Baselworld 2018: Urwerk AMC Atomic Master Clock. Hands-on with the Watch that Pushes All Boundaries of Horology.

In a groundbreaking move from independent watchmaker Urwerk comes the new Urwerk AMC —Atomic Master Clock. This combination between an incredible Urwerk mechanical timepiece and an Atomic Master Clock 'Monolith' console, is like something coming out of a science fiction movie or an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Taking its inspiration by the concept behind the Breguet Pendule Sympathique Clocks, the new Urwerk AMC timepiece is as innovative as it gets and living proof that when it comes to 'haute horlogerie', there are no boundaries.

Three different unique pieces will be finalized and sold over the course of the next three years with the last piece to be sold at the end of 2020. Our guess is that the three pieces will be sold as application pieces due to their rarity and limitation, and to be quite honest, we really hope they sell these three pieces to true Urwerk collectors and not just some grey dealer looking to make a quick profit.

The Inspiration

In 1795, Abraham-Louis Breguet wrote an excited letter to his son, in which he described a new type of timekeeper: “I have great pleasure, my friend,” the letter read, “in telling you that I have made a very important invention, but about which you must be very discreet, even about the idea. I have invented a means of setting a watch to time, and regulating it, without anyone having to do it. Then every night on going to bed, you put the watch into the clock. In the morning, or one hour later, it will be exactly to time with the clock. It is not even necessary to open the watch.”

These new clocks, known as sympathique clocks, were made to work with specially designed watches. The clocks would act as master timekeepers, and control the rate and time-setting of the watches. The owner would place the watch in a special cradle set into the top of the clock, and at a certain hour, the clock would set the watch to the correct time, and adjust the rate of the watch to reduce its gain or loss to a minimum.

How Does an Atomic Clock Work

The idea of a master clock, which directly controls the accuracy and rate of a slave clock, is now built into the most basic fabrics of our lives as our cell phones, smart watches, and many radio-controlled wristwatches, rely on atomic master clocks, which directly control the time they display. However, the art of making a mechanical watch, which is controlled via a
mechanical linkage by a master clock, has been lost for many decades —until now.

Timekeeping in an atomic clock is based on the wavelength of energy emitted by certain types of atoms as they transition between energy states. The idea was first suggested by the British scientist, Lord Kelvin, as far back as 1879, but it was not until 1949 that the first atomic clock was successfully constructed, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in the United States. Today, there are a number of different types of atomic clocks, which use energy in the microwave or optical electromagnetic spectrum, and the second is no longer defined as a fraction of an hour —since 1967, the second has been defined as 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation emitted by a cesium atom as it transitions between two particular energy states.

The new Urwerk AMC relies on an Atomic Master Clock 'Monolith' console developed by Urwerk and made out of solid aluminum with a total weight of 25 kilograms —about 55 pounds. This console that looks more like a secret agent's special weapon case measures 45 cm x 30 cm x 18 cm —approx. 17" L x 12" W x7" D. This aluminum console —case—, features a dual oscillator-type atomic clock using ions of YIG —yttrium iron garnet— and rubidium, and has been engineered so as to allow it to be adaptable to any voltage, so that it can be used worldwide without any issues —special circuitry in the power supply ensures that fluctuations in voltage will not adversely affect the frequency stability of the clock.

A portable atomic clock must contend with factors ranging from temperature change to variations in power supply, and aging of the atomic timing package itself. Even with all of these potential disturbances, however, the Urwerk AMC atomic clock will keep nearly perfect time —guaranteed to within one second in 317 years.

About the Watch

For almost a decade, Urwerk has been engaged in the uphill task of pushing the limits of mechanical possibilities to make progress in precision timekeeping. After the breakthrough of the Urwerk EMC Electro Mechanical Control watch, the first to display its rate at the touch of a button, Urwerk has continued investing, testing, failing, recovering in its relentless progress.

The new Urwerk AMC watch, like the atomic clock, is a novel construction and is designed specifically for the AMC project. It includes typical Urwerk features such as the power reserve indicator and two stacked barrels for a power reserve of four days. The watch also has Urwerk's Oil Change Indicator, which shows when the movement should be serviced. One full rotation of
the oil change indicator will take more than four years, with a recommended service after three and a half years of operation.

While the time is indicated by the central hour and minute hands, the seconds are shown on a small aperture at 1 o'clock. At 10 o'clock one can find the oil change indicator with a scale from 0 to 3 years and then between 7 and 8 o'clock, there is a power reserve indicator.

The intricate design of the case shows many surprises. From the AMC engraving on the left low corner of the case to the massive winding crown, to the hobnail pattern on the caseband and finally the 'Eject' ridged release lever that is used to remove the watch from its strap or from the Atomic Master Clock 'Monolith'. As one can see, this is no conventional mechanical timepiece from whichever angle you look at it.

Then, on the left caseband next to the hobnail pattern detail, the atomic calibrations terminals are located with a pusher that is pressed by the AMC console to synchronize the time and another one that engages the jaw cam system that regulates the watch. On the right caseband, a screwed-on plaque bears the engraving 'Pièce Unique' to complete the uniqueness of this feat of horology.

How the Atomic Master Clock 'Monolith' Console Interacts with the Watch

After removing the watch from its strap setup, one sets the new AMC watch on the Atomic Master Clock. Then, the Automatic Master Clock will interact with the timepiece in three different ways: winding, regulating and synchronizing the watch.

Winding the Watch

After setting the watch in its cradle at night, the winding mechanism on the console engages with the crown. A safety system doesn't allow for the watch to be removed while winding. While the watch can still be wound via the crown by hand, it is much easier to keep it wound via the console.

Regulating the Watch

Then, the second form of interaction and perhaps the most challenging technically, involves regulating the rate of the watch. The rate of a watch is basically how quickly or slowly the balance beats, and ideally a watch would have a rate that is both perfectly in synchronicity with a time standard —such as a pendulum regulator clock, or an atomic clock or time signal— and which never varies. In practice, all timekeeping systems show some variation in rate, as no oscillator is perfectly stable.

The rate stability of a mechanical oscillator is inherently less than that of the oscillator in an atomic clock; with the Urwerk AMC watch, the brand has created a way for an atomic clock to automatically regulate a watch to an atomic time standard —ordinarily a mechanical watch being regulated, has to be manually regulated by a watchmaker.

The rate of a watch is controlled by the regulator. The regulator usually takes the form of a so-called index, which controls the effective length of the balance spring. If a watch is found by
the owner to be running too fast or too slow, the index can be moved to adjust the effective length of the balance spring, to essentially speed up or slow down the rate of the watch. In order for a master clock to regulate a watch automatically, a mechanism must be created that allows the atomic clock to sense the time in a mechanical watch, compare it to atomic time, and adjust the rate either faster or slower as necessary.

In Breguet’s sympathique clocks, the entire mechanism for adjusting the rate is actually inside the watch, and is triggered by an actuating rod extending from the clock into the watch, when the clock reads a specific time. In the AMC, the same principle is followed. At the time of rate adjustment, a pusher extends from the clock into the watch, which pushes on the foot of a lever with a pair of calipers pivoting on a common axis at the opposite end of the lever. The jaws of the caliper close around a cam in the shape of a half moon, which rotates on the shaft of the seconds hand.

If the time of the atomic clock and that of the watch are exactly synchronized, to the second, the jaws of the calipers fall on the outermost tips of the cam simultaneously. However, if the time is not exactly synchronized, one or the other of the jaws of the caliper will fall further than the other. This causes the cam to rotate as well.

Because of the shape of the cam, only one of the two caliper jaws will move. Each jaw has a tooth on its central pivot, which engages a toothed wheel with a spiral cutout, moving it either clockwise or counter clockwise. A peg at the end of the index lever rides in the spiral cutout. When the spiral turns, the peg shifts the index lever to speed up or slow down the rate of the watch. The wheel with the spiral cutout is held by a jumper spring against its teeth; each tooth represents an adjustment, plus or minus, of about 2 seconds a day.

Synchronization of the Time

The last operation involves synchronizing the AMC Watch to the time on the the atomic clock. In contrast to the very unusual mechanism for automatic rate adjustment, the mechanism for synchronizing seconds and minutes will be familiar to anyone who understands how the reset-to-zero mechanism for a chronograph works. The mechanism to set the minutes and seconds, like that for the rate adjustment, is activated by a pusher triggered by the atomic clock at a certain time.

The pusher moves a system of two levers, the last of which has hammers that fall on heart shaped cams. The heartpiece for the seconds display is on the seconds wheel of the movement, while rotation of the heartpiece for the minutes is transmitted to the minutes hand via an intermediary wheel. As in a conventional chronograph, the heartpieces rotate under the pressure of the hammers until they come to rest with the faces of the hammers at the lowest point of the cams, which corresponds to the zero position for both the seconds wheel and the minutes hand. The watch is now synchronized with the clock.

 This synchronization takes place thanks to the atomic clock that gets the information via a GPS antenna that gets connected by the user using the wrench supplied with the console. A small door labeled 'GPS Antenna' needs to be opened to then screw the antenna onto the special port.

The Movement

Turning the watch over reveals the intricacies of the mechanical movement beating at a frequency of 28,800 vph and which thanks to the stacked double mainspring barrels coupled in series, can provide a power reserve of up to four days. This 24-jewel manual wound movement is an absolute treat for the eyes.

On the Wrist & Pricing

On the wrist, the new Urwerk AMC is a treat to wear and we feel honored to have been able to peruse the watch during our time at Baselworld 2018. With stunning wrist presence and the unmistakable Urwerk look, this watch is out of this world, not to mention how crazy awesome is the Atomic Master Clock console monolith.

Estimated Sticker Price $3,000,0000 USD. For more info on Urwerk click here.