If one were to trace the beginnings of German watchmaking (a whole other story unto itself), one would find that the history of Junghans is not very much unlike its famous German watchmaking cousins in neighbouring Glashutte. Established by Erhard Junghans in 1861, Gebr Junghans Uhrenfabrik was a partnership with Franz Xaver, supplying clock components to the Black Forest region in Germany.
Like other early 19th century enterprises, Erhard capitalise on the industrial revolution by working with Xaver, then based in America, to accrue assembly-line equipment and thus become a fully integrated supplier of complete clocks rather than a mere procurer of clock parts. It was a business model which saw Erhard shift from an operational role to a commercial one, leaving Xaver and a clockmaker to oversee production of mechanical movements. Erhard’s passing 9 years later heralded a passing of the torch to his heirs Arthur and Erhard Jr; by that time, the company was already producing over 100 clocks per day and this was when Junghan’s golden age truly began.
Junghans, the Meister
The eight-pointed star we recognise today was inspired by a clock cogwheel. It became the company’s official monogram in 1890 and within the scant 3 years, Junghans became the biggest clockmaker in the world, producing a million timepieces. As neighbouring Glashütte began its watchmaking infancy, Schramberg where Junghans was based shaped the German watchmaking industry as the world’s biggest, most prolific manufacturer – from there, the journey of Uhrenfabrik Junghans GmbH & Co. KG. follows like a dramatic business case-study worthy of its own telenovella.
With 3,000 employees by 1903, it was the largest workforce with the largest factory, selling 3 million watches per year, all leading up to its ‘master’ or meister collection. But the brand icon (Meister), launched in 1930s was not to see its full potential; when World War 2 began, the machinery producing the popular Meister collection was retooled for military fuses and onboard chronometers for the German army. By that time, the size and knowledge gained at Junghans’ native Schramberg, provided the German watchmaking as a whole, a revolutionary blueprint which would energise the concept of “German watchmaking”, allowing it to rival its Swiss counterparts.
Following the cessation of hostilities, Junghans began its shift back to consumer production; the factory was acquired by the Diehl Group in 1956, new capital and an extensive network allowed Junghans to become the world’s third largest producer of chronometers. At 10,000 chronometers per year, Junghans trailed only Rolex and the top dog, Omega.
In a stroke of historical irony, the next two decades would see Junghans lead the German watchmaking industry into the quartz revolution and become one of the official timekeepers of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games – what would seem like a business high point would eventually become an albatross. Four years later, Junghans would all but cease mechanical watch production in favour of quartz and other modern technologies; But, it can be said that while most WIS would consider quartz based watches to be cheap, the chronometer grade quartz watches produced by Junghans at the time rivalled the difficulties producing mechanical chronometers. And though paths diverged from what watch collectors would consider as purist, Junghans pioneered the next thing in modern watchmaking – radio reception technology.
Before Japan, Junghans.
While it might seem like Japanese watches like the Seiko Astron and Citizen’s GPS watches are modern discovery, Junghans is most remembered for its successful endeavours into the field of radion reception technology in watches. By 1985, the company used radio waves to regulate and control precision clocks by equipping each Junghans timepiece with receivers that could read time signals from the atomic clock at Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), the German National Metrology Institute in Braunschweig. It was a concept far ahead of its time but it wasn’t the only groundbreaking idea; while we have come to equate solar-powered watches with Citizen’s Eco-drive, it was Junghans which perfected the first solar-powered digital wristwatch concept in 1986 and it eventually became crowned, Mega 1 in 1990; it was also the world’s first radio-controlled watch.
However, what would appear to be a sure path to success on the back cutting edge technological wrist-wizardry was short lived, the one-two punch of the contemporary watch industry first began to see resurgent interest in mechanical watchmaking, meanwhile the price efficiency of Japanese digital watch production and sales saw Junghans on shaky grounds and so just 2 years shy of its 150th anniversary, the company had to be rescued from the brink of collapse and bankruptcy by Schramberg native Dr. Hans-Jochem Steim in 2009.
A return to roots: The Junghans Meister series
Like a giant oak tree, there are strong roots to which to return. The company, led by Steim began to restructure; it introduced its namesake Erhard Junghans line for high end watches and re-introduced the brand’s Meister line as its core, while appealing to the modern watch collector with minimalist Bauhaus design offerings exemplified in the Max Bill series. Additionally, by 2011, Junghans began to use components from other native Schramberg companies like Carl Haas, equipping their new hand-wound J85 chronometer calibres with Haas blued balance springs- Lange & Sohne it is not, but strives to be region authentic in what it offers.
To their credit, Junghans doesn’t white-wash its history either, instead it embraces the divergent path away from mechanical watchmaking with its Performance collection, delivering on the company’s pioneering history with high precision digital time-keepers complete with radio-controlled calibres and solar-powered offerings. That said, we find that Junghans’ ethos and heritage is best carried by their Meister Kalendar.
Junghans Meister Kalendar Moon
In Junghans contemporary history, the Max Bill collection is the most popular. But, for us, the Meister Kalendar Moonphase is the most classical. For the price point, it’s a great starter vintage watch with modern aesthetics for any novice collector.
The day, date, month and moonphase complication adds a layer of complexity to other similarly priced entry-tier luxury watches. Driven by a base calibre ETA 2824-2 and equipped with the calendar/moonphase Dubois Depraz 9310 module, the Junghans decorated calibre J800.3, is a relatively affordable (compared to available complete calendar watches within the price range like Baume & Mercier) and in terms of perception and prestige, you would probably also get more recognition from a Junghans than competing Louis Erad.
The ultra-thin bezel leaves the sparsely populated dial simple yet expansive, thus, it appears to wear bigger on the wrist than a 40mm wristwatch usually would. The case is slightly curved and tapers to the wrist, all while sitting beneath a domed vintage-respectful plexiglass rather than sapphire crystal. It’s a German made watch with complications, moderately priced at SGD4,980 for the yellow gold plated models, SGD5,200 for rose gold, while the Singapore edition Junghans Meister Kalendar retails for $6280 (limited to 14 pieces).
Also introducing, the Singapore Edition
Aptly covered by our sister publication, NUS Horology Club, the Junghans Meister Kalendar Singapore Edition adds a patriotic slant to the classic timepiece by re-interpreting the traditional moon and stars disc in a moonphase to Singapore’s national motif “Moon and Five Stars” – it’s a special limited edition which has seen more interest and demand with Joseph Schooling’s win of Singapore’s first gold Olympic medal. Available at WOW2. #03-01E Wisma Atria. 435 Orchard Road. S238877. Tel: 8556 8889