Think of high-end timekeeping and most people will cite Switzerland as the mecca of haute horology. However, over the last twenty years or so, watch aficionados have increasingly been buying up pieces from its northern neighbour, Germany.
On the face of it, Germany’s watch-making prowess shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The country already dominates the holy trinity of football, motoring and beer and, mostly thanks to the industrious watchmakers based in the sleepy towns of Pforzheim and Glashütte, it now boasts a respected timepiece industry too.
German Peter Hele invented the first mainspring and even assembled the first known portable timepiece in 1504, decades before watch-making commenced in Zurich. However, WWII saw a lot of German watchmakers shut down and it wasn’t until the reunification of Germany in the nineties that some iconic brands were revived. Chief among these was A. Lange & Söhne, the most prestigious name among German watchmakers, which was relaunched in 1990 by the late Günter Blümlein, who relaunched the brand with a descendant of founder Ferdinand Adolph Lange: his great-grandson, Walter Lange.
Between this renaissance of great German watch-making names and the rise of younger, upstart brands, the country has quickly gained a reputation for superb engineering and craftsmanship, particularly in the field of metalworking, with watch cases renowned for their durability and precision tolerances. The innovative movement manufactures of Glashütte, combined with its rich history of delicate and difficult decoration, has seen the number of its watch-making workers swell to 1,200 people – a staggering figure considering the population of the entire town is just 7,000.
Complex, beautiful and desirable – a fine German watch should be in every timepiece aficionado’s collection.
German Brands of Note
Designed in Münster, Germany and made in Switzerland; founded in 2001
Head designer and founder of MeisterSinger, Manfred Brassler, places great emphasis on the German traits of quality and service. Watches are incredibly well-produced with an emphasis on simplicity – when they have additional functions, the standard movement is usually stripped down. The single-hand Paleograph references the early days of watch-making, using a single button to control the chronograph function to go with its signature single-hand time display
A. Lange & Söhne
Glasshütte, Germany; founded in 1845
Offering superb craftsmanship – the company’s very finest products are generally given the coveted ‘‘1A’’ designation – the Lange Zeitwerk Striking Time, seen here in rose gold, illustrates the skill the company is known for by integrating a resonant chiming mechanism. Three high-pitched chimes and one lower-pitched tone announce each passing quarter and full hour. The company prides itself on ensuring even the small details are perfect, with every part of their movements, visible or not, decorated with its own finissage technique.
Gütenbach, Germany; founded in 1882
Hanhart has a long history in the watch-making world, celebrating many technical landmarks over the last century. The company set the bar in the thirties with its first chronograph model which soon became its signature design and, determined to stay ahead of the curve, Hanhart debuted its stopwatches in the fifties, quickly becoming market leaders. Now, it is focusing on design and quality, basing current models on the chronographs that made the brand famous. The Pioneer pilots watches are particularly fine, as are its beautiful new Racer models.
Schramberg, Germany; founded in 1861
For over 100 years, Junghans has consistently produced innovative, well-crafted timepieces. It was the first company to introduce quartz wristwatches to Germany in 1970 and unveiled the world’s first radio-controlled watch, the Mega 1, in 1990. The company’s most popular ranges – the Aerious Chronoscope, Tempus and Creater lines – all feature in-house movements. Junghans’ focus on technological distinctiveness continues to result in original and desirable timepieces, as shown by a recent partnership with Bogner, a German ski wear brand. The result is a range of highly technical sports watches, which are renowned for their robust qualities. Its Meister line is particularly significant, as the styling pays tribute to the brand’s early 20th century models while combining that aesthetic with a modern dress watch appeal.
Frankfurt, Germany; founded in 2007
Stefan Kudoke was awarded a master craftsman certificate in watch-making at the age of 22 and began his career working for Glashütte Original, developing prototypes and working on mechanical complications. This was followed by stints at Brequet, Blancpain and Omega before launching his eponymous brand, building exceptional, one-of-a-kind mechanical masterpieces. The Real Skeleton pictured here is a case in point, with its wonderfully gothic appearance comprising a gold skull with diamond eyes and bone-shaped, black rhodium-plated hands. Every element has been hand-finished, making for a wonderfully witty take on a skeleton watch.
Glashütte, Germany; founded in 1990
Another resident of the famous town of Glashütte, Nomos is best known for the utilitarian chic of its Bauhaus-inspired watch faces and simple yet elegant designs. Over the years, Nomos has become a respected manufacture, building its own movements from scratch and, most recently, producing an in-house escapement for its new Metro model. The Nomos Zurich World Timer remains of the best value-for-money dual time mechanical watches on the market.
Frankfurt, Germany; founded in 1961
German pilot Helmut Sinn began making watches for aviators after being annoyed by the high cost of pilot’s watches. His brand quickly made a name for itself by creating top quality watches at affordable prices. Among some of its best innovations is the Diapal, the first watch escapement made with no lubricant. Sinn owners appreciate their high level of performance, their robustness and durability, as well as the quality and precision of the timepieces. As you can see from the Sinn 6000 in rose gold (pictured), they look fabulous too. Quite simply, some of the best tool watches around.
Rinteln, Germany; founded in 1998
This boutique watch house combines a broad range with outstanding quality control, making for a brilliant buy for any watch collector. Its Moon No 1 and No 2 models offer a movement complicated enough to calculate an Astron rotation for 27.3217 days rather than the simple 27.5 days, which lesser moonphase timepieces are known for, plus a wonderful lumed moon and, on the Grand Perpetual Moon Meteorite model, a dial crafted from asteroid fragments. The Retrolateur, with its two retrograde second-dials, is also a stunning piece of work. A must-check watch brand.