Not surprisingly, we watch nerds are humbled and awed every time a gifted watchmaker forges a new way to express their love for horology. One can think of virtually anything Abraham-Louis Breguet has done, of Greubel Forsey’s accretion of tourbillons, Aaron Becsei’s making of his own tools and, showing a new face of the brand, Urwerk producing its first fully in-house movement with its integrated Electro Mechanical Control. I have had the chance to spend a fair bit of time with this more recent chapter in forged horological greatness, and so this is our review of the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray in grey — and, to my eyes, tank-green.
The Visual Aesthetic Of The Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray
We’ll get to the electro-mechanical nitty-gritty in a moment, but even without knowing anything about that lot and just by looking at it, one can easily appreciate that the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray is a very different watch. The design-savvy will immediately gravitate toward the angular case and its many exceptional details — the chunky exterior is as much about Urwerk’s muscle-flexing as it is a showcase of co-founder Martin Frei’s design talent.
Every exterior component, including the screws, crown, crank, and the caps that cover the service ports have all been coated in grey ceramic that, to me, looks distinctly green. Urwerk doesn’t say much about the coating itself, just that it is normally used for military armor-plating. Because it’s ceramic, it is bound to be extremely hard and scratch-resistant, which should help preserve the beauty of the case for longer, even if no one would (or should) do extreme sports in the 30-meter water resistant EMC.
Then, a peek at the dial reveals Urwerk’s push to achieve Horological Intimidation Level 2.0, as they now have openworked the dial, stressing that this piece of ultra-high-end horology is, by all means, up there with the Richard Milles and other usual suspects — and not just in price. It was not until later that I realized this skeletonization was done to such extent that the watch, at some point around the balance wheel and escapement, is actually fully transparent.
Then, you have all the different texts and gauges and digits — all aptly separated for easy reading and, yet, neatly coordinated in their details. And if all this weren’t enough, there is a massive crown sticking out of the case at the 6 o’clock position and — watch this — an actual crank is fixed onto the right case side. The fact that all this is wrapped in a military-grade ceramic coating really is just the icing on the cake.
Last, but certainly not least, a flip of the EMC Time Hunter X-Ray reveals its incredible caseback view with bright yellow plates and metallic gray components everywhere — all beautifully finished. There is more perceivable depth to this movement than there is to the Grand Canyon. No, really: There is so much tech in so many layers that, if you take a loupe and lift the EMC to your face, you’ll feel like Luke Skywalker as he was flying directly above the surface of the Death Star.
The case of the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray is largely crafted from titanium with some bits in steel. It measures 43mm-wide, 51mm-tall and 15.8mm- thick. Despite its largely titanium case and hollowed-out movement, the watch head is of substantial heft — I definitely wouldn’t want to wear a steel version for extended periods. As it is, daily wearability is in no way affected by the substantial weight, but it is on the far end of just right.
The leather-backed, weave-front strap is well made and a neat match to the military-grade exterior but requires a lot of wear before follows the shape of the wrist. The review unit had a black coated buckle, but I remember seeing matching green buckles from Urwerk, so this might just be a peculiarity of this particular piece. Similarly, given that this is a showpiece, the strap has suffered around the crown, as those who handled it before apparently felt inclined to force the strap back and against the crown.
Neither the crank nor the crown makes a difference in wearability; the watch sits comfortably flush against the wrist. The only issue is related to its thickness, but that affects every watch that’s over, say, 13mm-thick. You are advised to be rather more careful, not to bash the watch into door handles, lamp posts, or oncoming passersby.
The Tech Inside The Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray
And if there is a lot to be seen, then there’s even more to be known about the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray. First things first, to ease everyone’s mind, we shall say that at its core it is, indeed, a fully mechanical movement. The UR-EMC2 caliber depends on two vertically mounted, series-coupled mainspring barrels to attain its 80-hour power reserve in conjunction with its 4Hz operating frequency.
It is important to note that, while Urwerk watches, with their trademark satellite displays, depend on sourced base calibers from Zenith and, I believe, Girard-Perregaux, the EMC is the first movement conceived, developed, and manufactured by Urwerk. Sure, given that Urwerk knows how to create its properly incredible satellite displays, seconds disc displays, service indicators, winding turbines, and the rest, making its own movement for such a complex project seems to be the next natural step — they, unlike others, certainly had it in them.
This being Urwerk, though, its first fully proprietary movement is not a three-hand automatic with a date. What the heck, it’s not even round! It’s a blocky movement, with multiple tiers, the crown at 6 o’clock, a fine-tuning screw at the back, a movement precision indicator, oh, and a flippin’ crank sticking out of it. It’s every bit as nuts and as satisfying as even the most avid Urwerk collector could have hoped for.
The way the EMC system works is as follows: The specially designed movement is ticking away, unaware of its surroundings. The double mainsprings are wound, the proprietary ARCAP P40 linear balance wheel is oscillating, and all is well in the world. Should the owner of the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray wish to check the momentary accuracy and amplitude of the UR-EMC2 caliber, the first thing to do is to detach one end of the crank (i.e., the winding handle, as it’s also called) from the right side of the case and start vigorously winding the Electro Mechanical Control (EMC) unit.
A Maxon® generator with a manually wound supercapacitor takes the charge from vigorous winding and uses it to power the EMC system. The EMC system is composed of an integrated circuit board, a 16,000,000 Hertz (16MHz) reference oscillator, and an optical sensor. Then, at the press of the rubberized button set into the lower left-hand side of the case, the system is set into operation, with all its indications to be made on the yellow skeletonized subdial in the top left corner of the dial.
First, the EMC system hand-picks one of the two points set on the lower arch of this sub-dial: If the hand settles at the first point marked “P” and a small light flashes in red, that is the system telling you that it does not have sufficient energy to perform its measuring task and requires more winding. If the arrow settles on the second spot marked with “δ” (Delta), then all is well, and there is ample energy in the capacitor to proceed.
First, the accuracy of the movement is checked. Urwerk uses a flat balance wheel specially crafted from ARCAP P40. The balance wheel is not only non-magnetic and anti-corrosive, but its unusual shape has been scientifically calculated to be aerodynamic and minimize the effects of air friction in pursuit of optimal amplitude. This material and shape is also more easily picked up by the optical sensor. The optical sensor comprises a light source and a receiver on either side of the balance wheel. It takes three seconds for the sensor to gauge accuracy and a few more for the hand to indicate, on a scale of -15 to +15, just how accurate the movement currently is. This is done by comparing the data “seen” by the optical sensor with the perfectly accurate reference data provided by the 16 MHz reference oscillator.
Nerd alert: Each microsecond of difference between the balance wheel and the reference oscillator corresponds to a gain or loss of a second a day in the rate of the movement. Thus a variation of 0.0000014 seconds in each vibration translates into a gain or loss of one second a day.
Accuracy, as in any mechanical watch, depends on the temperature, the torque of the mainsprings (i.e., how wound they are), the position of the watch, and other factors.
Second, the amplitude is displayed. Amplitude is displayed in degrees, and it correlates with the distance the balance wheel travels through its oscillation. A low amplitude can be the result of the position of the watch, the torque of the mainsprings, aged lubricants in the movement, and some other factors.
This, needless to say, is as interactive as any high-end watch could ever get. I mean, you get to take out a winding handle and listen to the whirring of the supercapacitor, press a military-grade, rubberized button set into a tank-like case, hear the little hand travel buzz around its dedicated sub-dial, see a small light flash in red and green, and monitor how your very own watch performs in different positions, at different temperatures, at different stages of its power reserve, and so on. It’s fantastic fun, and the fact that such a highly refined and capable watch can do this takes “impressive” to a whole new level. Although Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive is capable of monitoring its own accuracy, it not only works in entirely different ways, but it also does not indicate any information to the wearer about its momentary accuracy — and amplitude wouldn’t even apply, as the Spring Drive movement relies not on an oscillating balance wheel but rather one that rotates in just one direction, hence it is a “rotor” and not a balance wheel. Oh, and one company is a small, self-made independent based in Zürich, and the other is a tech giant that owns Epson.
And if you feel like you are the next Felix Baumgartner in the making, you can fiddle with the accuracy of the watch itself. On the caseback, there is a small, exposed screw with “FINE TUNING” written above it. Note how it says: “fine tuning” and not “tuning for numpties.” By rotating this screw, you actually are swiveling an arm that is connected to the balance assembly to adjust the active length of the balance spring. Notably, the watch, as it sits, has already been finely tuned by Urwerk’s watchmakers so that it performs the best it can in all positions — performing any adjustments, by every chance, will only entail inferior rate results. Still, if you are feeling brave, you might of course go ahead, twist the screw and directly thereafter monitor the disastrous effects you’ve just caused on the timekeeping accuracy of your six-figure-priced watch.
As for the finishing of the UR-EMC2 caliber, and the exceptional quality of execution on its Côtes de Genève-striped, snailed, micro-bead-blasted, polished and beveled components, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Suffice it to say that technological complexity is combined with objectively beautiful and precisely detailed crafting all around.
How The Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray Fits Into The Ultra-High-End Watch Scene
When asked about this watch, I like to say that the perpetual calendar is my least favorite complication, simply because it’s the least interactive and the least interesting part of its operation. There is nothing you will want to do with it (setting it is a pain), and they are interesting about five times a year, at midnight, for a brief moment. I like to believe that interactivity is one of the most important validators of a big a watch purchase. I mean, sure, most luxury watch buyers will reasonably want to experience the big brands and their big watches first, before getting irrevocably bored with their regurgitative design tweaks, overproduction, and one-uppery limited to the fields of nuanced beveling on the edges of bridges and wheel spokes.
There are a great many people out there who are rich and fortunate enough to fatten their horological boredom to the point that they are pushed into the welcoming arms of hard-working brands directed by exceedingly gifted designers and watchmakers. I genuinely believe that, if Patek Philippe and its fellow culprits had made watches with a satellite display or with EMC, Urwerk and the handful other exceptional independents would not enjoy anything close to their current celebrated status. But big corporations in the watch industry (and any other industry) have traded most all of their agility and creativity for a one-way ticket down the rabbit hole of internal politics and an arthritic granddad’s willingness to take risks.
The funny thing is that, in my discussions with fellow hardcore (and softcore) watch enthusiasts, I learned that every one of them thought a watch such as the EMC could not be developed by large corporations. When I asked why, I learned that the assumption is that the biggest watch brands with the biggest financial capacity and gravitas “naturally cannot” attract and empower the necessary creative and horological brainpower to develop something like this. And why is it that a small brand that makes 120-150 watches in a year can? The whys would merit a separate article, that is for sure, and to keep things short I must stress that I’m chuffed to bits over the well-deserved success of Urwerk and its fellow independents. But the fact that it comes at the price of most big brands being decades behind in their creativity is a thought worth entertaining.
The Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray is a fantastic piece of ultra-modern watchmaking. It belongs among those mind-bending creations that have come to be as a result of incredibly talented watchmakers pushing through immense technological challenges and defying any and all limitations in search of an ever bolder expression of their dedication to their craft. Anyone, and I do mean absolutely anyone, who had the EMC credited to his or her name would get a free pass into the Watchmaking Hall of Fame. Price for the Urwerk EMC Time Hunter X-Ray is CHF 125,000, and you can learn more at urwerk.com — and if you are so fortunate to be able to consider an Urwerk EMC, check out Urwerk’s very own certified pre-owned program that they launched just recently.
>Model: EMC Time Hunter X-Ray
>Price: CHF 125,000
>Size: 43mm-wide, 51mm-tall and 15.8mm-thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Anytime I want to remember why I got to like watchmaking in the first place.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The guy that sees beyond and wants more than what old-school watchmaking has to offer.
>Best characteristic of watch: It is a totally new Urwerk in design, movement, and functionality. That says it all.
>Worst characteristic of watch: It’s bulky in a way that can at times look odd on the wrist.