I first heard of Urban Jürgensen in 2014 when the watch company’s Central Seconds (Ref. 1142 C CS RG) won the GPHG Men’s Watch Prize. At Baselworld earlier this year, I took a closer look at Urban Jürgensen’s watches and vowed I would devote more time in order to become better acquainted with this historical maison.
In recent months I have been reading a fascinating, tome-like account of the brand’s history, written by John M. R. Knudsen. Interestingly, the company has always enjoyed close ties between Copenhagen, the birthplace of its founder, Jürgen Jürgensen, and Le Locle, a place Jürgensen spent much time and where he met Jacques Fréderic Houriet.
Houriet, the Swiss watchmaker had worked for an impressive array of horological luminaries, including Abraham-Louis Perrelet, Pierre Le Roy, and Ferdinand Berthoud. His influence on the younger Danish watchmaker was described by Knudsen as “he most important connection entered into by Jürgen Jürgensen on his travels.”
Jürgensen went into partnership with his friend Isaac Larpent, a son of Bergen and fellow horologist, who moved to Copenhagen on the death of his parents. Larpent and Jürgensen crafted watches under their own names at the same workshop at Østergade 52, but also harbored dreams of making “factory-produced watches” in their home nation.
From 1773 until 1814, Larpent & Jürgensen produced more than 4,000 pocketwatches in their Copenhagen-based factory. However, it continued to enjoy close ties with Switzerland and, in particular, the canton of Neuchâtel.
Jürgen Jürgensen’s son, Urban Jürgensen, followed in his father’s footsteps and apprenticed under Abraham-Louis Breguet and John Arnold. Moreover, he married Jacques Fréderic Houriet’s daughter, Sophie Henriette, in 1801. According to Knudsen, “Urban Jürgensen became the most famous of all Danish watchmakers.” His name continues to grace fine timepieces to this day.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to try on the Urban Jürgensen Reference 1142L and I was immediately smitten. This wristwatch harnesses the most exquisite craftsmanship and upholds the fine watchmaking tradition of the company founded in 1773.
The guilloché dial consists of one piece of solid silver, adorned with various motifs executed by a rose-engine lathe and the deft use of hands.
The central area of the dial is decorated with a barleycorn motif, the small seconds display is adorned with basket-pattern guilloché, and the hour circle and railroad track encircling the dial employ stunning satiné circulaire.
What makes this especially impressive is that while some watch companies will engrave different dial panels and subsequently solder them into position, this is not the case with the Reference 1142L. Each motif is applied to the same piece of silver, which in turn means there is no room for error and absolute concentration is required at all times.
Every element of the dial composition exhibits a notable degree of decorum. The hand-crafted hour and minute hands are constructed from thermally blued steel. The hour hand features a stylish, click-mounted, diamond-polished eye formed of 18k gold. Not only is this detail very eye-catching, it also enhances ease of read-off.
Urban Jürgensen has imbued this dial with a majestic quality that is very appealing. Indeed, terms such as “statesmanlike” could be readily applied to the face of this fine exemplar of haute horlogerie.
The Urban Jürgensen Reference 1142L is offered in a choice of 18kt rose gold or platinum. Whilst the gold version proffers warmth, I am especially drawn to the unassuming character of the platinum version. Indeed, its restrained mien is especially congruent with the persona of this timepiece.
With a case diameter of 42 mm and height of 11.8 mm, the dimensions of the Reference 1142L make it relevant to the majority of would-be watch buyers. After it’s placed upon the wrist, the timepiece nuzzles the arm with exalted levels of wearer comfort. Indeed, the “teardrop” lugs appear to coax the semi-matte alligator leather strap into enveloping the wrist in agreeable union.
The sapphire crystal is domed, adopting a graceful, curving line. Urban Jürgensen has expertly employed arcing forms to comely effect. Not only do the lugs and sapphire crystal utilize sweeping detail, the complex caseband design also plays masterfully with sinuous lines. Continuing this theme, the bezel is convex, expertly playing with curves. Urban Jürgensen cleverly creates areas of light and shade, suffusing the watch with a high quotient of grandeur.
The crown is partially recessed within the caseband, according a degree of neatness, while remaining simple to adjust courtesy of the parallel lines that encircle its form. The brand’s logo graces the vertical face of the crown.
The Urban Jürgensen Caliber P4 is a hand-wound movement, visible through the flat sapphire crystal fitted to the caseback. Unlike the Central Seconds (Ref. 1142 C CS RG), which features a detent escapement, the Reference 1142L employs a simpler Swiss lever escapement.
However, using the word “simpler” when discussing an Urban Jürgensen timepiece sounds disrespectful, considering the skill and complexity exhibited here. The bridges are decorated with côtes de Genève rayonnantes with amazing anglage much in evidence. Each bevel is the skillful outcome of expertly applied hand tools.
The jewel sinks are highly polished, circumscribing the resplendent rubies framed on the bridges. The most appealing aspect of the movement design is, in my opinion, the balance bridge. It is achingly gorgeous and consists of two arms that span the screwed balance wheel. The balance bridge features beautiful interior and exterior angles. Furthermore, the large aperture above the balance bestows a superb view of the hairspring and circular-grained mainplate.
The movement features a hacking seconds facility and has a power reserve of 60 hours.
The world of horology is widely populated with names from the past. Some watches that bear these historical names are incredible creations that harness the finest craftsmanship and are shining beacons of horological brilliance. Regrettably, some of them also fail (in my opinion) to capture the savoir-faire of the artisan whose name is cynically displayed upon the dial.
I am pleased to report that Urban Jürgensen’s timepieces clearly fall into the former category, respecting the legacy of Jürgen Jürgensen and his exceptionally talented son, Urban.
Few watches inhabit the highest planes of horology where the air is thin. However, based on my encounter with recent examples of Urban Jürgensen, its watches clearly dwell in this rarefied world of excellence, near the summit of haute horlogerie.
Model: Urban Jürgensen Reference 1142L in Platinum
Movement: Manual winding movement; frequency = 21,600 vph (3 Hz); 25 jewels; power reserve = 60 hours; indications = hours, minutes, small seconds
Case: Platinum, diameter = 42 mm, height = 11.8 mm
Strap: Semi-matte black alligator leather strap with classic C-buckle in platinum
Price: CHF 34,500, excluding taxes (recommended retail price as of August 24, 2015)
Where I tried on the watch: Meeting with brand representative, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland