MARTIN FREI and FELIX BAUMGARTNER
WHO IS BEHIND THE BRAND URWERK
Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei are the driving force behind the brand Urwerk and the pair named the brand combining two words, Ur and werk.
Ur is for the ancient Sumerian city-state Ur, located in Mesopotamia. The origins of the sixty-second minute and sixty-minute hour can be traced all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia. Remnants of the Sumerian sexigesimal system have also survived in the form of spatial measurements such as 360 degrees in a circle and 12 inches in a foot. In addition, the Sumerians created writing—the cuneiform system, the wheel, the plow, levees and dams, art, literature, poetry and laws. Werk is from the German word, which means work, or to create.
Born in Schauffenhausen, Baumgartner had watchmaking in his blood. This northern Swiss city is best known as the home of IWC and it's where both his father and grandfather had worked as watchmakers.
His father also worked with Omega for a time and he regularly repaired antique clocks at home. It should come as no surprise then that young Baumgartner was cleaning and repairing clocks along side his father at a very early age, learning the skills to eventually become a watchmaker.
Long before the launch of Urwerk, young Baumgartner was already dreaming of new and innovative ways of presenting time in different and unique designs.
It was 1995 when Baumgartner’s cousin, a friend of Frei’s proposed that they get together. Thomas, a brother of Felix, also was talented watchmaker, as well, joined the meeting. Frei had been a student of architecture and design and was an artist. Later, Thomas stepped away from the group to pursue other interests.
For the next couple of years the two worked on the designs and complications of the first models that would launch Urwerk. Frei sketched and Baumgartner studied the technical mechanisms. Frei was located in Zurich and Baumgartner had already moved to Geneva, so there was a lot of back and forth to achieve the final designs and mechanisms for their launch watch.
Together, their idea was to blend the traditions of watchmaking with futuristic designs and this became the basis of UR-101, designed after Hans Solo’s Millennium Falcon in the movie Star Wars. This became the watch they launched for the brand in 1997, at Baselworld with the AHCI group of independent watchmakers.
It was Baumgartner’s father who suggested displaying time so it could be read while driving a car. They agreed that it was a good concept so they placed the time indicators on the edge of the watch and the crown was moved to the 12-position—this became the signature of Urwerk.
GLEN B BOWEN, COPYRIGHT 2017
Split between Geneva and Zurich, URWERK is a byword for creative efficiency and efficient creativity, thanks to the blend of rigorous Swiss German watchmaking culture and Swiss French traditional watchmaking culture.
URWERK has assembled a highly talented team armed with a host of skills: concept, design, sketches, 2D drawings, 3D modeling, technical plans, manufacturing, micro-engineering, machining, assembling, watchmaking, finishing and decoration, prototyping, testing and adaptation, sales, marketing and communication.
All the team is united with the common goal of horological excellence.
Baumgartner describes his passion for watchmaking this way, “Horology is in my blood. I am the son and the grandson of watchmakers. The first musical concert I remember was played by the more than 50 clocks tick-tocking in my father’s atelier in our home. I was a watchmaker by birth, but I also became a watchmaker through passion.”
URWERK CO-FOUNDER AND MASTER WATCHMAKER
1975 — Born in Schaffhausen (Switzerland) into a watchmaking family. As a child, Felix is surrounded by exceptional and complicated timepieces in his father's restoration atelier and this forms the base of his horological culture.
1992 — Enrolls in the prestigious Solothurn Watchmaking School in Switzerland.
1995 — On gaining his watchmaking diploma, Felix declines the ‘easy’ option of an association with his father and moves to Geneva to work as an independent watchmaker. Here he develops complicated watches including perpetual calendars and minute repeaters, as well as restoration commissions from prestigious brands. There is then a milestone meeting in Zurich with his brother Thomas (also a watchmaker) and Martin Frei, a talented artist and designer, which leads to some serious philosophizing on a new vision of time perception. They start to dream about creating their own timepieces.
1997 — Co-founds URWERK with one goal: to design and craft haute horlogerie timepieces that blend tradition with a futuristic vision.
Frei remarks, “After studying visual design and arts I came in contact with a wide variety of influences and cultures. When the world of horology opened its doors to me, I entered with my entire artistic luggage in tow. I did not find having an art background limiting; instead, my art opened new horizons in watch design. Technique, concept and aestheticism are, above all, acts of creation.”
URWERK FOUNDING PARTNER AND CHIEF DESIGNER
1966 — Born in Winterthur, Switzerland. Martin's father was an engineer making machines for basic research while his mother was his first art teacher.
1987 — Gained his Diploma in Graphic Design from the School of Visual Arts, Zurich.
1989 — Gained his Bachelor of Arts at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst (College of Art and Design) in Luzern, Switzerland where he was a student of Roman Signer, an internationally renowned Swiss artist.
1994 — Founded an Artist group called U.S.A - United Swiss Artists - in Lucerne with artist-friends. U.S.A. put on exhibitions, videos and performances.
1995 — Milestone meeting in Zurich with Felix Baumgartner and his brother Thomas, both gifted watchmakers, where they philosophized about a new vision of time perception. They start to dream about creating their own timepieces. They agree on the name URWERK and sketch the first UR-101.
1997 — Co-founds URWERK with one goal: to design and craft haute horlogerie timepieces blending tradition with a futuristic vision, totally eschewing market trends.
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