Switzerland clearly rules the global roost when it comes to horology. but across the border in germany watchmakers have been plying their trade for just as long as their swiss counterparts, surviving war, division and reunification.
Given the almost synonymous relationship between Switzerland and the watchmaking profession today, one might assume that watchmaking in neighbouring Germany came about as a result of the country’s border-sharing relationship with the Swiss.
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But the development of watches, from their stationary cousin, the clock, appeared simultaneously in the 15th Century in a number of European countries as mechanical techniques improved and the mainspring was refined granting watches greater flexibility.
Whatever your view of national stereotypes, it is obviously apparent that German watches are a more sober, serious, less decorative affair than those of their Swiss counterparts.
Of course we are talking about a smaller sample size and the intricately decorated watches of Grieb & Benzinger, the Deutscher Werkbund stylings of Nomos Glashütte and Junghans’ recent penchant for colourful dials suggest that German watch manufacturers are now open to more expressive designs.
Elysee is a true value proposition, first born in the Swiss Jura mountains in 1920 before being reborn in Pforzheim in 1960 and then sold to a businessman in Dusseldorf in 1991. Today, Elysee offers watches for both men and women, based on both quartz and mechanical movements supplied by the likes of Seiko and Miyoto. Designs may be derivative but there’s no denying the value of solidly built stainless steel watches with reliable movements being sold from low to mid hundreds of euros. The offer includes everything from sporty, nautical pieces to handsome, vintage-inspired chronographs. Stowa
Another watchmaker located in the Gold City of Pforzheim, Stowa was established in 1927 but acquired from the founding family by watchmaker Jörg Schauer in 1996. Schauer, who started his career producing exclusive watches in limited, precious metal series, brought his expertise and attention to detail to the brand. Since then the company has set about exploring its twin pillars of military and Bauhaus designs. The approach has won Stowa numerous awards in the intervening years while Schauer has turned his attention to expanding the company’s production facilities. The brand has developed a fiercely loyal following online and has been sure to please its online customers with a webshop offering online personalisation through laser engraving, not only of the case but of the pin buckle and internal movement components such as wheels and rotors. Tutima
Another child of Glashütte, the companies that would eventually form Tutima were established in 1927 and meandered around the country on the historic winds of war and political change that determined the fate of so many in Europe during the 20th Century. Originally a grade for the highest standard of watches produced, Tutima eventually became the brand name in 1970. The company won a contract to produce watches for the German Air Force in 1983 and it set to work developing its tourneau-shaped NATO chronograph which has since become the recognisable face of the brand. In 2011 Tutima returned home to Glashütte and celebrated with the limited edition Hommage, which the brand claims is the first minute repeater ever developed entirely in Glashütte. Union Glashütte
This Glashütte resident is perhaps the least known of Swatch Group’s watch brands here in the UK, as it is not actively marketed on these shores. While today it produces a smart range of traditional, sports and pilots watches with mechanical movements, Union Glashütte was formed 120 years ago when the Saxony town was at the height of its prosperity. Founder Johannes Dürrstein was a pioneer of affordable luxury, seeking to make the highest quality watches affordable to a wider audience. Following reunification, Union Glashütte was re-established in 1997 and three years later joined Swatch Group. Wempe
The founder of this luxury watch and jewellery retail institution is a rare example of a watchmaker who had a flair for selling his wares. Gerhard D. Wempe set to selling his watches on velvet cushions he made himself, using window space at his aunt’s house in Elsfleth. Proving himself a canny businessman, Wempe followed the money around Germany, opening his first flagship store in the wealthy port of Hamburg. In 1980 the retailer and manufacturer would open its first store abroad on Fifth Avenue, in New York, as of last year it boasted 32. But Wempe is a watchmaker is its own right, making timepieces exclusively for its own stores. The company refurbished the dilapidated Glashütte Observatory when it looked to move production into town and today the premises also hosts Germany’s only independent chronometer-testing laboratory. Given the scale of the business’ manufacturing and retail operation, Wempe is thought to have the most watchmaker apprentices in training of any German watch brand. Junkers/Zeppelin
You’re unlikely to have heard of the company behind these watch brands, but POINTtec is Germany’s largest manufacturer of watches, producing its own brands and creating private label watches for the likes of Audi. It acquired the rights to German aviation legends Junkers and Zeppelin and now produces its own brands reflecting the era and iconic aesthetic of both marques. POINTtec is lavishing thought and attention to the marketing of these brands with Junkers involved in the Mountain Wave Project. This successful attempt to glide over Mount Everest for the first time also saw the mountain mapped in three dimensions to help plot better rescue routes for climbers and spawned a special edition watch. Glashütte Original
Swatch Group-owned Glashütte Original can lay claim to perhaps a longer, unbroken history (of sorts) than any other brand based in the town today. The brand was established in 1994 by the privatisation of the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe or GUB, a conglomerate of watch companies formed in 1951, which included the original A. Lange & Sohne and had been owned and operated by the East German state. Glashütte Original doesn’t shy away from that period when its nationalised forerunner was behind the iron curtain, it arguably still does some of its most accessible design work reminiscing over the Sixties and Seventies in its 20th Century Vintage collection. But it is not above producing immaculately finished, showstopping high complications either, making Glashütte Original an often overlooked giant of German watchmaking. Grieb & Benzinger
Grieb & Benzinger straddles Germany with workshops in the country’s easterly ‘gold city’ of Pforzheim and also Grafenau near the Czech border. These far-flung locations offer breathing space between the disciplines of watchmaking and the decorative techniques with which Hermann Grieb and Jochen Benzinger are primarily concerned. The pair source vintage movements from between 1880 and 1930 to create their timepieces. Each movement is completely disassembled, cleaned and, if needed repaired, before being skeletonised, blued - taking inspiration from Breguet’s apprentice, Charles Oudin - and decorated using fine guilloche techniques. The three-strong team produce just 10 gold or platinum watches each year which, given the origins of their movements and hand decoration, must make them some of the most exclusive watches on the planet. Hanhart
Hanhart has always straddled the Swiss/German border, but its offices moved to Gütenbach, in the Black Forest in 2014. In the 30s and 40s the company specialised in producing chronograph movements, today it relies on chronograph movements from ETA and Sellita, these movements are modified by La Joux Perret, allowing for a full range of complications including flyback and monopusher chronographs. Its collection of watches still reference the design language of its original timepieces. The brand is keenly involved in motorsport and aviation activities, sponsoring events and teams as well as signing up drivers as brand ambassadors. Junghans
At one point in the mid-20th Century, Schramberg-based Junghans produced more watches than any other manufacturer in not just Germany, but in the whole of Europe. Today the brand is still based in its original, purpose-built 19th Century factory in the Black Forest and is once again on the rise. This is due, in no small part, to the insatiable demand for Junghans’ Max Bill collection, a distinctly minimal Bauhaus watch design, that is perhaps unique in appealing to fashion consumers just as much as watch consumers. Junghans has recently adapted the famous design to include a range of soft pastel dial colours, which offers the brand even greater commercial appeal. Lang & Heyne
In a manor house in the Dresden countryside, AHCI member Marco Lang creates some of Germany’s finest handcrafted timepieces. The blued-screws, gold chatons and hand-engraved balance cocks of Lang’s calibres bear all the hallmarks of traditional Glashütte watchmaking, he opts for a 18th Century ‘frosted’ brushed finish for its plate and bridges rather than that Glashütte Ribbing. While Lang’s finished watches are some of the most traditionally designed timepieces available anywhere in the world, Lang embraces modern technology through his website, which allows visitors to customise their own design from all of the firm’s choices. Meistersinger
It’s easy to spot a Meistersinger watch, it will be the one with a single hand that traverses the dial, displaying minutes as it moves between hour markers, much like the very first public clocks. While these clocks didn’t have the accuracy to justify a minute hand, Meistersinger has no such problem, using mechanical movements from Sellita and ETA, while its Circularis is based on Christopher Ward’s SH21 movement. The German company briefly experimented with traditional two and three-handed watches, but has since committed to the single-handed concept it is best known for. As it’s next to impossible to get a precise reading of the time with a quick glance, Meistersinger best suited to those who live life at a more sedate pace. The brand’s jumping hour Salthora Meta design was one of WatchPro’s highly commended Trendsetting watches of 2015. Nautische Instrumente Mühle Glashütte
This rough, tough and very nautical German watch company has recently distilled its branding to illustrate the kind of watches its produces and the kind of hardy souls who chose to wear them. It’s also a step in the right direction as the brand’s clumsy name is no doubt holding it back in international markets. The Mühle family has been part of the Saxony landscape for some 700 years and has been continuously involved in Glashütte’s watchmaking industry for five generations. The Mühle family was originally known in the production of precision instruments designed for watchmakers and has only comparatively recently involved itself with nautical clocks and instruments. Nomos Glashütte
Nomos is the convention-defying German watch brand that has earned its place at the table over the last 25 years by fusing Berlin design flair with Glashütte watchmaking knowhow. Few, if any, watch brands could claim to have risen their star more proficiently than Nomos in recent years, thanks, in no small part, to its smash-hit, headline-grabbing Metro design, below. The brand has progressed from using third party movements at the start to first developing its own escapement and then an entirely new, ultra-thin automatic movement, the DUW 3001, which is being rolled out across its range. Manufacture production and trendsetting design coupled with accessible pricing has been this thoroughly modern Glashütte resident’s formula for success. Sinn
Flight instructor Helmut Sinn founds his eponymous watch brand in 1961 in Frankfurt, focusing on pilots’ chronographs and navigational clocks. The company’s watches might be intended for flight but they have also logged more hours in space than most astronauts, being worn by three different German astronauts. Engineer Lothar Schmidt acquires the business and focuses on technical developments to further improve the performance of its watches both in the air and under the waves. The brands’ advances in metal hardening technique, the removal of moisture from cases and shock absorption pay dividends as Sinn begins to win awards around the world. In 2012, the company even worked with EuroCopter and University of Aachen to develop a set of standards for pilot’s watches, the TeStaF. Laco
Another resident of Pforzheim, Laco has been producing watches since 1925 and still prides itself on the fact that each of its watches are hand-assembled. It was one of a handful of watch manufacturers that made giant 55mm pilots chronometers for the German military which gave it a reputation that lived on in its home nation through the 1950s and 1960s. The company was relaunched in 2010 with a focus on quality over quantity and now offers more than 24 models as part of its offer which is proving popular in international markets in the US and South America as well as domestically in Germany. A. Lange & Söhne
A. Lange & Söhne or simply Lange, is the undisputed Vater of high-end German watchmaking today. This is fitting given Lange’s history in the town of Glashütte, where the brand’s original founder Adolph Lange arrived in 1845 to bring industry to the town and founded the watchmaking company, encouraging his employees to branch out and establish an entire infrastructure of suppliers and specialists. Jump forward 140 years after two world wars, Soviet nationalisation and the fall of the Berlin Wall and there was nothing left of the original company. Adolph’s descendent, Walter Lange, set about rebuilding his family’s company from scratch, releasing its first watch of the new generation in 1992. Since then, and under Richemont ownership, A. Lange & Söhne has proved there is nothing in the field of horology that they cannot excel at. Moritz Grossmann
Named after the founder of the German School of Watchmaking Glashütte, the last piece of the puzzle laid down in 1878 after Adolph Lange decided the town’s future lay in watchmaking, Moritz Grossmann is ironically a recent arrival to the town. Watchmaker-turned-businesswoman Christine Hutter acquired the rights to the Grossmann name and founded her company in 2008, perching its shiny new headquarters high above the town; an incongruous new arrival in the traditional heartland of German watchmaking. While the firm follows the town traditions by using a two-thirds plate, hand-engraved balance cock, gold, screwed chatons and ‘ Glashütte ribbing’ decoration it also brings something new to the table. Hands are thermally blued beyond the usual bright blue, to the point of turning an iridescent brown while unusual materials are to be found inside its watches including a brush made from Hutter’s own hair to halt a tourbillon.