Urban Jürgensen ‘The Alfred 40’
Carl Eady delves into the world of high horology and reviews the Urban Jürgensen ‘The Alfred 40’. This hand-wound, classically-styled watch pays tribute to the last watchmaker in the Jürgensen family.
Urban Jürgensen is widely regarded as Denmark’s greatest ever watchmaker. Born in 1776, Urban had watchmaking in his blood. His father, Jurgen Jürgensen, was an accomplished watchmaker who ultimately became Court Horologist to the Danish King ‘Fredrik VI’. His mother was the daughter of Le Locle based Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, for whom Jurgen worked as an employee.
Urban proved to be a first-class student and from an early age was able to absorb university lectures, going on to complete his studies, aged just 15. Under the guidance of his father, he travelled to Le Locle to work with his father’s friend, Houriet. From Switzerland, he travelled to France, where he spent a year apprenticed to two of the greatest watchmakers of their generation, Abraham-Louis Breguet and Ferdinand Berthoud. Keen to further his knowledge of marine chronometers, he then spent a further six months in London with the esteemed English watchmaker, John Arnold.
In 1809, Urban took over the reins of his father’s business (then known as Jules Jürgensen), subsequently changing its name to Urban Jürgensen in 1814, some three years after his father’s death. His achievements were considerable, particularly in the production of highly accurate marine and deck chronometers. An endorsement of his high standards and technical capabilities led to him being granted a Royal Appointment for supplying the Kings court with watches. He went on to supply the Danish Royal Navy with marine chronometers and in 1815 he was accepted into the Royal Danish Academy of Science.
The last watchmaking member of the Jürgensen family, ‘Jacques Alfred’, died in 1912, after which the company journeyed through various ownerships. Today Urban Jürgensen, under the stewardship of Søren Jenry Petersen, produces classically inspired timepieces, true to the Jürgensen family values, with exquisite movements featuring first-class finishing.
‘The Alfred’ was a stunning tribute to Jacques Alfred. Housed in 42mm stainless steel case, it was launched to much acclaim back in 2017. Exactly two years later, acknowledging the trend for smaller case sizes, the brand re-issued the model in a more inclusive 40mm stainless steel case, suitably called the Urban Jürgensen ‘The Alfred 40’.
When making the dial of the Urban Jürgensen ‘The Alfred 40’, the brand returned to a traditional, long-forgotten finishing technique. Known as Grenage, the process starts with a simple solid silver disc to which shallow recesses are engraved for the dial markings, including the Breguet style Arabic numerals. Dark lacquer is then used to fill these recesses. Excess lacquer is polished off using fine diamond paper before the silver dial is textured with layers of silvered powder, salts and oils. Once all layers have been applied using firm metal bristled brushes, an electrochemical reaction completes the time-consuming process.
When the dial dries it forms a stunning frosted finish. This serves as the perfect backdrop for the familiar Urban Jürgensen hands. Fashioned from stainless steel, the hands are miniature works of art with each pair taking over 50 hours to complete. Each of these parts is hand-crafted before being polished with increasingly fine grades of diamond paper. Once the paper polishing stage is complete, wood is used to create the final mirror polish finish. Only then can the hands be thermally blued to achieve the required rich navy hue. The hour hand sports oversized asymmetrical eye which narrows towards the arrow-shaped tip. The subtle curvature of the hands, as they reach towards the dial perimeter, is influenced by past masters and adds to the watch’s classical persona. A subdial displaying the seconds sits at the six o’clock position. Its outer ring has rail-track style markings, matching the outer minute markers.
Smaller watch cases have undoubtedly become en vogue in recent years; a trend clearly not lost on the Danish Maison. However, demand for the 42mm version remains undiminished, culminating in both models being offered.
The stepped three-piece stainless case measures 40mm in diameter, has a convex bezel and is hand polished to an exceptional standard. The standout feature of the case, however, is surely the teardrop-shaped lugs. Hand soldered to the case, their outer curves provide a sumptuous contrast to the perfectly flat edge of the leather strap.
The front crystal is domed and finished with an anti-reflective coating, whilst the caseback is fitted with a flat sapphire crystal, providing the owner with a splendid view of the P4 movement. A recessed fluted crown, adorned with the brand’s distinctive logo, adds to the elegant appearance of this model.
For the movement, the brand has returned to its ‘tried and tested’ in-house P4 calibre. The finishing proves sublime, courtesy of Geneva stripes which fan outwards from the balance in a spectacular radial sunburst pattern. Two prominent bridges along with an openworked balance bridge are embellished with exceptional manual chamfering. The openworked balance bridge is held steadfast with two thermally-blued screws, conferring excellent stability. Perlage adorns the manipulate, upholding fine watchmaking practise.
The brand name and movement credentials are engraved and gilded, adding to the luxurious appearance of the timepiece. Synthetic rubies and thermally-blued screws provide small electric splashes of colour.
Manually wound and utilising twin mainspring barrels, the P4 delivers a 3-day power reserve. Operating at 3Hz, the movement is adjusted to 5 positions, ensuring the slow mesmerising oscillations of the free-sprung balance keep excellent time.
The Urban Jürgensen ‘The Alfred 40’ is fitted with a sumptuous deep brown buffalo leather strap. finished with pale straw-coloured stitching. The brown tones provide an elegant contrast with the light metallic Grenage dial. Security and comfort are assured with the addition of a stainless-steel folding clasp which is inscribed with the Urban Jürgensen signature.
Whilst the design tends towards the minimalist, close inspection of the Urban Jürgensen ‘The Alfred 40’ is certainly warranted. Some of watchmaking’s finest craftsmanship is manifest on this beautifully crafted, classically styled watch. Indeed, the array of finishing techniques employed on this model have clearly been influenced by various master watchmakers from English, Swiss and, of course, Danish history.
Standout features such as the Grenage dial, teardrop lugs and spy-glass hour hand are complemented by the refined decoration of the P4 movement, culminating in a highly impressive, all-round first-class watch. Urban Jürgensen is clearly working tirelessly to uphold the traditions and values of its esteemed forefathers. These efforts are not lost on a growing army of fans and collectors, enticed by the merits of one of independent watchmaking’s finest brands.
- Model: Urban Jürgensen ‘The Alfred 40’ Special Edition
Case: Stainless steel; diameter 40 mm; domed sapphire crystal; water resistance 3ATM (30m); domed sapphire crystal to the front and exhibition caseback with flat sapphire crystal.
- Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds
- Movement: Urban Jürgensen P4 Hand-wound; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); 23 jewels; power reserve = 72 hours
- Bracelet: Brown calf leather strap paired with a steel pin buckle
- Strap: Brown Calfskin, Folding stainless steel clasp
- Price: 16,400 CHF excluding tax (RRP as at 10.7.2020)