Recently, we showed you Urban Jürgensen’s real entry-level watch, a steel version of the Big 8 (priced at €12k before taxes), still full of high-end details (crazy guilloche dial, superb hands, hand-finished case) but powered by an externally-sourced automatic movement. Now, if you want to enter into the beauty of exclusive calibres, there’s no need to go crazy expensive and to go gold anymore. Urban Jürgensen has a new watch, the Alfred, which features, inside its steel case, the Maison’s P4 movement. It’s much more accessible, but it is still superbly executed and it is sold online only.
One thing is sure with Urban Jürgensen: they know how to create really special watches. The independent watchmaker is known for creating extremely elegant and hand-finished watches, as we demonstrated to you by explaining in details how they spend so many hours to just manufacture hands, or by showing a watch that features a rare detent escapement. But who really is Urban Jürgensen? The brand Urban Jürgensen & Sønner (UJS) was founded in 1773 in Denmark, by Jürgen Jürgensen, a future renowned master watchmaker, who was appointed Court Horologist by King Fredrik VI. After travelling through Germany and Switzerland, Jürgen settled in Le Locle where he was employed by Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, later to become Switzerland’s leading chronometer maker and considered by many the founder of Swiss chronometry. His son, Urban Jürgensen (1776 – 1830) followed his path. He would later travel to Paris to study with Breguet and Berthoud, and on to London with Arnold.
Urban Jürgensen (left) – Louis Urban and Jules Frederik Jürgensen (right)
Urban’s own sons, Louis Urban and Jules Frederik, continued the family business. Louis Urban managed the company in Copenhagen and Jules Frederik moved to Switzerland and opened a factory in Le Locle to produce their watches. Once the brothers passed away, some members of the Jürgensen family continued to be involved in the company, until 1912, when the last Jürgensen (Jacques Alfred) passed away. The following years were difficult and far from stable, until 1979, when Peter Baumberger, a watchmaker and collector, started the acquisition of the Urban Jürgensen & Sonner, which was completed in 1985. The company started to create high-end wristwatches, with complicated movements, and in 2009, UJS patented an in-house calibre with a detent escapement. After Peter Baumberger passed away, Dr. Helmut Crott took over the company for a few years, and in 2014, UJS ownership returned to Danish hands, with Søren J. Petersen appointed President and CEO.
The Alfred by Urban Jürgensen
Up until now, the modern version of Urban Jürgensen was mainly focussing on high-end, complex watches. Perpetual calendars, exclusive movements, detent escapement on some of them (a rarity among the industry), gold or platinum cases, hand-guilloche dials, hand-crafted hands… Everything that implies quite a steep price. The entry-level watch of the company was (and still is) the steel Reference Big 8, a watch with guilloche dial and out-sourced Piguet movement. If you wanted to move into the exclusive calibres, you had to choose for the Ref. 1140, which meant around €26k. These times are over – or at least, an alternative has just been created: The Alfred by Urban Jürgensen. It is steel, it looks slightly more modern, it features the brand’s exclusive movement, it’s the most accessible watch to date with this calibre and it will be available only online.
Don’t forget what brand we’re talking about. Entry-level doesn’t mean concessions all around. The only concession that Urban Jürgensen did with this watch was in the materials. No gold or platinum case anymore. The Alfred is made of steel, but otherwise with the exact same specifications as all the other 1142 watches – meaning the 42mm diameter version. In that, it is equal to the Grenage dial versions we showed to you recently, with the same concave bezel, the same soldered and hand polished “tear-drop” lugs (which are a nightmare to create, as they are soldered to the case after being shaped and polished…), the same hand-made polishing process… but on steel.
The second difference comes from the dial, which again uses the “grenage” technique recently introduced by the brand. While previously seen with Roman numerals, UJS has opted here for the (superb) Breguet numerals and a rail-road track for the minutes. On The Alfred, the dial is “grené”, meaning that it has a slightly grained texture. But while most dials are mass-produced, here the execution is much more complex – it is highly time-consuming and requires some serious skills to be achieved properly.
“The grenage technique is a distinctively handmade process, done dial by dial. Each dial begins with a plate of solid fine silver, on which are created ultra-fine engravings for the numbers and markings. The recessed engravings are hand filled with lacquer, and after hardening, the lacquer is polished with diamond-paper, to leave its residue in the grooves. As you can see in our images, the logo, the numerals and the different tracks are indeed slightly recessed and they bring an interesting relief to the dial. The grenage layer is then built step by step as a mix of silver, salts and other ingredients are hand-brushed onto the individual dial. By electrochemical reaction, the surface emerges as a beautiful silvery/frosty surface with a unique granularity that no industrial process could achieve. The result is extremely fine, detailed and lively, with a handsome shine.”
The result is a discreet dial, with a warm off-white colour and a fine texture. Classical in its look, it remains more contemporary looking than a guilloche dial, in line with the group targeted by The Alfred – certainly younger and less mature collectors. As for the hands, we find the superb hand-manufactured hands, here in blued steel with a polished steel, ring-shaped insert on the hour hand. Again, these hands might just be hands… at first. Take a look at Xavier’s in-depth story about them, and you’ll see that they are not just hands.
Another aspect where The Alfred by Urban Jürgensen makes no concession is about mechanics. It is indeed the entry-level watch for the manufacture/in-house/exclusive movement of the brand. Inside the steel case is the proprietary P4 calibre, with manual winding. This large twin-barrel movement, manufactured by Jean-Francois Mojon of Chronode (exclusively for UJS), offers a 72 hours power reserve and runs at 21,600 vibrations per hour. As always with Urban Jürgensen the finishing and decoration are top notch, with Geneva stripes radiating from the balance wheel and perlage visible on the main-plate. The contours of the three bridges are highlighted with superb anglage. The full balance wheel bridge is openworked and features interior and exterior angles while holding in place a large balance wheel with adjustment screws. The calibre number is engraved on a marking plate riveted to the wheel train bridge. Screws are thermally blued, jewel sinks and recesses are finely hand-polished. The click spring circling the ratchet wheel is another nice touch.
Altogether, Urban Jürgensen presents quite an impressive watch with The Alfred. While the steel case allows for a lower price, the rest of the watch is made with the exact same rigorous standards as all the other collections. Entry-level it is for sure, but far away from a poor’s man offer. Everything in The Alfred is about hand-craftsmanship and Haute-Horlogerie, just differently encased. At EUR 14,300 (ex. taxes – or CHF 15,200 with taxes) it is certainly not cheap for an “entry-level” watch, yet considering the overall execution of the watch, it becomes somehow accessible (relatively speaking).
The Alfred is exclusively available direct from Urban Jürgensen, through this web-page. Future owners will be invited to an evening at the Atelier in Biel, Switzerland with Urban Jürgensen CEO, Soren Jenry Petersen. More details on www.urbanjurgensen.com.