fabricate simple objects, including a beautifully-made folding knife.

Inspiration

In 2016, Mr Seki met Masahiro Kikuno – arguably Japan’s most interesting contemporary watchmaker – who inspired him to manufacture a watch by hand. And so at age 18, Mr Seki entered Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry, a school in Tokyo’s Shibuya district that also teaches watchmaking and shoemaking.

During his final year in school, Mr Seki started on his own watch. It’s a large pocket watch with a regulator-style time display, oversized date and month indicators, along with an extra-large spherical moon phase.

Spherical moon and drum calendar

Made entirely of titanium, the moon phase is 20 mm in diameter and set via a recessed pusher in the case band. A third of the sphere is heat-blued titanium, while the other is coated in gold.

Show in two large windows, each containing two drums for the digits, the calendar is a simple one, with the month in the left window and date on the right; both can be set via the crown. Because the calendar display relies on drums, rather than discs, it is driven by gears perpendicular to the plane of the movement.

Building the movement

The movement is a mix of parts from tried-and-test calibres, as well as components made from scratch. Amongst the parts Mr Seki made are the base plate, bridges, and mechanisms for the calendar and moon phase.

Most of going train, from mainspring to fourth wheel, are taken from the Valjoux 7750, long a favourite base movement for complications because of its robust and reliable energy delivery.

But because Mr Seki wanted the movement to operate at 3 Hz, instead of the 4 Hz of the 7750, the escapement comes from the Peseux 7040, a no-nonsense hand-wound movement from the 1960s.

He then produced his four-armed balance wheel and paired it with a hairspring from the 7750. As a result, the balance bridge still retains the Etachron regulator index of the 7750.

The movement is gilded in 18k yellow gold, and finished with perlage and Cotes de Geneve. Both the balance bridge and escape wheel cock are hand engraved by a former classmate of Mr Seki’s at Hiko Mizuno College.

A student’s budget

Mr Seki also produced most of the external components of the watch. Despite limitations in equipment and budget because he was still a student, Mr Seki managed to fabricate parts of impressive quality and design.

Though it appears to be engine turned, the dial was actually engraved on a lathe, as Mr Seki did not have access to a rose engine. But the dial colour was achieved the traditional way, having been silver plated using diluted sulphuric acid.

The hands were also made from scratch, made of a combination of heat-blued steel and gilded brass.

Similarly, the case, crown and bow are made of brass and then plated in gold.

According to Mr Seki, the calendar mechanism is still “unstable” in both its nightly changeover and during manual adjustment, so the that aspect of the movement still needs refinement.

He has not decided what to do with the pocket watch yet, but he plans to test it over a year, and then decided if he will produce additional examples to sell. You can follow him on Instagram at @aysopos_jal.


Correction March 4, 2020: The balance wheel has a smooth rim, and does not have adjustable weights as stated in an earlier version of the article.

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Up Close: Grand Seiko Elegance Collection ‘Thin Dress’ SBGK007

Minimalist, retro value.

Grand Seiko’s newest design style – the “Thin Dress” – combines a slightly retro case and dial with the signature hallmarks of the brand like diamond-cut hour markers, while being original in that is not obviously based on a vintage Grand Seiko model.

Launched in early 2019 as part of the Elegance Collection, first with quartz and then mechanical models, the new design is used for the flagship Spring Drive SBGZ001 and SBGZ003 – magnificently-crafted watches that unfortunately start at US$57,000.

Fortunately, the line-up is diverse enough that it includes an entry-level, mechanical model with a robust price-to-performance ratio, the Elegance Collection “Thin Dress” SBGK007.

The SBGK007 is a compact, hand-wound wristwatch with a fairly minimalist design along with a handful of retro elements – in short, it is handsome and slightly vintage in feel.

And the SBGK007, along with the rest of the Elegance Collection, was designed after Grand Seiko was spun off from Seiko to create an independent brand. As a result, the watch was designed from the ground up as a Grand Seiko, and perhaps for that reason the dial feels more visually balanced than earlier models that had “Seiko” removed from the dial.

Elegant retro

The SBGK007 is a compact watch, but sized very well, neither too big nor too small, measuring 39 mm in diameter and 11.6 mm high. Because of the case style and construction, it feels thinner than it measures, while also having a strong vintage vibe in its clean, fuss-free design.

The retro vibe extends to the folding clasp, which is modelled on the vintage Grand Seiko buckle of the 1960s

The elements that create the retro feel are the short, flat lugs that curve downwards, as well as the domed crystal and dial.

Because the domed crystal and back are both relatively high, they accounts for a good part of the measured height of the case.

In contrast, the brushed, vertical flanks of the case band are relatively thin, while the underside of the case band is sloped and wide, giving the case a slim, graceful profile on the wrist.

The brothers Sallaz

As is typical of Grand Seiko, the case finish is excellent – precise, refined, and detailed.

Grand Seiko cases (along with cases for other high-end Seiko watches), are mirror polished with the Zaratsu technique. Though occasionally labelled as “blade polishing”, the name is actually derived from Gebrüder Sallaz, a Gretchen-based maker of lapping machines – Zaratsu is the Japanese pronunciation of Sallaz.

Now long defunct, the company made high-quality lapping machines – marked “Gebr. Sallaz” – that were imported into Japan by precision machining specialist Hayashi Seiki Seizo in the 1950s. The Japanese company later replicated the machines for itself, and was producing cases for Grand Seiko since the 1960s. Now, however, Grand Seiko relies on its own proprietary lapping machines to perform Zaratsu polishing.

The technique creates an exceptionally flat surface, which explains the unusually reflective, distortion-free planes of the case. In fact, the entire case, including the brushed surfaces, is first mirror polished to create a flat surface, and then a brushed finish is applied where necessary.

The result is a case that has relatively simple lines, but one that is especially refined in appearance, with notably precise edges when examined up close.

Pale champagne

Like the case, the dial is an example of excellent quality, right down to the smallest details.

In terms of design, the dial has the minimum of markings – only the logo at 12 o’clock – which sets it apart from most Grand Seiko dials that tend to have several lines of text. And the seconds at nine and power reserve at three give the dial horizontal equilibrium, with both displays being done in a fairly minimalist manner so the dial remains uncluttered.

The SBGK007 has a dial that Seiko describes as silver, but is actually a pale champagne with a radial, brushed finish; it’s restrained and discreet. At a distance, the subtle colour is not visible, but at arm’s length the tone is appealing and suits the vintage-inspired style well.

Though simple in design, every element of the dial is sharply executed, including the printed markings and more obviously, the hands and hour markers.

The power reserve scale appears sharp, even up close

While the printed markings on the dial are impressively executed, even when magnified substantially, it is the hands and hour markers that are most impressive. Each hour marker, save for the double marker at 12 o’clock, has eight facets. And even the tiny hand for the subsidiary seconds has a bevelled cap on its axis.

They are facetted with a diamond-tipped tool, resulting in sharply-defined, mirror-finished planes that catch the light easily. Because of the highly reflective markers and hands, legibility is excellent, even in relative low light.

In pitch darkness, however, the time is illegible as there is no luminous paint on the dial. That is a good thing though, because this particular retro style would not accommodate luminous markings well.

Note the precise shape and finish of the hour marker and seconds hand

The 9S63

The movement inside is from the 9S6X family of movements, which include both automatic and hand-wind calibres, all sharing the same basic specs of a three-day power reserve and 3 Hz balance.

Though barely visible through the back, the 9S63 boasts a couple of notable technical features. Amongst the most important are the escape wheel and pallet lever produced via a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technique. Specifically, they are made of a nickel-phosphorus alloy produced via deposition, which gradually builds up tiny layers of metal to form the desired part.

Because of the nature of the MEMS technique, the components are especially intricate and precise. Consequently, both the escape wheel and pallet lever are skeletonised, reducing their weights by 5% and 25% respectively, improving the energy efficiency of the movement. At the same time, the escape wheel has tiny scoops integrated into its teeth, which improve the retention of lubricants and, in theory, result in longer service intervals.

The nickel-phosphorus escapement produced via MEMS – the pallet lever (left) and escape wheel. Photo – Grand Seiko

The Grand Seiko lion emblem is frosted onto the underside of the sapphire crystal so it’s apparent but does not obstruct the movement

Technology aside, the movement is quintessential Grand Seiko in terms of aesthetics and finish. In contrast to Swiss watchmakers, Grand Seiko movements emphasise functionality and robustness, rather than elaborate styling.

The view from the back is essentially a three-quarter plate and balance cock, with a neat, linear appearance thanks to the lettering that is parallel to the stripes on the plate.

All of the visible decoration is done by machine and as a result, is pronounced and precise. The striping on the plate and balance cock is deep and almost embossed in appearance.

The deeply etched stripes

The barrel ratchet wheel

Given Grand Seiko’s approach to movements, the hidden, functional finishing is where the movement shines. Most of the pivots for the wheels, for instance, are polished by hand, much in the same manner as movements that qualify for the Poincon de Geneve, or Geneva Seal. That includes the pivot for the escape wheel, one of the smallest such parts in a movement.

The practical-minded approach to movement finish is gradually evolving, however, and inching closer to Western perspectives on decoration. Already the top-of-the-line Grand Seiko and Credor watches produced at the Micro Artist Studio and finished to a standard comparable to the very best of Swiss watchmaking. And insiders hint that some watches Grand Seiko will launch later in 2020 will be equipped with new movements designed and decorated in a more elaborate manner.

Concluding thoughts

The SBGK007 wears well and looks good. Though simple, the design of the SBGK007 has enough distinct elements that the watch is easily recognisable as a Grand Seiko.

The pale dial might be a bit too washed out for someone who prefers dark colours; fortunately offers the SBGK005 and SBGK009, with blue and grey dials respectively, that are otherwise identical and priced nearly the same.

Priced at US$6,900, the SBGK007 is, like most Grand Seiko watches, strong value for money. The quality of the dial and case and notably good, especially for in its price segment.


Key facts

Grand Seiko Elegance Collection Thin Dress
Ref. SBGK007

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 11.6 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: Splash resistant

Movement: 9S63
Features: Hours, minutes, second, and power reserve indicator
Winding: Hand wound
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Alligator with folding clasp

Availability: At Grand Seiko boutiques and retailers
Price: US$6,900, or ¥750,000 (prices exclude taxes)

For more, visit Grand-seiko.com.


Correction March 16, 2020: Zaratsu polishing is now done with Grand Seiko’s proprietary machines, and not equipment made by Hayashi Seki Seizo, which produced Grand Seiko cases in the past. 

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