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Urban Jürgensen - 245 years of watchmaking history

Urban Jürgensen 245 years of watchmaking history

From Jürgen to Urban Bruun.

The story begins not in the year 1773 appended to the Urban Jürgensen logo, which marks the 245th anniversary of the company, but in 1745 with the birth of Jørgen Jørgensen, the son of a servant from Adelgade. From humble beginnings, one of the most significant watchmaking dynasties in history was born.

Jørgen Jørgensen learned the art of watchmaking over the course of a seven-year apprenticeship. Back then, the culmination of an apprenticeship involved becoming a “journeyman”, in other words travelling on an extended journey to undertake further training and acquire professional experience. This extended study trip was responsible for shaping the companies that would henceforth bear the family name. Having travelled primarily to German-speaking countries, he decided to Germanicise his name and henceforth called himself Jürgen Jürgensen.

The current company bears the name of Jürgen Jürgensen’s eldest son, Urban Bruun, who was born on 5th August 1776 in Copenhagen. Like his father, Urban Jürgensen undertook an extensive period of travelling throughout Europe to improve his skills, spending time in Le Locle, Switzerland, with the renowned Frédéric Houriet and in Paris, where he studied under two legendary watchmakers, Abraham-Louis Breguet and Ferdinand Berthoud. But London had the strongest draw for him as far as the perfection of chronometer construction was concerned. Getting there, however, was much more difficult: he travelled there at the turn of the 18th century, during the Napoleonic wars, when England had imposed a blockade on ships in French ports. He therefore had to spend 20 days in Calais before reaching Dover. He spent several months in London before returning to Paris, then moving on to Geneva and Le Locle, where he married his fiancée Sophie Henriette, on 12th May 1801. By the end of the year, the family had returned to Denmark, where Urban set about developing the national watch industry. 

It was a thankless task in difficult working conditions. Unlike the Swiss valleys, with their fresh air and ample light, Urban worked in cramped conditions in narrow streets, where there was little sunlight – an important requirement for watchmakers. Another trip to Le Locle ensued in 1807, where Urban Jürgensen stayed for a couple more years. Some important events in his life happened during this period, such as the award of the silver cross of the Danebrog Order, the birth of Urban’s son Jules Frederik and the major breakthrough of learning how to pierce rubies and sapphires in Geneva. Returning to Denmark in 1809, Urban Jürgensen took full control of the family company, but when his father died on 16th April 1811 he decided to establish his own company. 

With his own company, Urban Jürgensen was able to concentrate on his goal of practicing precision horology and thus producing marine chronometers and observatory regulators. On 8th December 1815, Urban Jürgensen was elected as a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences – quite an unusual honour for someone of Jürgensen’s standing. However, this gave him access to the upper echelons of society and allowed him to make proposals to the national government for producing marine chronometers for hire by the merchant navy, pointing out that his chronometers were cheaper than those of John Arnold and, more importantly, avoided dependence on a foreign country for supply. 

245 years of watchmaking history

Urban Jürgensen marine chronometer, circa 1820

Sadly, the pinnacle of Urban Jürgensen’s career coincided with a deterioration in his health that came at a time when he was working on things like improving Earnshaw’s chronometer escapement. He also started writing a book on precision horology in 1829 but died less than a year later, on 14th May 1830. The book was subsequently completed and published by Urban Jürgensen’s son Louis Urban and it was only after his death that the Danish nation realized the significance of Urban Jürgensen’s work. 

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