At Dubai Watch Week 2023 I caught up with the folks at Geneva-based Urwerk. One of the newer watches I saw from the innovative high-end luxury brand was the Urwerk UR-230 “Eagle.” The UR-230 collection began with its distinctive case shape as the Urwerk UR-210, which first came out in 2012 and was popular enough for Urwerk to produce in limited-edition variations. The UR-210 remains one of my favorite Urwerk watches of all time. Urwerk later came out with the Urwerk UR-220 “Falcon,” which introduced a slimmed-down version of the case profile, produced from a carbon composite material. With the UR-230 “Eagle,” Urwerk carries on its iterative design improvement process, while also making the watch more engaging and playful for the wearer.

Two primary features of the Urwerk UR-230 are the convertible latched cover on the dial of the watch and the new “air brake” system in the automatic movement. Urwerk has experimented with various latches, covers, and levers on watch models in the past. Sometimes these elements have functional value (such as helping to wind a watch) and other times they are merely cosmetic. In the UR-230 “Eagle,” the layered CPT carbon cover is designed to be in the lowered position most of the time and changes the look of the dial while also (in theory) protecting part of it. With the carbon lid down you can easily see most of the dial and read the time. When raised, you can see the rear complication indicators as well as enjoy a more expansive view of the movement. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend walking around with the fragile lid up waiting to be snagged on something.

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The case overall is large but wearable at 44.8mm wide, 18.4mm thick, and with a 53.5mm lug-to-lug distance. The case is water-resistant to 30 meters and is produced from a combination of black titanium metal and layered CTP carbon. The carbon elements have a beautiful, grained texture to them. We also see the interesting stepped textured rubber strap which helps enhance the overall grandeur and aesthetic of the UR-230’s wearing experience. The futuristic yet elegant case remains fun and visually compelling to wear on the wrist.

Inside the UR-230 is a new movement that builds upon a lot that Urwerk has created in the past. The mechanical movement is the caliber UR-7.30 automatic, and at first, it looks like a lot of other Urwerk movements out there. Time is told via a wandering satellite arm that “digitally” indicates the current hour while it drags across a minute indicator track. At first, nothing about this latest Urwerk movement seems to do anything unique. For the companion complications, Urwerk decided to again focus on safe and durable winding during high-impact activities. Automatic movements are more likely to break versus manually wound movements in extreme situations. Let me add that it is unclear if the rest of the UR-230 watch would be able to survive some of the scenarios that the movement is designed to withstand. The UR-7.30 movement has two systems designed to protect the watch and both of them require the user’s manual intervention. The basic performance of the UR-7.30 is that it operates at 4Hz and has about 48 hours of power reserve.

Is manually protecting your watch even practical? No, people would rather have automatic/passive protections for their machinery, but hidden safety features are no fun. To encourage interaction between the wearer and the watch, Urwerk likes to design complications to promote this type of engagement, increasing the pleasure users experience from wearing a little machine on their wrist. However, if you are the type of person who likes to look at your high-end watch but not fiddle with it much, I recommend something from Japan. The first of the safety complications is something that Urwerk has done before. One of the two circular switches on the rear of the UR-230 case allows you to disengage/lock the automatic rotor. Manual winding is still possible via the crown in this model. Disconnecting the rotor protects the rest of the movement should the rotor move at a dangerous rate when subjected to high g-forces. Again, the user would need to first anticipate such danger and then set the watch to manual versus automatic winding mode. In addition to the switch, an indicator on the dial lets you know the winding setting for the UR-7.30 movement.

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The air brake complication requires a bit more explanation. It begins with a variable switch that allows users to change the rate of airflow around the automatic rotor. Turbines in the movement act like a valve allowing more or less air to enter the chamber that houses the spinning rotor. When air is restricted from moving from one area to another, the automatic rotor moves more slowly. The system adjustment changes the friction of the gears so the mechanical system changes how fast the gears inside the watch move. An automatic rotor buffered by a cushion of air will resist shock and extreme movements. So if you don’t want to turn off the rotor entirely, you can restrict its movement so that it still automatically winds the mainspring, but not as freely as if there was no air restriction.

A similar concept is used in most minute repeater watch movements that use a governor. This spinning system uses airflow to slow down the operation of a minute repeater’s chiming performance so that it sounds better to our ears. Airflow governors are currently and have historically been used in a variety of engines and machines. This application of the concept to an automatic rotor is novel and interesting. It certainly encourages a lot of play and interaction between watch movement and the wearer. Is it practical or useful? Will this system help protect you from damaging an otherwise fragile high-end luxury mechanical watch? I’m not sure, and if I was knowingly engaging in activities that could damage a mechanical watch, I certainly wouldn’t opt to wear something as expensive as an Urwerk. Nevertheless, one feels compelled to appreciate and respect the type of innovation that Martin and Felix of Urwerk apply to their horological creations. The price for the limited edition of 35 pieces Urwerk UR-230 “Eagle” watch is 180,000 Swiss Francs. Learn more at the Urwerk website.

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