Why “Made in Glashütte” Matters: Interview with NOMOS Glashütte CEO Uwe Ahrendt
Following a new law, watches made in the German town of Glashütte now enjoy legal protections akin to “Swiss Made” watches. Watchonista sat down with NOMOS Glashütte CEO Uwe Ahrendt to discuss what this “Made in Glashütte” regulation means for the independent brand, its watches, and its customers.
Protecting Glashütte-made Watches
Since Ferdinand Adolph Lange was granted a government loan to turn former farmers and miners into fine watchmakers to create a Glashütte watch industry in 1845, this small Saxon town nestled in a valley in the Ore Mountains has become a byword for watchmaking excellence.
Such is the prestige of Glashütte-made watches that, since the early 1900s, an unwritten agreement existed between local watchmakers that at least 50% of the value of a Glashütte watch had to be created in the town for the Glashütte name to be emblazoned on the dial.
Then, a year ago, this Glashütte Rule, or Glashütte Regulation, became official, passed into law by the Bundesrat, one of Germany’s legislative chambers.
Glashütte-made watches now enjoy comparable legal protection to “Swiss Made” watches or other products bearing a Protected Designation of Origin, like Champagne sparkling wine or Murano glass. Watchmakers that fail to comply with the new Regulation could face legal action from German authorities or other watch brands.
While most of Glashütte’s dozen watch brands – such as A. Lange & Söhne, Moritz Grossmann, Glashütte Original, Tutima Glashütte, and WEMPE Glashütte – publicly support the Regulation, one company in particular has been at the forefront of the campaign to make the Glashütte Regulation legally enforceable: NOMOS Glashütte.
Fraught History to Bright Future
While the design of NOMOS Glashütte’s distinctive Bauhaus watches may be finalized at the company’s Berlin-based design agency Berlinblau, the production, decoration, and assembly of its movements and the final assembly and regulation of its watches are carried out at the brand’s three workshops in Glashütte.
Founded in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin wall, NOMOS Glashütte found itself on the sharp end of the unwritten Glashütte Regulation in its early years when it was called out for using Swiss-made movements. The independent brand responded by investing heavily in its in-house capabilities and is now Germany’s leading manufacturer of mechanical watches, each one powered by a manufacture movement.
In a twist of irony, the lawyer who went after NOMOS three decades ago, Dr. Wolfgang Straub, has since worked together with the brand over the past 20 years in a joint effort to get the Glashütte Regulation passed into law.
We sat down with NOMOS Glashütte CEO Uwe Ahrendt to talk about the Glashütte Regulation, what it means for the brand and its customers, and its impact during its first year in force.
Interview with NOMOS Glashütte CEO Uwe Ahrendt
Uwe, how important is the watchmaking tradition of Glashütte to NOMOS Glashütte?
We are Glashütte through and through: Without Glashütte, there would be no NOMOS Glashütte. In everything we’ve done over the past decades, we’ve always asked ourselves: Is it right for Glashütte? The future of the town? The people who live here and the future of mechanical watches made in Germany?
With everything we’ve done and continue to do here, I think I can say that NOMOS Glashütte embodies the present and the future of Glashütte. That might sound self-assured, but it is in no way meant to be arrogant. That’s just the way it is.
Working closely with lawyer Dr. Wolfgang Straub for two decades, NOMOS Glashütte has been a key driver in getting the Glashütte Regulation passed: Why did turning the unwritten Glashütte Rule into the written and official Regulation matter so much to your company?
The new law is important for customers: It guarantees that a watch that says “Glashütte” on its dial really does contain the expertise and famous craftsmanship of this town. So, it is kind of an extra guarantee.
As a company, the Regulation safeguards what we have and will continue to invest in in this town. It secures jobs. And it guarantees that the quality of the watches made here cannot be diluted.
In our eyes, Glashütte stands ennobled by this Regulation: What Champagne is to sparkling wines, Glashütte is to watches. Or just as “Swiss Made” has crowned watches from Switzerland, ensuring a sustained appreciation in value, the Glashütte Regulation now does the same for our products.
Was there a feeling that some were not playing by the rules while the Glashütte Regulation was an unwritten convention? Did NOMOS’ own past failure to meet those assumed standards influence your decision to push for the Regulation to become legally enforceable?
NOMOS Glashütte has always been convinced of the relevance of this protection of origin. After all, theoretically, just one bad actor is capable of damaging all manufacturers in the town. We are now safe from that. Most of our neighboring companies in Glashütte see things the same way.
But you’re right; the push to make this Regulation official was mainly from our side, perhaps because we have a different motivation as an owner-managed company.
Of course, our own experience of the Regulation, when it was an unwritten agreement, also played a role. We consequently invested heavily and did everything within our means to increase our vertical range of manufacture. And, of course, we believe it is important that if there are legal regulations, they must be respected by everyone.
To meet the standard of the Glashütte Regulation that is now in force, at least 50% of a watch’s added value must be created in Glashütte. To what degree do NOMOS Glashütte watches meet this requirement?
We exceed it: Up to 95% of each calibre – and we have 11 of them, all with proprietary NOMOS movements – are manufactured onsite in Glashütte. We use CNC and EDM wire erosion technology to manufacture the components onsite. We decorate these components using hand-operated tools, and then our watchmakers assemble and adjust the movements by hand, in the Glashütte tradition of more than 175 years.
We purchase only a very small number of components from third parties, such as the rubies we use as bearings and tiny oil reservoirs.
You’ve also started showcasing this savoir-faire in a fascinating video series called “Made in Glashütte.” Tell us more about it.
Inspired by the Netflix series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” we wanted to make our own series called “Made in Glashütte” to share with people our craftsmanship, often carried out on a very small scale, in the crazy world of microns. In these videos, the tiny components are made here literally come to life.
Currently, we are releasing a new mini-film every Sunday. Season 1 and the ongoing Season 2 are accessible on our website, and the same films are posted on our YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok accounts.
Has the Glashütte Regulation begun to impact your customers’ purchasing decisions? Or do you find other elements – your attractive Bauhaus designs, for example – still rank higher on customers’ priorities?
I believe it has had an impact, yes. We’ve never had so many watch orders and never so few watches in stock. So, at present, it’s more about distribution than sales at NOMOS Glashütte.
Glashütte is already very well known among watch lovers, though it may take a little more time to achieve fame among people who are not as familiar with watches. But it doesn’t matter what the deciding factor is. For some, this new designation of origin will draw them to our watches, while for others, it’ll be a new model or dial color.
Will you adapt the design and labelling of your watches to reflect the Glashütte Regulation?
At NOMOS Glashütte, we’ve been acting all these years as if this law already existed. We see no reason to change anything about the design of our classics. In any case, Glashütte is already part of our logo on the dial because our name is NOMOS Glashütte. And “Made in Germany” is written in small letters beneath six o’clock.
But of course, there are also special models from our workshop that celebrate Glashütte’s heritage, such as our 175 Years Watchmaking Glashütte limited editions.
Some have expressed concerns locally that the Regulation could limit growth of the Glashütte watch industry due to lack of space in the area. Do you share those concerns? Or, do you see the Regulation as a catalyst for growth in Glashütte?
I don’t see growth being limited at all. I can’t see any investor walking away because the valley is too narrow. Apart from that, Glashütte also has some districts outside the main town, outside the valley. There’s plenty of space.
Above all, I believe the new law safeguards quality, ensuring development and constant improvements. And if everyone here pushes watchmaking to its zenith, as has been the case for more than 175 years, this can only be good for Glashütte, for our watches, and for our customers.