Created in Copenhagen in 1773, but making its watches in Switzerland for almost 200 years, Urban Jürgensen has back in Danish hands since it was bought back by entrepreneur Søren Jenry Petersen in 2014. Five years after his acquisition, the chief executive has made his boldest move yet by launching a family of watches in surgical steel called the ONE Collection. This is a watchmaker adored by watch lovers, so what’s behind the 2019 strategy? WatchPro spoke to Mr Petersen to find out.
2019 may turn out to be one of the most transformative years in a history for Urban Jürgensen that dates back to its creation in Copenhagen in 1773. The connoisseurs’ brand has been making its watches in Switzerland for almost 200 years under a series of different owners and corporate structures and, since 2014, has been back under Danish ownership thanks to the vision of its chief executive Søren Jenry Petersen and a small Danish private investor group. The newly restored Atelier is located in Biel, Switzerland.
Extraordinary and classic watchmaking have always been hallmarks of Urban Jürgensen but the business has never been elitist. Its aim is to be loved by watch lovers, not to be aloof or distant from its customers. This is the philosophy behind the launch this year of the ONE Collection, the first family of fine timepieces made in steel cases with integrated bracelets.
The watch industry has embraced steel watches as highly desirable luxury treasures for many years, and Urban Jürgensen is elevating it still further with the use of medical grade implant steel.
“The ONE Collection is built on classic high end traditions, and even the core design concept dictates very difficult and challenging case and bracelet execution miles away from the simple “H-profile and block” design born out of Gerald Genta’s original master designs of the 1970s,” Mr Petersen explains.
“It´s simply not pieces that are suitable for the clone mass production we see from established icons, and the ONE Collection brings also classic hand grade movement finish, robust twin barrel movements and execution of the entire piece in medical grade implant steel for harder surfaces and better corrosion resistance and water proof to 120 meters,” he adds.
The reaction to the ONE Collection at Baselworld was exceptional, Mr Petersen says, with existing retail partners and new prospects seeing its commercial potential. “Here right after Basel I can say the interest has been overwhelming, and I look forward to connecting with a new breed of clients and retailers reflecting the serious inflow of new interest. We may have also some other new things later in the year, but for now the ONE Collection is full focus,” he describes.
It isn’t just the watches that collectors and retailers love, it is the history of the brand.
Urban Jürgensen was founded in Copenhagen in 1773 as “Larpent & Jürgensen” by Jürgen Jürgensen, the first of four generations of the family that built the 250 years-old brand. Jürgen‘s first son Urban Jürgensen became famous and respected as a clock and watchmaker working in his time with other notables like Breguet in Paris and Arnold in London. He also recorded many of the achievements of the industry during his time and published a landmark book in 1804 titled How To Measure Time Accurately By Use Of Clocks, which became a must-read for all watchmakers throughout the 18th century and still studied today.
Urban’s son Jüles Jürgensen became famous for his extraordinary timepieces in his own time, and was responsible for starting production in Switzerland in 1836. The last Jürgensen to manage the company was Jacques Alfred Jürgensen who passed away in 1912.
The Company was split as Jüles Jürgensen activities were purchased by the American agent who had a substantial business, and the Urban Jürgensen & Sons part was taken over by Heuer – today Tag Heuer.
During the war time and afterwards it returned to Denmark, and was acquired back to Switzerland in 1986 by Peter Baumberger who produced a series of wristwatches under the Urban Jürgensen name in extremely high quality for collectors and connoisseurs.
Mr Baumberger passed away in 2010, and experienced auctioneer Dr. Helmut Crott who had financed a part of the ground breaking Detent escapement development for a wrist watch became the new owner. Dr. Crott brought back the Jüles Jürgensen activities from US, reuniting it with Urban Jürgensen into a single entity after more than 100 years.
The current chapter of the story began in November 2014 when Søren Jenry Petersen, a veteran Nokia executive and watch collector, bought the Urban Jürgensen Company back into Danish hands. It was on the eve of the watchmaker winning the GPHG Mens Watch Award, testament to its enduring passion for classic watchmaking and craftsmanship.
“Today Urban Jürgensen occupies a top position in the market with true classic haute horologie time pieces in classical designs that will stand the test of time for generations,” Mr Petersen says.
2019’s ONE Collection may be a totally new family of watches the company has made in decades, but it has exactly the same DNA as the company’s finest precious metal pieces. The typical Urban Jürgensen haute horology execution of hands riveted to proper centre canons can be observed, as well as the trademark hand grade finishing and curving of minute and second hands. “It’s the quality of choices made from traditional watchmaking upheld in a modern steel watch. Most desirable is perhaps the fact that this is a Collection that is not mistaken for any other timepiece, and will be truly rare in the field. A timepiece for individuals who do not follow mass trends, but makes informed decisions on their own,” is Mr Petersen’s thinking.
The continuity of Urban Jürgensen coupled with its willingness to move with the times makes it a contemporary brand for today’s collectors who are always looking for something fresh. “As the industry becomes more mature and somewhat desperate for “the new thing”, collectors who value traditional honest high end pieces increasingly come to see what we do. After that our products speak for themselves. This has been increasingly evident at Basel World as well as for example Salon QP in London. The clients are extremely well informed, and have seen through much of the marketing hype, and to growing extend also become tired of the industrialised aura of most of the big marketing Brands. Clients today are smart. They understand that when 20% of profits goes into marketing – less funds can be put into the actual product. And it shows,” Mr Petersen suggests.
Urban Jürgensen has no intention of becoming an industrialized mass market producer, and has highly selective distribution in the UK with David Duggan in London and Hamilton & Inches in Edinburgh.