Road Tripping on the Autobahn, a Unique Manufacture Visit to NOMOS Glashütte
Watchonista travels from Berlin to Glashütte to discover how NOMOS timepieces tell a tale of two cities.
Here’s a fun fact for fans of NOMOS Glashütte: While their timepieces are manufactured in the rustic German watchmaking town that is also home Glashütte Original and A. Lange & Söhne (among others), NOMOS’ signature minimalist looks are created in the big city of Berlin.
In fact, the push and pull between traditional craftsmanship and modern, urban style is a big part of what makes NOMOS so unique.
So Watchonista literally drove down the Autobahn from Berlin to Glashütte to take a metaphorical road trip to learn more about how NOMOS balances the rural and urban impulses from conception to its arrival in store.
Berlin is one of the world’s great cities. It is also the home of NOMOS’ in-house design agency, Berlinblau. The studio takes its road map from the “Deutscher Werkbund”, an early 20th-century movement with a mission to combine artisanal crafts and mass production. This aesthetic predates and informed the Bauhaus school, and by extension, Berlinblau.
Berlinblau occupies two offices in the bohemian Kreuzberg neighborhood. The light-filled rooms of these retro-fitted spaces are where NOMOS’ design team works on the external elements of their minimalist watches.
Inside, mood boards and drawers filled with prototypes of dials, hands, microscopic indices and unproduced cases provide visual inspiration as well as a mini museum of NOMOS’ history.
We speak to in-house designer Thomas Höhnel
The creative force behind NOMOS' sports model Ahoi talks to us about about how the team collaborated to create its latest Aqua models, which hit stores this month.
According to Höhnel, it is against NOMOS’ ethos to create an obvious diving watch. “Most people never take their (watches) 300m under the sea,” says Höhnel. “But they do want a watch that’s waterproof when they go swimming or take a shower or get caught in the rain.”
Thoughts on the New NOMOS Aqua Collection
The Berlinblau team challenged themselves to update the existing Ahoi and Club models to make them even more summer friendly. The result is the Aqua collection — two new slender but sporty stainless-steel watches that are water resistant to 200m.
Höhnel and his team sought out to create an aesthetic that was inspired by summers spent by the water. The clean white dial, blue hands and red minute markers have a nautical feeling. And when the sun sets, markers and hands painted with glowing SuperLuminova help you tell time in the dark.
Even the woven fabric straps are meant to recall pool pass wristbands commonly used in Germany. At the same time these bands are light and sturdy — “just the feeling you need in a summer watch”, Höhnel says that although it seems like a simple solution, sourcing straps that met NOMOS’ specifications was difficult. “Most of the manufacturers said, ‘No, we can’t do it.’ We finally found a company in France. Which proves nothing is impossible.”
The Aqua series represents another upgrade. Both pieces are outfitted with NOMOS’ innovative Neomatik caliber DUW 3001. At only 3.2 millimeters in height, and thanks to the recently launched NOMOS swing system, the company’s proprietary escapement, this caliber represents a new standard for automatic watches — but more about that later.
Before beginning our road trip from Berlin to Glashütte, we checked into the super hip, Studio Aisslinger-designed 25 Hours Hotel Bikini Berlin.
Werner Aisslinger is the designer of NOMOS’ Autobahn timepiece and this retro-fitted, 1950s building gives us some insight into the collaboration between Berlinblau and outside artists.
Situated next to the Berlin Zoo, the hotel has an industrial, urban jungle theme. Exposed concrete and neon accents give a 1980s, “Atomic Blonde” era vibe (you can see old Cold War listening towers from the hotel’s rooftop Monkey Bar), but in scale and execution, the rooms are very human.
Most of Aisslinger’s work has this duality. The collaborative process also played a big role in the finished design of the Autobahn. “There is always a push and pull between Berlinblau and outside collaborators,” says Höhnel. “Just as there is a tension between the elements of the watch.” And tension makes things visually interesting.
The most striking features of this timepiece are the sloping dial that rises up to meet the domed sapphire crystal, the elegant date display found just below the sunken sub seconds and the semi-circle of Super Luminova segments that light the way for night travelers.
While the Autobahn still falls into the minimalist category, it does signal a departure for NOMOS. This watch has a high degree of finish and no detail, no matter how casual it may appear, has been overlooked. Even the textile strap was carefully sourced to ensure that it would feel light and sporty but also able to withstand wear and tear.
Like an automatic rotor or a balance wheel, Höhnel considers design to an essential component of any fine timepiece. Another important part of NOMOS’ brief for Studio Aisslinger was that the Autobahn would provide the perfect carriage for the company’s new DUW 6101Neomatik date movement.
Just as the road from Berlin starts out surrounded by concrete and passes through farmers’ fields before descending into a green and leafy valley, our two-and-a half-hour drive to the bucolic town of Glashütte also serves as bridge between different sensibilities between Berlinblau and NOMOS’ headquarters.
There are actually a few different buildings that house everything from distribution and manufacturing to finishing and research and development. Every NOMOS watch begins its journey here.
First, we visited the manufacture, witnessing each step from the tooling of tiny gears to the finishing of the tempered blue balance spring and screws and process of engraving the works with Glashütte ribbing and NOMOS’s golden perlage. Even when robotics are used for the most microscopic of jobs, these machines are still just another tool of talented craftspeople on the team.
It’s actually mind-blowing how much work goes into what looks like such a simple machine. It becomes even more impressive when we sit down with Head of Construction and Deputy Head of Research and Development Theodor Prenzel to talk about the birth of the DUW 6101 and the NOMOS swing system which features an escape wheel, pallet, spring and bridge, all made in-house.
Road trips are also about independence. In 2014, NOMOS introduced its swing system. Before then, a certain multinational corporation had a stranglehold on the supply of escapements—the heartbeat of all mechanical timepieces. To gain freedom, NOMOS invested a huge amount of effort and assets to creating their own thing.
With the DUW 6101, Prenzel and his team are taking things a little further with automatic winding, Neomatik date mechanism and bidirectional quick correction feature.
In Berlin, Höhnel told us that having the design and manufacture in two different towns produced a good kind of tension, with each group challenging each other to find solutions to creative problems. The result is another expression of the dual nature of the Autobahn.
In Glashütte, Prenzel demonstrated the development of the DUW 6101, showing us the many models, the team used to marry the swing system with a date feature “where it should be, on the edge of the dial.” This placement was more a request from the design team to ensure legibility, but it also brought up another challenge: Making a better way to set the date.
Date setting is tricky with any automatic movement. That’s one reason why there’s a whole industry devoted to watch winders. The NOMOS swing system is designed to be highly precise, so you don’t want to mess that up while resetting the date. For Prenzel, the answer was a date ring that could be easily adjusted with a few turns of the crown in either direction.
“The result is less wear on the setting gears,” says Prenzel. Another special component is what Prenzel calls the “Doppelklinkenrad," or double click wheel, which stops the rotor from winding when the power reserve is full, the rotor no longer winds the mainspring, again, limiting wear and tear.
To adapt to these new innovations, Berlin and Glashütte also had to work out a way to keep form and function in harmony. To accommodate the streamlined design, says Prenzel, his team made the movement thin (3.6mm thick). Nearly all the parts of this movement fit in between the base and three-quarter plate—a space of only one millimeter in height.
To maintain the precision of the caliber, the designers allowed for a broader (41mm) watch. The DUW 6101 also features the space saving program disk — a triangle with rounded sides allows a smaller date wheel which also allows for a quicker date change time frame. All in all, says Prenzel, “It took three years.” says Prenzel.
All great journeys never really end. We left Glashütte with our heads forever filled with an immense appreciation for all the work that goes into the story of just one watch’s journey (we wish we had room to talk about the ways NOMOS’s distinct use of color, or the role the marketing team plays in spreading the word about the brand).
We ended our day at the tiny NOMOS boutique in Glashütte. It may have been the last stop on our road trip, but we are reminded that for some lucky buyers, their journey is just beginning.
(Photography by Liam O’Donnell)