REVIEW: Knudsen - The Jürgensen Dynasty– Four Centuries of Watchmaking in 2 Countries

Discussion in 'Horological Books' started by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Jul 24, 2013.

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  1. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki National Library Chair
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    Bookreview by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    The History of the Dani
    sh Jürgensen Dynasty of Watchmakers

    The Jürgensen Dynasty – Four Centuries of Watchmaking in Two Countries, by John M. R Knudsen, foreword by Christian Pfeiffer-Belli. Published 2013, 1300 copies, by Urban Jürgensen & Sønner, distributed by the Antique Collectors Club. ISBN 978-87-870368-8-7. Hardcover, dustjacket, 365 pages, 34x 25 cm, 559 color illustrations. Index, Bibliography, Genealogical Family Tree. Available through http://www.amazon.com/The-Jurgensen-Dynasty-Centuries-Watchmaking/dp/8787036886/ for US$ 158 plus shipping (List price $250)or through the Antique Collectors Club.

    Jürgensen is one of the legendary names associated with the craft of artisanal watchmaking at the highest levels of quality and innovation primarily due to two individuals, Louis Urban Jürgensen in Denmark (1806-1867) and his brother Jules Jürgensen (1808-1877) in Switzerland. But including their ancestors and decedents who were horologists, there were ten Jürgensen watchmakers, spread over four generations, active in the two geographically separated branches of the family. Little if anything was previously published on their accomplishments, although Louis Urban (as well as to a lesser extent his father Urban) Jürgensen was a prolific author or books on watchmaking technology, theory and science, whose books were widely published in numerous editions in Danish, German, French and English. A little known fact is that Louis Urban also was the first to ever publish (in 1839) a bibliography of the world’s horological literature up to that time.

    Knudsen, the author of the book under review, is a Danish scholar of horological history and lifelong admirer of the Jürgensen dynasty, who spent most of the 1990s researching the Jürgensen history, resulting in a Danish language book (Urban Jürgensen & Sønner : urmagerfamilien Jürgensen i fire generationer og deres efterfølger, Published in Copenhagen, 2003, by Komiteen for udgivelsen af Værket Urban Jürgensen & Sønner), which was soon out of print, and virtually impossible to find in the used book market. The reviewed book essentially is an English translation of the 2003 Danish book, enhanced by a 30 page chapter on the contemporary reincarnation of the Jürgensen brand, which thanks to the efforts of Swiss entrepreneur Peter Baumberger and German horological auctioneer Helmuth Crott, now produces small numbers of exclusive, innovative, high-grade watches, particularly their flagship 1-minute tourbillion, with a one second remontoire and a chronometer escapement, based on a design of the late Derek Pratt (1938-2009).

    This book is a massive work, a large and heavy volume with nobody will read in one sitting, and it probably includes just about any known fact about dynasty, the history and the horological output of both the Danish and the Swiss branch of family, plus a good overview of the history of the modern brand that has been carrying forward the tradition of excellence of the Jürgensen name in the last decades. My estimate is that the 559 images, most of them reproductions of very high quality photographs mainly of movements, but also many case views and dial views, take up about 2/3 of the space and the written narrative takes the rest. The book is structured chronologically into seven chapters: Jürgen , Urban (2 chapters), Louis Urban , Jules , Jules Frederik, Jules Frederick II and the 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century resurrection of the brand.

    The book is well produced and belongs into the library of a serious scholar of high grade European pocket watches, but collectors whose main interest is little known horological literature trivia fact is that mass-produced, factory made watches will probably skip this somewhat pricey publication. The sad fact is, that high quality horological books on specialized subjects like this are very difficult to get published; either the authors are not adequately compensated for their efforts, or subsidies from modern brands are needed. The community of horological scholars needs to be grateful for every substantive book that actually appears in print. Therefore: Thank you to John Knudsen and Urban Jürgensen & Sønner for finally making the English edition a reality.

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ 26 July 2013

    CVR-Knudse-Jurgensen-2013.jpg
     
  2. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    Re: REVIEW: Knudsen - The Jürgensen Dynasty– Four Centuries of Watchmaking in 2 Count

    My May pre ordered copy arrived today. It looks very nice. I 'll report more after a better look.
     
  3. Dr. Jon

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    Re: REVIEW: Knudsen - The Jürgensen Dynasty– Four Centuries of Watchmaking in 2 Count

    I have had some time with the book and have this to offer.

    1) I found the history somewhat disappointing. I own a few Jules Jurgensen watches and the book told me very little about them. From my small sample it is evident that the serial numbering is not sequential and the book does not address this. The book also does not provide much detail on the various setting devices. It does cover bow setting, but there were other forms of setting used, and the book offers no detail on how many were employed and when.

    2) The book does not discuss the reasons why Jurgensen stayed with their varian of single roller escapements long after the other premier makers went over to the double roller.

    3) They do not discuss timing competitions and why they never participated.

    4) It shows several pictures of the Jurgensen ledgers but offers not information on how much of the record archive survives or how to get access to it.

    On the other hand the material on the current Urban Jurgensen company is very interesting. It provides a lot of detail on the pivoted detent escapement they have adapted for the first time for wrist watch sized movements. Unfortunately they do not provide much information on its performance. Observatory testing showed in the late 19th century that the lever was generally out performing the pivoted detent and I would be intersted to know whether theirs does any better than modern Swiss levers.

    This book will not provide much more information for dating old watches but it is very nice and has a lot of lovely photos of fine old watches.
     
  4. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    Re: REVIEW: Knudsen - The Jürgensen Dynasty– Four Centuries of Watchmaking in 2 Count

    My previous report did not include any comments on identifying ebauche makers of Jurgensen watches. The book is mixed lot with a lot of surprising (at least to me) attributions which I presume are based on the records I wrote of earlier. There is no systematic treatment of this subject but there are tidbits scattered about the book.

    One thing I find particularly annoying is an implied promise of information and failure to provide it. For example, one picture shows three beautiful watches in their original wood boxes and identifies the ebauche maker. The pictures show only the watches closed and dials , no movements. I am sure the authors meant well but when an ebauche maker is identified I expect to see a movement shot so I can match it others. I mean this as criticism in the constructive sense. I'd rather have the book than not have it and I think my money was reasonably well spent,especially with the Amazon pre order discount.

    I estimate that an owner of Jurgensen watch has about a 50-50 chance of Id'ing an ebauche using this book.
     
  5. Jerry Freedman

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    Re: REVIEW: Knudsen - The Jürgensen Dynasty– Four Centuries of Watchmaking in 2 Count

    Does the book discuss the last Jurgensen, J. Alfred ? I have a watch with his name on it, with the patented bow setting.
     
  6. Dr. Jon

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    Re: REVIEW: Knudsen - The Jürgensen Dynasty– Four Centuries of Watchmaking in 2 Count

    The book devotes a chapter to Jacques Alfred Jurgensen. It is a bit confusing since it is part of chapter VI which also includes Jules Frederick Urban Jurgensen. Jacques Alfred gets 15 pages,mostly complicated watches but a lot of information. It is one of the best chapters
     

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