Master watchmaker Felix Baumgartner is part of the duo behind the industrial and masculine timepieces from Urwerk. For Baumgartner, entering the world of watchmaking was only natural, having been born into a family whose livelihood revolved around the craft, and by extension, the restoration of clocks.
Urwerk cemented a spot in the industry with their atypical designs since the presentation of their first prototype at Baselworld in 1997, and has recently launched the UR-106 — their very first timepiece for the ladies. Monikered the Lotus, it retains Urwerk's classic design of exposed mechanisms, and houses a new signature style of hours and minutes markers in SuperLuminova. But what has been tweaked for femininity as Baumgartner revealed, is the slender face of the new creation — it's elegant curves sets it apart from the masculine timepieces that precede it.
In our interview with Baumgartner, his passion for the craft of watchmaking shone through regardless of the topic of conversation. We chatted about his past, Urwerk's present, and the luxury of time.
I've been doing this since I was five years old. it's not so much a question of when and if I will stop. It's my life.
You come from a family of watchmakers. It's very impressive that you've forged your own path in the same industry.
Yes, my grandfather was a watchmaker for IWC. Following that, he opened up his own shop selling watches from Omega and also IWC, and passed the shop on to my father after. My father got bored quickly, and sold the shop to restore old clocks. That's what he still does today; restoring clocks at home. It was his profession for a good 35 years, and now it's a hobby, although he still re-sells some pieces.
In what ways did your childhood inspire you to get into watchmaking?
It's the passion and fascination I had for the craft as a child. My father and his clocks left a very strong impression on me, and it's something that I still feel today.
Is it a calling of sorts? And can you imagine yourself doing anything else other than this?
I was and still am interested in architecture and psychology, so I would say watchmaking is not the only thing in my life. I am also personally fascinated by mechanics, which translates to creating new designs for clocks and watches. I think it all comes together quite nicely. As for it being a calling, I would say it's half and half. Some of it comes from within me, and some from my family. But I do have a brother in a different line — he deals with programming and softwares. I'll always say yes to watchmaking at the end of the day. I've been doing this since I was five years old so it's not so much a question of when and if I will stop. It's my life.
Tell us about the brand's beginnings. How did you meet your co-founder Martin Frei and come to launch Urwerk?
I wanted to create and make watches that were current and modern. Watches of today I would say. I was thinking of what I could do in the industry that hasn't already been done, and for that I needed help. Martin Frei is a friend of my cousin who's an artist, and that's how I met him. We had long discussions and great moments together that began 24 years ago, and we'd just discuss watchmaking of the future; what it could be. We then started sketching and creating ideas. Finally, we had a concept that we really wanted to go with and made a prototype followed by an exhibition at Baselworld for the first time in 1997.
Your watches are very masculine in design, and before the UR-106, they were all timepieces for men. Were there ladies purchasing those models?
Yes, and actually in Singapore and around the region, we do get ladies buying our men's watches. We've sold the UR-103 from time to time to the ladies, it's a very elegant piece.
How would you describe the man that wears an Urwerk watch?
He is someone who is open-minded. That's the most important thing. Also, someone who is attracted to mechanics, but also aesthetics. And also to architecture and art.
How has the difference in gender target for the UR-106 influenced the design of the watch?
Our main motivation, or motto, is contemporary watchmaking. I think we've achieved this well but awhile ago, we started talking about a more elegant timepiece. We wanted to push boundaries not only on the technical side, but to challenge ourselves and include a softer side as we felt it was the right time to do so.
How long has it been in the making? From the very beginning; the seed of the idea.
It began five years ago, but we fully concentrated on it for two and a half years. It's was difficult as on one hand, it has to be 100% an Urwerk watch, but at the same time, also sensitive and elegant. This was an interesting venture.
What do you hope to achieve with the Lotus? Are there more models for ladies coming up?
We're definitely focusing on the presentation of it right now. It's the beginning of a new model and we've not moved on to the next idea yet. For us, it's about completing our satellite family with a feminine and elegant side, which is challenging I must say.
What are your inspirations?
Everything in my life. Definitely my education and my parents, but everything plays a role. Apple for example, can play a certain role in my inspiration too. My ideas can come from anywhere.
Since time is luxury, how do you spend your free time?
I have a family and two children aged eight and nine, so you know where my time goes (laughs). But I also love to listen to music and read books. I like blues and jazz, but also electronica, techno and house. If it's well done, I'm in. I like to travel too, of course. I was in Berlin recently for five days and it's very impressive. You can really feel and see a young urban culture from the restaurants to the boutiques. It's an exciting place with great museums too. As for the side closer to the Meditarranean, I like Genoa. The port city is an impressive place with great food and the view is simply wonderful.