The Jürgensen dynasty
The following eight lots, 383 to 390, manufactured between the 19th and 21st centuries, pay tribute to the genius and inventive spirit of the celebrated Jürgensen dynasty.
Among the world's greatest watchmakers of the 18th and 19th centuries, members of the Jürgensen family, notably Urban and Jules, worked alongside other horological geniuses such as Houriet, Breguet and Arnold, and have greatly contributed to the development of watchmaking.
Continuing the tradition of this famous house, the brand Urban Jürgensen & Sønner was revitalized in 1981 and produces today small series of sophisticated wristwatches of the best quality, much coveted treasurers amongst collectors of fine rare timepieces.
The watchmaking family's roots stretch back to eighteenth century Denmark and a chance encounter in 1759 between 14-year old Jörgen Jörgensen and a noted Copenhagen watchmaker, Johan Jacob Lincke, who took the boy on as an apprentice. Jörgensen worked under Lincke for seven years before travelling to Germany and Switzerland to further hone his skills. In the Swiss town of Le Locle, the young Dane found employment in a clockmaking factory set up by Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, later to become Switzerland's leading chronometer maker with whom Jörgensen maintained a lifelong friendship.
Jörgensen returned to his native Copenhagen in 1773 and became Houriet's agent for Scandinavia. He also changed his name to Jürgen Jürgensen and went into business with Isaac Larpent and twelve years later was appointed watchmaker to the Danish court. Business flourished and over time Jürgensen introduced his first son, Urban, to watchmaking before sending him abroad at the age of 21 in 1797 to continue his training. The younger Jürgensen initially worked under his father's friend, Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, in Le Locle before travelling on to Geneva, Paris and London. During this time he worked with Abraham-Louis Breguet and also in the workshop of Ferdinand Berthoud and his nephew, as well as with British chronometer maker John Arnold. Urban returned to Denmark in 1801 after marrying Houriet's daughter Sophie Henriette and went into business. He also began to train his younger brother Frederik and made a name for himself as a maker of precision instruments, including chronometers, regulators and thermometers. The talented Dane won several prizes for inventions during this time and penned a work on horology, Principes Généraux de l'Exacte Mesure du temps par les Horloges. The book was subsequently translated into several languages and remains to this day a standard reference work. Like his father, Urban became a supplier of chronometers to the Danish court and the admiralty during this time.
Ill health, however, forced Urban to once again leave his native Denmark in 1807 and return to Le Locle where he felt the fresh air of the Jura mountains would help him recuperate. It was there that his second son, Jules Frederik, was born in 1808 before the family returned to Copenhagen the following year. Jürgen Jürgensen himself died in 1811, whereupon Urban's younger brother, Frederik, returned from Geneva to run the family business. From that point, Urban increasingly focused on marine and astronomical timepieces.
In time, Urban passed on his watchmaking skills to his sons Jules Frederik and Louis Urban, and, upon their father's death in 1830, the two brothers took over the company that became known as Urban Jürgensen & Sønner. While Louis Urban managed the company in Copenhagen, Jules Frederik moved to Switzerland and opened a factory in Le Locle in 1835, focusing on high-end watches. The factory also supplied the family business in Copenhagen with movements and watches. The following year, Jules Frederik married Anastasia Lavalette, daughter of Georges Antoine Lavalette, a member of a Geneva clockmaking family, thereby cementing the Danish watch company's ties with Switzerland.
During the 1860s and 1870s, Jules Frederik won several Gold Medals for his timepieces and, like his father and grandfather, became known for the beauty and precision of his marine chronometers, chronometers and astronomical pendulum clocks. His work as a horologist also earned him the honorary titles of Knight of the Legion d'Honneur and, in his native Denmark, Knight of the Order of Danebrog. Louis Urban died in 1867, followed ten years later by Jules Frederik.
The Jürgensen family, notably Louis Urban's brother Fritz, continued to be involved in the running of the business until 1886 when it passed to an employee, Heinrich Eduard Kiens. In 1911 Kiens' son Eberhard took over. During these and subsequent years the firm maintained the tradition of producing timepieces of the highest quality.
The company went through several more changes of ownership until 1981, when the current owner, Peter Baumberger, acquired Urban Jürgensen & Sønner. Baumberger, a trained watchmaker and passionate collector, is the congenial successor of Urban Jürgensen's spirit. In the 1970s, when the Swiss watch industry suffered the largest crisis in its history, Baumberger was among the few to believe in the future of the art of fine mechanical watchmaking and maintained it with passion and financial support.
Baumberger and his small team of skilled master watchmakers produce small series of traditionally made complicated timepieces at the privately-owned firm in Bienne, Switzerland. The company's maxim is quality instead of quantity and consequently sustainability and stability. The museum at Copenhagen's St. Kongensgade 85, one of the first horological museums of any watch manufacturer, pays tribute to the Jürgensen tradition.
Urban Jürgensen & Sønner, Copenhagen by Derek Pratt and Peter Baumberger in The Horological Journal, December 1990.
Frédéric Houriet. The Father of Swiss Chronometry by Jean-Claude Sabrier, p. 10 and pp. 163-165.
Christie's Important Watches and Wristwatches, Geneva, 18 November 1996, pp. 109 & 110.
Urban Jürgensen & Sønner. Urmagerfamilien Jürgensen i fire generationer og deres efterfölgere by John M.R. Knudsen.