Urban Jürgensen is one of watchmaking's most revered names. QP examines where the brand has been and its groundbreaking development of escapement technology in 2011.
The horological history of Urban Jürgensen begins with Jørgen Jørgensen (1748-1811) in Copenhagen. Jürgen Jürgensen, as Jørgensen later changed his name to, spent time between 1766 and 1772 in Le Locle with Jacques- Frédéric Houriet - a watchmaker that enjoyed one of the best reputations of his day. The two forged a lasting relationship and Jürgensen stayed and worked with Houriet from 1768 to 1775, after which he returned to Denmark and opened a shop, originally importing English, French and Swiss timepieces and acting as the official Scandinavian importer for the Courvoisier & Houriet company.
As was so often the way in the 18th century, son followed father, and Jürgen's son Urban (1776-1830), also became a watchmaker. And it was Urban and his son Jules, who were destined to become the most famous horologists of the family, thanks to reputations chiefly resting on the groundwork that Urban did as a theoretical watchmaker, as well as his success with marine chronometers and the odd pendulum clock. He founded his eponymous company in Denmark in 1811, where his main specialty was the manufacture of chronometers for astronomical and navigational use. He later became the royal clockmaker to the court of King Frederick VI of Denmark.
The Reference P8 is cased in platinum, pink or yellow gold and with hand engine-turned silver dial displaying hours, minutes and seconds and power reserve.
Watches from the early-19th century are valued by contemporary collectors and experts both for their sophistication and the balanced harmony of design. Little surprise then that Jürgensen's timepieces are highly prized among today's enthusiasts and specialists.
The modern era
Peter Baumberger, a trained watchmaker as well as a collector, was an active part of the Swiss vintage watch scene in the 1970s, a period in horological history marked, for the most part, by the march of the quartz watch. In 1975, Baumberger met Dr. Helmut Crott, previously owner of the eponymous auction house, which was Germany's premier address for vintage horology sales. In 1979, Baumberger - who had until then generally dealt in vintage timepieces - bought Urban Jürgensen and Crott became a shareholder.
Two years later, the brand was re-launched (if either of these general-usage words can be applied to the low-key, low-quantity business that Baumberger built), thus marking the modern incarnation of the small company, which was managed in a very 'under-the-radar' manner using exceptional craftsmen from the Jura region. Only 50 to 300 pieces were issued in a year, generally based on ébauches sourced from Frédéric Piguet.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, members of the Jürgensen family, notably Urban (inset) and Jules, worked alongside other horological geniuses such as Houriet, Breguet, Berthoud and Arnold.
Watches released under the Urban Jürgensen name have remained rare and sought-after for the past 30 years, without the need for marketing and publicity. The prospective owners of these pieces were of a certain ilk; they knew exactly what they were purchasing and they were interested in buying a timepiece clothed in traditional dress - exactly as the original Jürgensen family would have created it: traditionally sized round cases, guilloché dials, clear numeral fonts and blued Breguet-style hands remained the order of the day.
One of the independent craftsmen that Baumberger worked with was an Englishman, who performed a great deal of restoration work for Baumberger. Derek Pratt, who was born in 1938 and spent his formative years in London and Kent, lived in Switzerland from 1965. Some of Pratt's most acclaimed work was done in the name of the modern Urban Jürgensen company, in particular a tourbillon pocket watch that Christie's sold for SFr.315,000 in 2008. Pratt became both a consultant to, and the Technical Director for, Urban Jürgensen during Baumberger's time as the owner of the brand.
Before his untimely death in 2009, Pratt had completed an oval pocket watch outfitted with a flying tourbillon, remontoir, detent escapement, and temperature indication in addition to a power reserve indication. Crott describes this pocket watch as his, "homage to some of the most important watchmakers of all time like Breguet, Arnold and Helwig." Unsurprisingly, it took Pratt a full ten years to complete this masterpiece.
Urban's specialty was the manufacture of marine chronometers for astronomical and navigational use, such as this one dating from 1811.
The chronometer escapement
Another of the projects Pratt had begun before his death was the miniaturisation of the chronometer pivoted detent escapement for use in a wristwatch. To complete this project, Baumberger and Pratt enlisted the aid of two renowned independent watchmakers: Jean- François Mojon and Kari Voutilainen.
Before discussing the process, it is important to understand a little of why the chronometer escapement was such a breakthrough. Compared to the Swiss lever escapement most commonly in use today, the chronometer escapement is far more precise. One of the reasons for this is that the escape wheel provides direct impulse in just one direction. To compare, the Swiss lever escapement provides its impulse indirectly in both directions (entry and exit) through the pallet lever.
Another advantage is that the impulse planes - the pallets and teeth of the wheel - do not need oil, unlike the traditional Swiss lever escapement (unless made of silicon). Also, experts - including Mojon - relate that the entire design of the chronometer escapement is a simpler one than that of the Swiss lever escapement; and all the most creative watchmakers in the industry praise simplicity again and again as the way to achieve the optimal results.
Derek Pratt was a Master Watchmaker for Urban Jürgensen until 2009.
But of course, the chronometer escapement also has some drawbacks, which is the main reason that it has not been used in wristwatches until now. One of the biggest considerations was the thorough shockproofing of the escapement, since the pivoted detent is particularly known to 'gallop' or 'trip' when subjected to shock. This causes the rate to speed up by double. Additionally, the escapement does not begin running automatically and its traditional spring components have, up to now, been both difficult to manufacture and extremely sensitive. The chronometer escapement has also in the past been difficult to finely adjust and only satisfactorily done so by true experts - Mojon confirms that this escapement can be adjusted by any watchmaker.
Voutilainen, one of the most famous independent watchmakers of our time, got to know Baumberger in 1994 and began to work with him as an independent contractor. A year after Baumberger's unexpected 2010 passing, Voutilainen related how he loved Baumberger's human qualities alongside his incredible knowledge of vintage horology. At the official launch of Urban Jürgensen's P8 chronometer in March in Basel, Voutilainen explained that Baumberger - who was very strict in his expectation of mechanical aesthetics - had a dream to make both a new movement and a new escapement to honor the long history of Urban Jürgensen.
In 2005, Baumberger decided to realise his dream and thus became the first client of then-fledgling Chronode SA, founded by IWC's previous head of product development, Mojon. The gifted watchmaker and concepteur explained that he felt grateful to have had such a "privileged relationship" with Baumberger. Mojon and his team designed the new movement from scratch - according to work previously completed by Pratt - with the idea of improving rate, performance and stability. The result is Calibre UJS08, a large and aesthetically pleasing movement that contains a world premier: the first pivoted detent escapement made for a wristwatch. Urban Jürgensen has received a worldwide patent for it. Baumberger, unfortunately, did not live to see his dream finally become reality. The COSC and Chronofiable-certified movement resulting from the work of these four men is now available under the leadership of the surviving family and Crott, who, in addition to his role as adviser, is a major shareholder of the company. As well as the prototyping, Voutilainen is responsible for the assembly, finishing and regulating of Calibre P8.
In order to close the loop from the past to modern times in an elegant and meaningful manner, development of a new movement incorporating the chronometer escapement was undertaken.
Pivoted detent on the wrist
The result is a classically beautiful and wondrously aesthetic piece of watchmaking that only shows its incredible finesse when the wearer turns the piece over to reveal through the sapphire crystal caseback, the 32mm movement containing a free-sprung balance oscillating at 21,600 vph. A clue to the firepower located within is provided on the dial by the hacking second hand: while a Swiss lever escapement with a frequency of 21,600vph (3Hz) moves the second hand six times per second, the detent escapement moves the second hand just three times per second in defined, little deadbeat jumps. Close observation will reveal to a connoisseur in-the-know that this is no ordinary escapement.
The 42mm gold wristwatch, whose face comprises a silver dial that has been guillochéd by hand, includes the hacking seconds at 6 o'clock and a power reserve indication at 12 o'clock. For enthusiasts who love the look of this über-classic watch in platinum, rose gold, or yellow gold but don't have the necessary SFr.55,000 to spend, Urban Jürgensen does offer a version with a classic Swiss lever escapement for considerably less - for the time being, anyway.
The manually wound Calibre P8, which includes twin spring barrels for 88 hours of power reserve, has been designed as a base movement and, if all goes well, it will be able to accommodate up to 36 different variations in the future.
Further information: www.ujs-chronometry.ch