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From Germany with Love – why you should care about German watches


by John Wallis

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September 07. 2017 - by John Wallis

Quality watches are made in Switzerland, right? Well, yes, but that's not the only place. Other parts of the world have made and are continuing to make some of the finest, most prestigious watches on the market – and one of the most important hubs outside the Swiss Jura can be found in Germany.


The country has a fairly dramatic history when it comes to horology. Watchmaking has been practiced throughout Germany for centuries, but unfortunately much of this heritage was lost to the upheavals of the 20th century. German watch brands were forced to start again from scratch after the devastating events of World War Two, when many workshops and factories were repurposed by the Nazi regime, bombed by the Allies or destroyed by incoming armies. While watchmakers in the West of the country – like those in the well-known hub of Pforzheim – were able to rebuild after the war, those in the East fell under Soviet rule and were nationalised, retarding their potential for decades.


The most important centre for German watches is of course the magical Saxon enclave of Glashütte. The town was suffering economic depression in the mid-19th century when the legendary Ferdinand A. Lange decided to establish his new business there, training up the local population in the fine traditions of horology he had acquired in France, Switzerland and England. The watch industry boomed in Glashütte for many years but it was among the hardest hit by Soviet management, which forcibly confiscated all its vital equipment and amalgamated what was left into a single, state-owned corporation, the GUB. Nevertheless, Glashütte's spectacular legacy was reborn after the fall of the Iron Curtain, resulting in the plethora of beloved companies we see today. Here are some of our top picks for German watchmaking:


Mühle Glashütte

Robert Mühle was one of the leading lights attracted to Glashütte's burgeoning watchmaking scene in the 19th century. After training under another luminary, Moritz Grossman, who founded the town's famed watchmaking school, Mühle established his own manufacture in 1869. Today the company is run by Thilo Mühle, the fifth generation of unbroken family watchmakers, making it the only Glashütte company still owned by its original family – although of course the company itself had to be refounded in 1994 after a long period of inactivity under communism. Today Mühle Glashütte makes gorgeous, ultra-minimalist, highly distinctive timepieces, from elegant dress watches to robust divers and marine chronometers.

SHOP MÜHLE GLASHÜTTE WATCHES

Glashütte Original

The Soviets may have been bad news for most of Glashütte, but their period in power did have one positive outcome: the creation of stunning boutique watchmaker Glashütte Original. Previously, the state-run conglomerate GUB rebuilt some of the town's watchmaking capabilities, manufacturing timepieces for Soviet consumption (cut off from international trade). After the reunification of Germany, most of GUB's employees returned to the old companies that reemerged – but those that were left went on to found a new high-end brand, Glashütte Original. Preserving the best of classic traditions while embracing modern styles, its magnificent watches with in-house calibres are in high demand.

SHOP GLASHÜTTE ORIGINAL WATCHES

Junghans

Not all quality German watches are made in Glashütte. Brands such as Tutima, Sinn and Chronoswiss have made excellent names for themselves, but perhaps the most fascinating is Junghans. The company is still independent, German-owned and based in Schramberg in the Black Forest, where it was founded more than 150 years ago. Junghans watches are noted for their superb German simplicity and functionality. A celebrated collaboration with legendary Bauhaus designer Max Bill resulted in one of its best-known collections. Junghans won further fame for technical advances such as the first radio-controlled clocks and wristwatches.


  SHOP JUNGHANS WATCHES

NOMOS Glashütte

Unlike other brands from Glashütte, NOMOS does not shout about its history. The company was one of the first to spring up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it is not directly connected to any historic firm; rather, it was the unlikely brainchild of computer expert Roland Schwertner. From early days, NOMOS watches displayed wonderful design prowess, with a core DNA rooted in the same Bauhaus philosophy developed by Junghans. The brand's meteoric rise to success really took off in 2005, from which date all calibres were officially made in-house. The combination of stylish, snappy dials and exquisite manufacture movements continues to make NOMOS exceptionally popular.

SHOP NOMOS GLASHÜTTE WATCHES

A. Lange & Söhne

In many ways, the A. Lange & Söhne story is the story of Glashütte. Widely regarded as the greatest of German watchmakers, the company was reborn out of the Cold War when the tremendous legacy of the town's original horological pioneer, Ferdinand Lange, was resurrected with the help of Swiss giants such as Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC. Most extraordinary of all, Ferdinand's great-grandson Walter Lange, in his 60s, was able to return to lend his support, having been forced to abandon his family's township as a young man. Producing its first new watches in 1994, the brand was an immediate success, and continues to be renowned for peerless design, tradition and quality.

SHOP A. LANGE & SÖHNE WATCHES

With their own history, traditions and inimitable reputation, these are just some of the companies that make German watches very much worthy of your attention.

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John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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