GERMAN WATCHMAKING HISTORY

Germans had been the pioneers in the transition “clock-watch” period of the 16th century, but due to the “Thirty Years” religious war of 1618-1648, they had fallen in a lapse period for more than 200 years till the middle 19th century. Their industry developed primarily around two centers, on the one hand, the city of PFORZHEIM and the greater area of “Black Forest” in the South-West part of the country, on the other hand, the city of GLASHUTTE in the East Germany, without ignoring two more cases. HAMBURG has its own heritage including the tradition in the production of marine chronometers, the local observatory operating since 1800s determining the central national time till 1986, the local watchmaking school established in 1870s as one of the first in the country. Moreover, EPPNER brothers had been producing their own pocket watches and later on mechanisms since the 1830s, again in Eastern Germany, in particular the cities of Helle, Lahn and Sildenberg (Polish territory today), before ending up to Glashutte in the 1870s.

The watch history in Germany is examined separately for the west and the east side, with GLASHUTTE timeline being a standalone chapter. Focusing on the first, typically the watch history in the “Black Forest” area started in 1760s, with the establishment of the first workshops in Pforzheim, but in essence the beginning is related with the incorporation of JUNGHANS brand in 1861, almost 100 years later. It is diachronically the most important watch and clock manufacturer in the West Germany and one of the biggest worldwide, with a considerable contribution both in the mechanical and the quartz sector. All the rest worth mentioning “western” brands of that era, like BIFORA, DUGENA, HANHART, LACO and STOWA, had been established until the 1930s, along with the two major mechanism producers, DUROWE and PUW. Most companies were independent forming a manufacture industry producing all the critical components, not just assembling watches with imported parts. Before and during WWII, all the production shifted to military clocks and watches, with the two primary examples being the big pilot (B-Uhr) Type A/B Luftwaffe watches (produced by ALS, IWC, LACO, STOWA, WEMPE) and the Luftwaffe flyback pilot chronograph developed and produced by HANHART (Caliber 42 – 1938), along with TUTIMA (Caliber UROFA-59 – 1941). It is noted that this was the first flyback chronograph in history, later used by the French for the development of their own TYPE-20 military model in the 1950s. After WWII, the industry recovered with large production volumes of qualitative middle range exporting watches in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the establishment of new significant brands like SINN in 1961, BOTTA DESIGN in 1986 and DAMASKO in 1994. The quartz evolution found however the industry unprepared, and forced most traditional brands to close down or minimize their activity, with the exception of DUGENA (Swiss production) and JUNGHANS that adapted properly.

The story of Glashutte

It is a touching story of a village that became the metropolis of the German watch industry and one of the most important horological centers worldwide. It all began in 1845 when Ferdinand Adolf Lange (1815-1875), a visionary watchmaker himself that had completed his apprenticeship next to the Austrian master watchmaker J.T.Winnerl in Paris during the 1930s, secured the necessary funds, and established a local workshop with 15 young technicians (most of them orphans) who started manufacturing pocket watches out of the necessity of surviving. Eventually, he laid the foundations of A.LANGE & SOHNE (ALS), a flagship brand that has evolved in one of the best Manufactures in the global watch industry, thanks to the contribution of 4 Lange generations.

F.A.Lange adopted from the very beginning a clear strategy of differentiation from the competition, based on the following three properties. First, he established the characteristic three quarter plate (inspired by his contacts with English watchmakers) that improved the caliber stability. Second, he implemented a labor division system for minimizing the error rate. Third, he emphasized on the crafting of special tools for fine and precise processing in all stages of the watch production. The end result was timepieces of excellent quality. Three facts that prove the very high level of the brand are (a) the “in-house” production of complicated models, like quarter repeaters with an estimated production volume of 700 pcs since 1873, plus 11 tourbillon pocket watches from 1892 to 1939, (b) the specialty in the production of marine chronometers, (c) the contribution to the very significant invention of NIVAROX hairspring, thanks to the work of Richard Lange (2nd generation) from 1930.

Adolf Lange was not just the founder of a brand, but the founder of a horological community that attracted many gifted watchmakers. The three most important were Julius Assmann (1827-1866), Adolf Schneider (1824-1878), Moritz Grossmann (1826-1885). All of them had been mentored by F.A.Lange, with the first two working for him before opening their independent workshops, and the third one establishing the watchmaking school of Glashutte in 1878. These four individuals are considered the “four fathers” of Glashutte watch industry. In 1893, after almost 20 years in wholesaling, Johanne Dürrstein with the help of the watchmaker Julius Bergter established UNION GLASHUTTE, with the scope of producing more affordable timepieces in comparison with the expensive creations of the local independent watchmakers, and this was the first such effort among others including entities engaged in the production of “GLASHUTTE” watches with imported parts. During that period around 1900, Glashutte watches had established such a high reputation to the point that their characteristic designs were being copied even by Swiss workshops that were presenting the so called SYSTEM GLASHUTTE pocket watches. This situation raised an issue of originality that ended up with a court decision (on the case between ALS and old NOMOS brand) according to which the word “Glasshute” should be written on a watch dial subject to the prerequisite that at least 50% of the added value of the watch should be generated locally, a condition sustained diachronically ever since.

The First World War was a turning point on the history of the local industry facing the gradual stoppage of production and the potential collapse. It was the end of the “Golden” period of Glashutte. It is worth mentioning that in 1914, a gold pocket watch from Glashutte had almost double price than the respective Swiss. After a turmoil period of more than 10 years, the industry was nationalized, with ALS being the only surviving traditional brand. In 1926, thanks to the initiative of Dresden’s Giro-Zentrale Sachsen bank, UROFA and UFAG companies were established bringing together all the remaining local resources. UROFA was producing mechanisms, and UFAG was producing complete watches introducing the brand TUTIMA, the second local brand next to ALS, with both of them forced to operate for the army industry in the WWII preparation period. The very last day of WWII in central Europe (08/05/1945), the watchmaking facilities of Glashutte were completely destroyed from the Soviet Army, and the history of the city was facing the challenge of a new beginning from scratch during the communist period in East Germany. The call for the local specialized work force came in 1951, with the incorporation of VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB) that brought together eight entities from the past including UFAG/UROFA, ALS, MESSTECHNIK (former MUHLE) and the local watch making school. The one missing brand was TUTIMA that managed to “escape” in time, before the end of WWII. For more than 40 years, GUB proved a competent middle range manufacture company employing approximately 2000 people during the top production periods, and producing more than 5 million complete watches of good quality in total. Above all, it kept the local industry alive and set the ground for a new beginning of the traditional brands, after the country reunification.

The fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989 and the following developments in the united Germany, provided Glashutte with the opportunity of new investments and challenges. The transition and preparation period of 1990-1994 ended with the re-establishment of A.LANGE & SHONE and the incorporation of GLASHUTTE ORIGINAL as a “sequel” of GUB, but it is worth mentioning that the first brand in the new era of Glasshute is NOMOS, established by Roland Schwertner in 1991. NOMOS fast and successful development was based on the presentation of Tangente model, designed by Susanne Gunther in the spirit of an ALS Bauhaus design from 1937, equipped with a modified PESEUX 7001 caliber till the introduction of in-house manufactured mechanisms in 2005. Walter Lange (4th generation) and Gunter Blumlein (one of the best industry managers in the 20th century, credited with the restructuring of IWC and JLC) re-established ALS in 1994 placing the brand in the hyper-luxury range from the very beginning, under the back-up of Mannesman VDO group. The same year, Heinz Pfieffer set up GLASHUTTE ORIGINAL (GO) utilizing the resources of GUB, primarily the automatic mechanism 10-30 that equipped both the first GO models, plus the first models of its subsidiary brand UNION GLASHUTTE, re-established two years later in 1996. The same year, MUHLE a family company of 5 generations, introduced its first wristwatches based on standard Swiss automatic calibers upon which developed its own patented modifications in 2000s in order to secure the “Glashutte” marker on its dials. The 21st century started with the acquisition of GLASHUTTE ORIGINAL and UNION GLASHUTTE from the SWATCH group enhancing its own brand list in the luxury and high range respectively. In 2008, Christine Hutter, one of the very few female top executives in the watch industry, established MORITZ GROSSMANN reviving the name of the legendary 19th century watchmaker in the independent watchmaking segment. Finally, in 2011, the “expatriate” TUTIMA, after a long-lasting presence in the former West Germany, was the last traditional brand returning home, and completing the “magnificent seven” group of Glashutte brands.

The 21st century

The re-launch of Glashutte industry in the 1990s affected positively the whole market, and the boom of German watch making in the 2000s and beyond is certainly the louder in the global industry. In the early 2020s, the production facilities have spread all over the country, with more than eighty (80) established brands covering all ranges. Germans have invested in their traditional manufacturing or assembling (with qualitative parts from Asia) of watch cases, many brands present their own mechanisms or improvements on mass production Swiss calibers, and the majority have adopted the dogma of fair pricing offering perhaps the “best value for money” mechanical wristwatches, at least in the European market. Among the most significant contributions are (a) the re-establishment of almost all the historical brands, (b) the applications introduced by the “technical” brands of SINN and DAMASKO, (c) the Bauhaus design adopted in the majority of dress models, (d) the several independent watchmakers with relatively affordable timepieces. With the exception of the basic-middle range section, the majority of the German brands traditionally focus on the “in-house” production of mechanical timepieces. GS