10 minutes with Urwerk’s chief designer and co-founder

Martin Frei talks time, space, and smartwatches with us
10 minutes with Urwerk’s chief designer and co-founder

We stole a few moments with Martin Frei, co-founder and chief designer of Urwerk to talk about the design of time. 

Design is a science

"I studied art, but was often confronted with machines growing up as my father’s an engineer and physicist. I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty of scientific machines, how scientists design them in order to conduct experiments, and that in turn influenced my way of designing things."

10 minutes with Urwerk’s chief designer and co-founder

The number one rule of design

"To me, form has to follow function. Technical solutions have their own beauty and I try to stay as true to that as possible. You can also turn that maxim around into function follows form, but the other law is more important."

A hands-on approach provides the connection

"I wanted to be a sculptor originally and did a lot of wood sculpting. But with design nowadays, there’s a lot of involvement from machines and computers. I don’t like the design process to be too computer-centric as you end up losing the contact and connection with the actual material.

I don’t want my design to be too refined coming out of the machines; I prefer to get my hands on prototypes and continue the process gradually instead of only laying my hands on the machine-made finished product at the end."


10 minutes with Urwerk’s chief designer and co-founder

The space of time

"The reason I work with watchmakers is because I’m interested in time as an artist. For a small object, the watch conveys a lot of ideas like status symbol amongst others.

It’s also a model of the universe, a representation of our position in the planetary system. My father worked at Princeton with the guys who built the lunar landing model and the astronauts told him that when in space, they could hide the earth behind their thumb, and with it all their problems that take place on it. The cosmos are fascinating and the watch - a philosophical machine that contains the concept of time - is a constant reminder of our relationship with space."

10 minutes with Urwerk’s chief designer and co-founder

Potential collaborators

"It’d probably be with an architect as a building is also a machine in a way with functions, and it’d be interesting to see how an architect would design a watch. That said, collaborations are probably more fruitful if you work together with someone from a different field, like a filmmaker like David Lynch. He’s an artist and has a good feel for architecture as well, it'd be an interesting partnership."

10 minutes with Urwerk’s chief designer and co-founder

The intelligence of smartwatches

"The idea of smartwatches is very interesting because you have to rethink what a watch can do, what belongs on that display and what makes sense to have easy access to. It becomes a sort of wrist machine as it does more than tell time now. It can be a compass, a heart rate moniter or any of the applications on your smartphone. Whatever it is, it cannot be an exact replica of your smartphone, but an individual expression in itself."