The name Experiment ZR012 by C3H5N3O9 sounds like something from a bad science fiction movie. And while it’s not the product of a distant planet, it is a watch that is certainly otherworldly.
C3H5N3O9 is the molecular formula for nitroglycerine, the explosive result of combining two innocuous ingredients, and a metaphor for the collaboration between Urwerk founders Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, with Maximilian Büsser, of Geneva watch brand MB&F (Max Büsser and Friends). Urwerk is known for making ridiculously complicated, ridiculously expensive and wholly unorthodox watches like their UR-CC1 Black Cobra, which tracked time on a pair of rotating cylinders and sold for $288,000. MB&F’s sole purpose is to assemble collectives of such talented horological artisans to design and craft a radical and original masterpiece watch each year.
ZR012 began as a concept in 2008 when Baumgartner and Büsser met over lunch to discuss how they might apply the principles of the Wankel engine to a watch movement. Felix Wankel was a German engineer who, at the age of 17, set out to design an engine in which intake, compression, combustion and exhaust took place all in one rotation rather than four separate reciprocations of a piston, as in a normal engine. Though Wankel succeeded, his engine was never widely adopted, mostly limited to racing and experimental vehicle designs. It was, however, a perfect springboard for Baumgartner and Büsser to do something the watch world had never seen.
The hand-wound ZR012 sets itself apart by relying on two triangle-shaped plates that rotate eccentrically to indicate hours and minutes. They do not move around the dial in a perfect circle as on a conventional watch, but according to a complex system of curves using 180 different plotted points. The hour and minute hands move on Wankel-engine inspired polygon-shaped rotors that trace epitrochoid curves (rotations that move in imperfect circles—if you had a Spirograph as a kid they might look familiar).
The huge 55mm case of the ZR012 comprises 60 components made of zirconium (ZR is the symbol for Zalium, an aluminum-zirconium alloy, and 012 refers to the date). The lugs are made of titanium, and it is limited to 12 pieces at $122,000 each. Twelve more in red gold are planned for 2013.
Watch the ZR012 in action below.