The Independent Vanguard: Pagani & Urwerk

The Huayra, the second supercar from the barely teenage Pagani Automobili, is a thing of wonder — good, old-fashioned, wide-eyed wonder. It’s not easy to out-do Ferrari, or even former employers Lamborghini, and arguably 59-year-old Horacio Pagani hasn’t tried to.

Maybe, and especially in the case of Ferrari, it’s because they don’t have to look back, so celebrated are their histories. Yet every part of every new Ferrari or Lamborghini celebrates that car’s ‘nowness’. There’s no slacking on the job, no time for wistfulness.

Not so the Huayra (the name, by the way, is derived from an Inca word meaning “God of the Wind”), which demands a close inspection before starting it up and driving it away more than almost any other supercar.

From the outside, although the form might be familiar, the details most certainly are not. The doors aren’t of the fashionable Lamborghini scissor design, where the leading edge slices the air directly ahead as it opens, nor the more contemporary dihedral doors pioneered by McLaren which sweep up and away from the occupant. Nope. The Huayra has good old-fashioned gullwing doors. Yup, like the Mercedes SL from the 1950s. Appropriately. They open up an interior our grandparents might have imagined the insides of flying cars would one day look as they meandered, enchanted from sight to sight at the New York and Chicago World Fairs or London’s Festival of Britain.

One part Norman Bel Geddes to two-parts Jules Verne — this is retro-futurism at its finest; every single switch, rotor, button or dial… totally unnecessarily machined from a solid billet of aluminium. And the car is all the more wonderful for it. If the insides of cars ever looked like this before, they did so only in the innocence of our childhood imaginations.

Back outside it’s the same story, the rear of the car is diaphanous where it can be, teasing with stolen glimpses of an ornately presented, six-litre, twin-turbo V12 engine (by Mercedes’ AMG division).

There’s Pagani’s signature square stack of four exhausts, and behind them the hydraulic mechanism for the car’s hyperactive aerodynamic panels. You can’t build a car inside out, like Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano did with buildings such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris and London’s Lloyds Building in the late-1970s, but you can lay it as bare as the law will allow. Inside and out then, Pagani wants you to peer in to his world. Like every wannabe outsider, he simultaneously appears to crave attention.

So what about the UR-110? It does, after all, share an apparent eagerness to expose the workings of what others might hide. Indeed, you can only tell the time by peering into the watch and not by just looking at it, an action that immediately creates an intimacy between the wearer and the watch.

There is, however, a much greater complexity to Urwerk’s co-founders’ — master watchmaker Felix Baumgartner and chief designer Martin Frei — transparency. Where the purpose of some other pieces might be that very transparency itself — the Pagani approach, showcasing the workings — the Urwerk reads more like a left-field approach to displaying the time, one that scores extra marks for baring its innards in a three-dimensional manner. The depth this creates is a feast for the eyes.

“We want people to question the value of what they have,” says Baumgartner. “We were the first to treat a platinum case with a black coating. The owner of the watch is then the only one to know that it is platinum, he does it by feeling the weight but nobody else can tell. Is it really important to show the world or is it something to keep private?

“This is the kind of concept Martin distils in Urwerk watches. Perception against reality. He likes the paradox: for example, you buy yourself a gold-coated watch, scratch it and you’ll unveil the real side of it… a piece that sees its value fade away while ageing… don’t you want a real steel watch?”

Fairly obvious then that Urwerk watches, like Paganis, are personal and expressive. Before the Huayra, Pagani made (and made his name with) the Zonda.

Zondas were/are good cars (officially superseded, Pagani can’t stop himself making them). If you follow Lewis Hamilton on his social channels, you’ll know that he, not too long ago, owned a one-off Zonda.

Hamilton’s car, unfortunately, met its end in November of 2015, but there are others. Countless others. Indeed, the Zonda taxonomy runs to pages of Wikipedia. Oh sure, there’s margin in it for Pagani, but there’s satisfaction about the endless tinkering and the absence of discipline in putting a formulated “offer” at the front of the store.

Urwerk watches work in much the same way with variants and limited runs and just the occasional major evolution. “We are craftsmen,” says Frei. “I cannot say I am an artist. We work with our hands, we build things, we build machines as perfectly as possible. We build things for people, we hope they understand and love what we do. We feel blessed to work — because it is work.”

Work? Craft? Art? Expression? Both Pagani and Urwerk are disruptors, although, as we’ve said Baumgartner has “horology in my blood. I was born the son and grandson of watchmakers.” Pagani was born to a family of bakers. His high-flying career at Lamborghini came to an end when he failed to persuade bosses that their company needed to invest in composite technology. Which meant buying something called an autoclave, a fancy word for a very fancy oven.

Baumgartner, originally in partnership with his brother before meeting Frei, also wanted to disrupt, only this time from within. “Time is on my side. We used to listen endlessly to The Rolling Stones when times were tough,” recalls Baumgartner.

“We were young, we believed in ourselves but professionals were looking suspiciously at our work. There were no outsiders in the haute horlogerie world. The rule was to make round watches with three hands and conventional complications. We needed to stand our ground, defend with passion our work and hope that someday time would be on our side.”

Baumgartner and Frei exercised this belief by creating new complications. As Baumgartner has stated again and again, “the classic complications have all been perfected”. Urwerk’s entire raison d’être since its inception is to revise the way time is displayed, to create new complications or functions, and — especially with one of its more recent endeavours of an electronic timing device in the EMC — to redefine how we maintain our watches.

So it has proved to be. Just three years older than Pagani, Urwerk gained manufacture status with the EMC, but the 110 — like the Huayra, only the company’s second product — remains the company’s UR-statement. Only superficially complex, it’s a beautiful, bamboozling, beguiling piece of kinetic mathematics. Far more subtle than the Pagani (its a lot quieter for starters), it’s nonetheless proof that life gets a lot more interesting when you steer away from the rest of the traffic.

As further evidence that Urwerk shares more than conceptual or spiritual attitudes with Pagani, note that the Urwerk 110 has “portholes” on the back, just to expose the gearing the way the Pagani’s transparent lid can be likened to a sapphire caseback. Coolest of all, the UR-110 features on the front a device to tell you when your timepiece needs lubrication. And it even calls it an “oil change”.

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