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December 22, 2009updated Aug 27, 2014

Felix Baumgartner

By Chris Boyle

Felix Baumgartner

Co-Founder Urwerk

The world of watchmaking was a natural choice for Felix Baumgartner, co-founder of independent watch brand Urwerk, who, as a small child, sat beside his father restoring antique clocks. Nowadays, he creates, along with partner Martin Frei, timepieces that are as innovative in design as they are in engineering. Recently, Elite Traveler;s Associate Editor had a talk with Baumgartner about his concept for Urwerk, the brand’s recent launch of a linear indication timepiece and his hopes for the company in the next few years.

ET: Tell us about your background?

Felix Baumgartner: I am the son and grandson of a watchmaker. I started at my father’s bench when I was eight cleaning the wheels and spirals of antique clocks he was restoring. At the time I considered it a game, but a serious one. I had my seat, my tissues, my tasks. Quite quickly I knew this would be my life. I graduated from Schaffhausen Watchmaking School and started to work as an independent.

ET: Tell us why you launched Urwerk and what the concept was behind it?

Felix Baumgartner: As I said I started to work as an independent watchmaker. But I had this desire that grew stronger and stronger in me to create a watch like no other. At this time, I met Martin Frei, an artist and the best friend of my cousin. We spent nights together drinking beers and talking about watches. One night on the 31st of December, we decided to go ahead with the idea. Martin started to sketch the very first UR101 and I started working on the mechanical movement.

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ET: So you and Martin Frei co-founded Urwerk. What are your different roles in the company?

Felix Baumgartner: We are totally complementary. He is the artist, the one who creates the special character of our watches. He has this special gift, this sensibility that makes an Urwerk so easily recognizable. Me, I am more on the technical side, trying to convert his crazy ideas into reality.

ET: What are some of your inspirations for the watches that you create?

Felix Baumgartner: Our very first inspiration was a night clock from the 18th century realized by the Campanus brothers. We are proud of our classic heritage; it gives us the basis to go ahead and foresee an innovative future.

ET: Tell us a little about the Opus 5 that you developed in conjunction with Harry Winston? Why did you decide to do a collaboration piece?

Felix Baumgartner: At the time, we were presenting the UR-103 at the Basel Fair. Someone from Harry Winston came to visit us at the AHCI booth and spread the word. We met Maximilian Büsser, who at that time was the director of the watch department at Harry Winston-Geneva. We had a great feeling about the project and started almost immediately to work on the Opus 5.

ET: You just came out with the new UR-CC1, which tells time in a linear fashion. Can you tell us about the process of bringing the concept of the watch to fruition?

Felix Baumgartner: Actually the linear indication by Urwerk is an old idea. The very first drawings of it were made in 1998 but back then we could not develop such a model as we had to dedicate all of our energy to our satellite indication. So the drawings landed on a shelf for almost ten years. In 2006, Martin revived this concept. I did some research on it and found out that an independent watchmaker named Louis Cottier had invented a watch named “Cobra” back in 1958 with a linear indication but did not have the chance to put it into production. We took up the challenge!

ET: SIHH is coming up in January. Are you coming out with any new pieces at that time and can you give us a little sneak preview of what you’ll be presenting in Geneva?

Felix Baumgartner: Well we always give nicknames to our creations. The latest one will be called “Challenger Deep,” if that’s any hint at all…

ET: 2009 was a tough year across the board for high-end watch brands. How do you think 2010 will turn out and what’s your strategy for coping with the current economic climate?

Felix Baumgartner: 2009 reminds me of the very beginning of Urwerk. Nothing was set, we had to fight and convince people of what we were doing. We are now back to the basics, which is not a bad thing. We are back to reality, so to speak, in the watch world.

ET: So when you aren’t working, do you have any other hobbies or things you like to do?

Felix Baumgartner: I am movie devourer with a preference for the French “Nouvelle Vague” genre.

ET: When you’re traveling for work or pleasure, where do you like to go and what are your favorite hotels to stay in?

Felix Baumgartner: I like to discover new places, and try not to stay twice in the same hotel. Recently, when I was in New York, I stayed at The Pierre. It was a great place.

ET: Where do you hope to see Uwerk in five years?

Felix Baumgartner: I hope that Urwerk will still be a good brand that people will trust. We don’t plan to increase in production but I hope we will still be able to surprise people with our creations.

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