The man behind Geneva's craziest watch company
Felix Baumgartner, co-founder of Urwerk, tells EDGAR how even buying a cheeseburger can inspire one of his outlandish watches.August 21, 2016
Felix Baumgartner – not to be confused with the guy who skydived 39km from space to Earth – co-founded Urwerk with his brother Thomas Baumgartner and artist/designer Martin Frei in 1997.
Here he talks to EDGAR about the company that’s making the most unique watches out there.
One word springs to mind when looking at Urwerk’s watches: futuristic. Do you agree?
Yes, I was born in 1975 and the world of science fiction was important in the 1960s and 70s with lots of movies and TV shows around. That’s what we saw growing up and so it’s in our imagination I think. I also think our watches are very masculine. They are pure, honest, and straight.
Did you make mistakes when you started Urwerk?
Of course. We still make mistakes every day.
How hard was it to launch your company?
When we started there was no market, no demand and no interest for our type of watchmaking. We came up with these watches that looked like the Starship Enterprise but for the same price as a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar. It shocked the watch world. That shockwave created a whole movement.
Did your business grow quickly after that?
The reaction was amazing, but we had no success at all in the first seven or eight years. I mean it: zero commercial success. It took us time to find our audience. Now we make 150 watches per year. For us, it's not about volume or growth, it's about watchmaking.
Do you still enjoy the process of watchmaking?
I still enjoy using my skills. If I didn't enjoy it, I would stop. There are days I do it for one hour, other days I do more. I am 50 per cent watchmaker, 50 per cent entrepreneur.
What is the future for your brand?
Honestly, I don't know where we are going. It changes every day. Can you control life? No. We make plans for two or three years to come, but it always comes out different. If you could predict it, it wouldn't be interesting.
Do you see a new generation of watchmakers emerging?
For sure, I have met them. I am very optimistic about the future and I like to try and inspire young watchmakers. I have two children, aged eight and nine and they are becoming interested in watchmaking. I’d like them to go into this career.
What’s your verdict on smart watches?
I find them very interesting and exciting. What we create at Urwerk has cultural artistic value, but smart watches create something that has practical value. So I say to smart watches: welcome. After all, watchmaking is a family.
What sort of things inspire your designs?
I get inspired all the time, every day. Your shoes can inspire me. I can get inspired even by going to McDonald's. I might get an idea just by looking at the shape of a soap dispenser – seriously!