It was in 1989. It was November 9th. And I was still a student at the University of Bonn for higher education.
I clearly remember watching the events that changed history on television that day on one of the three channels we had at the time in West Germany: it was footage from ‘Germans knocking down the wall from both sides with their hands. That and the sight of East Germans flocking to West Berlin had a lasting emotional impact on me.
These images, coupled with feelings of joy and relief, are one of the strongest memories I have from this historical period. The unnatural division of a people in my adopted homeland was over.
In the video below you will see reports on the fateful events of November 9, 1989 in German language, including East Germans shopping in West Berlin using the Begrüssungsgeld (“Greeting money”) of 100 German marks which they received from the government. Interestingly, at two minutes, someone buying a watch appears, although it is not possible to tell which watch it is.
That day seems to be an eternity ago; so much has happened both in a general sense and in terms of clockwork. The rebirth of the Glashütte watch industry is an unprecedented story, accompanied by many stories about the human condition that will one day need to be told.
If you live outside of Germany, you are unlikely to know that October 3 is the official Reunification Day holiday in Germany. The government has decided not to dedicate November 9 because further down in history there are others, much less positive associations with this date.
I entered the watch industry through a publishing house in 1990, and over the next 30+ years I – for obvious reasons – took a real shine to German watches. . And I cherish every understated detail about them that I’ve had the privilege of knowing.
According to the dominant opinion, modern watchmaking seems to originate from southern Germany. In fact, there is a little known monument called Walhalla (“Valhalla”) in Donaustauf which was built at the request of King Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1842. It contains marble busts and commemorative plaques in honor of 195 great Germanic personalities, reminding us of their deeds and words . And there is a watchmaker among them: Peter Henlein (1479-1542). He is said to have made the first wearable watch in 1505.
Since Henlein’s death in 1542, Germany has made great strides in watchmaking, although today the country is much less famous for its watchmaking prowess than its geographic neighbor, Switzerland.
The “city of gold” Pforzheim has maintained a living center for the decorative arts related to watchmaking such as engraving, goldsmithing, guilloche and gem-setting, in addition to various watchmakers and especially suppliers.
Idar-Oberstein is an important center for precious and semi-precious stones, and many watch companies and their suppliers purchase goods and services from there. Including Hermès, whose Millefiori crystal globes are sliced by a specialist company in Idar-Oberstein to serve as a dial. See How Hermès turns the crystal into the colored dial of the Arceau Millefiori watch for more information on this subject.
Besides the cuckoo clocks, the Black Forest once housed the largest watch factory in the world. At its peak around 1903, Junghans – founded in 1861 and today the most famous for wearing solar technology on the wrist – employed 3,000 people.
There are still today various important suppliers for the watch industry and watch brands, large and small, spread across the country. Chronoswiss, whose founder Gerd-Rüdiger Lang helped herald the mechanical renaissance in the late 1980s, is perhaps the most notable among brands outside of Saxony.
Dresden and Glashütte are today the nerve center of German watchmaking.
Some Notable Facts About German Watches
* A. Lange & SöhneFerdinand founder Adolph Lange also founded the entire Glashütte watch industry in 1845, creating a concept of division of labor that worked perfectly until the company was expropriated by the East German government in 1951. The company enjoyed a world famous reputation among connoisseurs. not like the others in the country. See Happy 90th Birthday to Walter Lange with a look back at the modern A. Lange & Söhne for more on this.
* In 1951, the East German government consolidated all of Glashütte’s micromechanics and watchmaking companies into one public entity. The “suit”, now called Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB), continued to make watches and related items until it was privatized after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It employed around 2,000 people over those 40 years.
* In 1994, the privatized and scaled-down remnants of the GUB factory were purchased by Heinz W. Pfeifer and Alfred Wallner, who successfully transformed it into a premium brand called Glashütte Original. The Swatch Group bought it in 2000.
* Nomos was the first company to open in Glashütte reunited. Roland Schwertner founded the company there in 1990, named after a brand that can be found in the annals of the city’s history because he liked what the word meant: “nomos” means in Greek law , order.
* Tutima, a brand whose director fortunately fled to the West before the fall of the Wall and successfully recovered there, created in 2011 the first repeating timepiece entirely designed, developed, produced and assembled on German soil. See the Tutima Hommage “Happy To Be Home” minute repeater chimes.
* A. Lange & Söhne made Glashütte’s most complicated wristwatch: the Grande Complication. See the secret ingredients of A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication (live images + price) for full information on this masterpiece.
* The first guilloche engines have arrived Pforzheim in 1857; ten years later, there were already ten specialists established in the “city of gold”. In 1930 there were 33 guilloche companies located in Pforzheim, employing a record 330 guillocheurs for the various ornamental products produced there. The wars, the decline of the economy, the brocades and finally the quartz crisis chased the real guilloche work of Pforzheim, and in 1982, there were only three specialists (source: Lexicon der Deutschen Uhrenindustrie 1850-1980).
One of the first companies to set up in Pforzheim in 1857 was Kollmar. In 1985, this company and its inventory of pink engines (guilloche) was bought by a young master engraver by the name of Jochen Benzinger, whose spacious workshop looks a lot like a museum today. In addition to his eponymous brand, he also works as an independent supplier for many companies in Germany and Switzerland.
German watch design
The Germans have a real affinity for mechanics and technology. Several of the world’s best car and electronics brands originate from this country, which had a population of approximately 86 million people in 16 federal states in the United Nation in 2014.
Germanic design is very similar to the people who create it: predominantly minimalist, often containing design concepts originating from Bauhaus or Werkbund movements, clean, and above all functional and of durable quality. Germanic watches are often aimed at people who don’t like fussy designs, but who like reliability and attention to detail.
The conception of the modern Teutonic movement is often based on traditional concepts and techniques originating in Glashütte. Here, the concepts of movement were (and still are) based on stability and reliability, often resulting in minimalist mechanical aesthetics. This resulted in the use of the two-thirds plate and then the three-quarter plate in place of the individual bridge movements that the Swiss are used to using.
Modern Glashütte movements are almost always designed around a three-quarter plate, which allows a certain visibility of beautiful decisive components such as the escapement. This style is mainly found at A. Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original. The recently founded Moritz Grossmann the brand uses two-thirds plates.
Most of the companies based in Glashütte use traditional movement decorations originating in the city, which differ only slightly from those used in Switzerland. Some of these elements include Glashütte ribs, which look like Geneva ribs but applied from a different angle, and sunburst patterns on the wheels.
The finish is very important and meticulously applied.
“German made” doesn’t necessarily convey the same luxury connotation as “Swiss made” to the average consumer around the world, but in my opinion it should.
At Quill & Pad, we have published numerous articles and reports on German brands and Germanic watchmaking, including:
A. Lange & Söhne
Habring2 (half of which is German)
Lang & Heyne
You can also enjoy:
A crash course in Flieger (Pilot) and B-Uhren (Navigator) watches covering both historical and modern examples (an aviator’s watch photo festival!).
Why I bought it: A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual – Review
4 highlights of Glashütte’s 175th anniversary in 2020 with A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original, Nomos Glashütte and Moritz Grossmann