Precision in a mechanical timepiece is a fickle thing, with so many factors having greater or lesser influence. Temperature, position, barometric pressure, shocks, gravity, the state of wind of the mainspring and even the amount of movement the watch undergoes during the day has an effect on a mechanical watch’s accuracy.
So, even though a watch might leave the factory within the acceptable range of precision, the myriad of experiences, environments, bumps and changes in position it goes through during transit, while in the shop, and then when on and off the wrist of the wearer all have an impact.
And the owner of the watch has no way of accurately determining or regulating the precision, unless the watch is returned to a service center or a watchmaker.
Until the Urwerk EMC, that is.
In 2013, Urwerk introduced the EMC (for Electro Mechanical Control), the first watch movement that monitored its precision electronically and then allowed the wearer to adjust and regulate the movement to improve its precision.
In 2014, this movement appeared in a wristwatch for the first time, and this timepiece won a number of awards for its innovation and its style, including the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève “Mechanical exception” and “Innovation” prizes. “Simply by pressing a button you get accurate and reliable information on the timekeeping status of your EMC, hitherto only available from a professional,” says Felix Baumgartner, master-watchmaker and co-founder of Urwerk. “We have perfected the most reliable way of adjusting a 100% mechanical watch by making mechanics intelligent. Thanks to this system, you can safely interact with one of the most exhilarating mechanisms invented by man – the mechanical watch.”
The EMC came out of Urwerk’s U-Research Division, its experimental laboratory, a place where the mad scientists of Urwerk can create and think way, way outside of the box. Baumgartner is quick to point out that even though the results are innovative, it all boils down to the connection between watch and owner. “The interaction between a mechanical watch and its owner is a theme that has always inspired us,” he says. “Designing a reliable and precise mechanical timepiece is the foundation of our work. We wanted to extend our ambition by creating a precision timepiece with a system whereby the owner can accurately calculate the timing rate of the movement so that it can be finely adjusted to the owner’s lifestyle and habits.”
The original EMC introduced the electronic system, completely isolated from the mechanical movement, using an optical sensor, a 16,000,000-hertz electronic oscillator and an artificial intelligence module to calculate the difference between the timing rate of the movement and that of the reference oscillator. The electronics of the watch are powered by a manual-winding generator developed by the Swiss company Maxon, known for developing motors for NASA’s Mars Rovers.
“Our idea was to use optics or the properties of light to measure the rate of a mechanical movement to within less than a microsecond,” explains Olivier Evalet, the software developer and electronic engineer who worked on the EMC project. “The system we came up with was designed to be long lasting. The energy to power the brain of the EMC TimeHunter doesn’t come from an ordinary battery, but from a capacitor that can be recharged between 100,000 to 200,000 times with very little loss of its efficiency. We have also selected a resonator with an extremely long life that varies by just three parts in a million over a year.”
This year, Urwerk has introduced the EMC TimeHunter “X-Ray”, an evolution of the original EMC TimeHunter concept that adds an amplitude display and opens the watch, dial-side, so that the inner workings can be seen clearly. The EMC TimeHunter “X-Ray” marks the dawn of a new era; that of a fully mechanical watch enhanced by electronics, allowing the owner to gauge both the state of the movement (amplitude) and its chronometric performance (precision). This timepiece also enables the user to fine-tune the timing of the watch to better suit individual daily rhythm and pace of life.
“The new EMC allows you to obtain a reliable and accurate piece of data on your timepiece at the touch of a button – information that until now has been the preserve of professional watchmakers,” says Baumgartner. “Using this information, you can fine tune one of the most exciting, most jubilant mechanisms invented–the mechanical watch–all by yourself.” The EMC was developed with three objectives: to show how external factors (positional changes, temperature and pressure) influence the timing of the movement; to enable the wearer to adjust the timing and to facilitate interactivity between the timepiece and its owner.
Martin Frei, designer and co-founder of Urwerk, was responsible for bringing all of EMC’s technical elements together in a visually appealing and comfortably wearing wristwatch. “At Urwerk, the starting point of our creations is usually a sketch of the completed watch that embodies Felix’s and my ideas before the micro-mechanics are fully developed,” he says. “But with EMC, the technical features of the timepiece were already established and this made my task that little bit trickier. We miniaturized the EMC components to the extreme, and this allowed me some leeway in terms of design. My approach was one of pragmatism–from incorporating the folding crank into the case band to making the electrical energy storing capacitor part of the case. In terms of design, you can spot the influence of objects that are dear to me: the crank echoes that of old SLR cameras, and the design of the balance wheel is reminiscent of a vintage quarter-inch tape reel.”
The EMC TimeHunter “X-Ray” is only available in a limited edition of 15 pieces in a 43mm Grade 5 Titanium and Steel case. The dial features four displays: the time display; a rotating disk displaying seconds; the power reserve indicator; and, at the top left corner, the display of the two EMC electronic indications—timekeeping precision to +/- 15 seconds per day and the amplitude of the balance.
On the back, you can see the fully in-house movement with integrated circuit board (the EMC “brain”), the top of one of the two mainspring barrels near the crown and the top of the balance wheel and optical sensor on the winding handle side. The timing adjustment screw is here, and simply turning this screw allows the owner to make very fine adjustments to the balance rate regulator by changing the active length of the balance spring.
The EMC TimeHunter “X-Ray” is a revolution in watchmaking because it puts precision, one of the chief goals of watchmaking since its birth, in the hands of the people who are actually depending on it.
Material: Grade 5 titanium/steel or green ceramic-coated grade 5 titanium/steel
Dimensions: 43mm width, 51mm length, 15.8mm height
Crystal: Sapphire crystal
Water resistance: Pressure tested to 30m / 3ATM
Finishing: Satin finish; bead-blasted
Caliber: UR-EMC2 caliber conceived, developed and manufactured by Urwerk
Escapement: Swiss lever escapement
Balance wheel: In ARCAP P40, linear balance coupled to the optical sensor
Frequency: 4 Hz /28,800 vph
Balance spring: Flat
Energy source: Vertically mounted double mainspring barrels connected in series
Power reserve: 80 hours
Winding: Manual winding
Finishing: Côtes de Genève, snailing, micro-bead blasting, polished bevels on screw heads
Generator: Maxon® generator with manual winding charging super capacitor
EMC system: Optical sensor controlled by an integrated circuit board ;16,000,000 Hz reference oscillator
Indications: Hours, minutes, seconds; precision delta, amplitude, power reserve. Timing adjustment screw
Photographer: Sidney Teo
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