The Terroir of Time: Glashütte, Germany – Part 2
Part two of our tour of brands like Glashütte Original, Mühle, and NOMOS Glashütte.
In part one of our series exploring the flavor of watches from the Saxony town of Glashütte, Germany, we talked about how history and geography have impacted the form and function of the region’s timepieces. Also, we discussed how the origin story of brands like A. Lange & Söhne, Moritz Grossman, and Tutima created a signature so significant that in February, the German government passed a law that legally protects the designation of origin of timepieces made in Glashütte. As a result, from now on they enjoy comparable legal protection to “Swiss Made” watches.
In Part 2 of this story, we take a look at how these traditions influenced more modern maisons like Glashütte Original, NOMOS, and Muhle. Please also note that this saga is so sprawling that we didn’t have room for all the manufactures located in Glashütte. Apologies.
As we mentioned in Part one of this tale, watchmakers in Glashütte were slow to switch production from pocket watches to wristwatches. The timing was especially bad as the short-lived, post-WWI Weimar Republic battled hyperinflation and a global depression, which crushed the market for luxury watches. The brands that survived did so by making innovative timekeepers for research and the military.
The manufacture of Mühle Glashütte was originally founded by Robert Mühle in 1869. The Company is currently run by the fifth generation of the family, under the leadership of Thilo Mühle. To make timepieces that would meet the most extreme requirements, Mühle Glashütte often collaborates with special forces groups.
Saxony has a reputation for innovation and precision. While not as high-end as A. Lange & Söhne or Glashütte Original, its signature timepiece is the Mission Timer. To celebrate the second full decade of partnering with the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service (DGzRS) the brand has just launched the new S.A.R. Mission-Timer, which was developed according to the specifications of the maritime rescue team.
The S.A.R. Mission-Timer comes in a 43mm titanium case with a black ceramic bezel that is water-resistant to 500 meters. The dial layout is dominated by milled recesses filled with a luminous compound.
Then World War II happened. Glashütte escaped physical damage for most of the part – it was bombed by Soviet forces on the very last day. When Germany was split into East and West, Glashütte landed in the East. Russians quickly dismantled much of the town's manufacturing equipment. In 1951, the East German government unified what was left of the local watchmakers under the umbrella of the state-owned Glashütte Uhrenbetriebe (aka GUB), which started to mass-produce robust, affordable wristwatches.
When the venerable watchmaking maisons returned to Glashütte they relied on the knowledge of local artisans. With drawings missing, the only way to start over was to rebuild machines from the workers’ memories.
Apart from A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original is probably the most prestigious of the local maisons. And while Lange, Muhle, and Moritz Grossman personify pre-war values, Glashütte Original also honors the Eastern Bloc years with luxurious collections such as the Sixties and Seventies. The mix of communism and capitalism may seem contradictory, but it works.
Again, the collective experience behind these exceptional timepieces has been handed down from generation to generation. This wealth of talent has made it possible for Glashütte Original to be vertically integrated. One thousand of the nearly 7,000 inhabitants in Glashütte are watch-making experts, engineers and designers, toolmakers and precision mechanics, polishers and re-fitters, finishers and engravers, and of course watchmakers. From the smallest screw to the most complex movement, the production of timepieces – even the stunning dials which Glashütte Original is famous for – are made in-house.
At first glance, the edgy minimalism of independent brand NOMOS would seem to be at odds with Glashütte’s more traditional watchmaking. We argue that it is the exception that proves the rule.
Born in the 1990s, NOMOS Glashütte has quickly risen to become Germany’s leading manufacturer of mechanical watches. Its success can be attributed to the region’s traditions of innovation, vertical integration, and craftsmanship.
NOMOS’ CEO, Uwe Ahrendt, says that Glashütte’s location is key to its success. The timepieces are designed in Berlin but come to life in the manufacture in the tiny town of Glashütte in Saxony, less than 30 minutes away from the Czech border. Yes, he acknowledges that they look very different than anything else produced in Glashütte (the design team is based in Berlin), but to qualify for the Glashütte designation, a minimum of 50 percent of the calibre value has to be produced locally. NOMOS’ onsite value creation stats come in at 95 percent. The brand even produces the tools used when manufacturing its watches.
Their most recent release, the Ludwig 33 Noir, is a fantastic example of NOMOS’ signature. This minimalist design is Bauhaus from the front, but, with its high-precision, in-house Alpha movement with the patented swing-arm system, it’s all Saxon ingenuity in the back.