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Urwerk Encourages Obsessive Accuracy Tinkering With EMC Watch Movement

Urwerk Encourages Obsessive Accuracy Tinkering With EMC Watch Movement Watch Releases

Pretty soon, high-end Geneva-based watch maker Urwerk, will release a watch that includes their new EMC mechanical movement – a mechanism that will no doubt appear ironic and perhaps insane to those not acquainted with the passions that drive the mechanical watch industry. In short, the EMC blurs the lines between mechanical and quartz timing regulation in an amusingly obsessive way that points to the sheer limits of how much your average watch aficionado is willing to endure. Urwerk calls the EMC the first “mechanical smart watch movement,” so let’s find out what it is all about.

A little background info first so that you’ll understand all of this. Mechanical watches are “regulated” to be as accurate as possible. Depending on the movement, there are a few variables that involve playing with the hairspring in order to make the watch have the best “rate results.” The hard part is regulating the watch so that it is satisfactorily accurate not just sitting down on a table, but sitting upside down, with the crown up, etc…  The idea is to be usefully accurate while moving around on your wrist. When watches, for example, state “adjusted in five positions,” that is what they mean. That the watch movement was regulated to be relatively accurate in five, versus just one orientation. Some brands like Grand Seiko and I believe Patek Philippe adjust for six positions. Classy, I know.

Urwerk Encourages Obsessive Accuracy Tinkering With EMC Watch Movement Watch Releases

Regulating a watch is rather frustrating, because it involves tiny, precise changes to a movement by turning little screws or pushing tiny levers. Timing machines (often made by the brand Witschi) are used to offer real-time feedback on just how accurate the movement is by literally listening to the beat of the escapement. These however aren’t exactly portable. What Urwerk has done is create a sort of portable electronic timing machine that is permanently connected to a mechanical movement. This is combined with offering easy to access “fine adjustment” tools on the movement so that you can not only measure of the accuracy of the EMC movement in real-time, you can adjust it as well. This is cool, but also completely insane and perhaps beautifully obsessive. Last year Bulova released a watch that allows the user (versus watch maker) to finely adjust their watch with the Accutron Calibrator timepiece – but you needed to test the accuracy independently.

To accomplish all of this, Urwerk needed to create a timing device small enough and simple enough to fit inside of a watch. According to them, they still have no idea how it is going to look inside of a finished product. So how does this work? Well unlike a Witschi machine that traditionally “listens” to a movement, the Urwerk EMC uses a small digital camera (optical sensor) right over the balance wheel and escapement to visually measure the timing results. It measures three full seconds and then uses those results to come up with a plus or minus seconds per day reading, which is shown via a little gauge Urwerk has designed. This system also required the design of a new style of balance wheel.

Urwerk Encourages Obsessive Accuracy Tinkering With EMC Watch Movement Watch Releases

Urwerk Encourages Obsessive Accuracy Tinkering With EMC Watch Movement Watch Releases

The optical sensor is connected to a quartz regulator (of course) which serves as a reference time. The system only knows how accurate the 4Hz mechanical movement in the EMC is if there is a reference to compare the results with. The electronic oscillator is much more precise operating at 16,000,000 Hz (much faster than your normal quartz movement, but it can do that as it doesn’t need to operate all the time). This horsepower is there to tell you how accurate your comparatively snail-paced mechanical movement is. The true irony is that if the movement ran at 16,000,000 Hz, you’d never (ever) need to reset the time as it would be so accurate your distant ancestors would be able to rely on it. At 4 Hz you are lucky to be accurate to within 5 or so seconds a day.


Even though Urwerk’s EMC will offer the ability to constantly monitor and adjust the mechanical movement, it will never be as accurate as the reference system. Which makes me sort of want to have a watch that operates at 16,000,000 Hz! Even more amusing is the fact that the EMC will not have a battery for the electronics that it has. It will have a hand-cranked generator that directly charges a capacitor. So yea, when you want to check the rate results of your Urwerk watch you need to wind a crank that will no doubt look extremely elegant attached to the watch, or be an easy to loose separate accessory that will cost at least $1,000 (or much much more to replace).

Urwerk Encourages Obsessive Accuracy Tinkering With EMC Watch Movement Watch Releases

As we said, Urwerk has not yet released a watch that will include the EMC concept movement, nor will they tell us when that will happen. The issue is really that all of this tech needs fit inside of something you can actually wear. Though it is possible that rather than a wristwatch, the EMC movement will first find its way into a pocket watch similar to Urwerk’s UR-1001 Zeit Machine.

People so concerned with accuracy will likely be better off with a quartz watch (which are more accurate than mechanical watches). Part of the reason is that this intense system seems to be sort of a recipe for timing failure. Even the best watch makers can only regulate a watch to be just so accurate in a range of position. Even though the EMC will allow people to regularly check the accuracy of their watch, there is a distinct limit as to how accurate it can be. There is really no chance of getting anything better than a second or two per a day. Perfect accuracy just isn’t possible using this type of technology. Having said that, most people buying whatever timepiece ends up including the Urwerk EMC won’t mind. This is clearly insane horology and evidence of just how far Urwerk is willing to go to offer up something different. For all those well-funded mechanical watch lovers with accuracy OCD, your watch is coming soon.

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  • Lesthepom

    Urwerk are out there when it comes to watch design and prices but seeing this sort of behind the sense R&D some of it makes sense I find all the Urwerk watches and pocket watches fascinating and would love to own one or may be two.
    At what point would a mechanical watch become too accurate to be interesting and if you put all these sensors in a watch to make it so accurate when would it stop been seen as mechanical ,l unless the movement is in a sealed vacuum the forces working against it stoping it from been super accurate would take more senses than you would get in a watch case without a movement to keep it accurate
    May be I am missing the point but keep up the good work Urwerk it is all fascinating stuff and gives us watch nerds some thing to talk or argue about

  • Ulysses31

    Sounds just like a Spring Drive, except… less practical… and more expensive.  Beautiful machine though.

  • Ulysses31

    I should add that certain Spring Drive watches have been reported in practical use that deliver better than 0.2s/d accuracy.  So yeah, it is possible.  Just have to be smart about it.  Don’t need to hand crank it either.  I’m wondering if John Biggs will slam this as an affront to the mechanical watch making art too.

  • TimelyOne

    This is a very interesting concept. Just seeing an unfamiliar balance wheel is interesting. I can imagine a future quartz/mechanical hybrid system from them. This current iteration will appeal to very few collectors only. The setting process is too cumbersome. A quartz timepiece that is GPS synchronized will suffice for most folks in need of greater long term accuracy. This has been done before in a rudimentary, but elegant, way. I purchased my Accutron Spaceview in ’64 because I liked the hybrid concept. After almost fifty years it is still quite accurate.

  • Ryan B

    A few years ago I fixed my problems with the inaccuracies of mechanical movements one day by looking in the mirror and literally slapping myself in the face over and over. It kinda went like this:

    “life is too short” …. SLAP!,
     “why the f*ck am I worried about 5 seconds a day” …. SLAP!
    “this is so stupid, what do I have going on in my life where an extra few seconds a day is going to throw me off” …. SLAP!
    It was after that little epiphany that I realized it was pointless to be so concerned over the smallest of things. I really didn’t have a reason for accuracy on the rain man level, my life is somewhat simple and I’m normally 10 minutes early for everything anyway. If the new movie doesn’t start at exactly 7:00 I won’t be questioning if it’s me or the theater operator that is off, just let it go man, enjoy the watch, have fun adjusting it.

    I applaud Urwerk for their work and innovation, the EMC looks to be a very promising hybrid and would like to see it as a finished product in the future.

  • Kris C

    Awesome. Not for the practicality of it, but for the concept and willingness to reach in a direction like this. Just because you don’t need it doesn’t mean you want want it.

  • Ironman007

    If we are looking for a hybrid concept, Ventura has already found it years ago. What they have done is to combine the best of both worlds. Namely, the energy driving potential of the mechanical movement (the oscillating mass) and the accurate quartz movement. Their time pieces are digital watches without battery taking in energy from mechanical movements, which marries the mechanical and quartz technology giving a self contained product. Green and accurate. 
    Good work, Urwerks. But I think they need to focus. If their niche is in interesting time telling methods (rotating pistons), develop variations of that and stay along that style. EMC is dedicating too much time to ensure accuracy at the expense of design. It’s like using a quartz movement (computer/digital circuit) to ensure the mechanical movement runs fine. A ‘fiercer watch dog on a tamer watch dog’ is not Urwerk’s style.
    Nice idea though. Just remember not to lose your style, urwerks

    • Ulysses31

      Ironman007 It sounds like you’re describing an “auto-quartz”, which have been around for a long time.  The first such device was demonstrated by Seiko in 1986.

      • Ironman007

        Ulysses31 Ironman007 
        Possibly. What are your views on the EMC tuning concept ? To me, it’s a feedback system. The mechanical movement is ‘consulting’ the digital circuit to tell if it is deviating from accuracy. Isn’t that a watch dog on another ? The mechanical movement keeps time reasonably in pure mechanical movement. To my understanding, now the mechanical movement is relying on the digital circuit from time to time to keep time accurately. See the irony ?

        • Ulysses31

          Ironman007 Ulysses31 It is a watchdog, just like the tri-synchro-regulator is.  It’s an impressive system but I think it lacks finesse.  For example, it uses an optical sensor which is dumb, since in a closed off watch there would be no light available for the camera to work.  I guess there must be a light-source somewhere but that would drain power.  A Hall-Effect device would be much simpler to use as a sensor and wouldn’t require any light at all.  As a concept it is interesting but not suitable for practical use in a watch just yet.  More suited to being an ornament for now.

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