Nomos watches are well known for their understated, clean looking timepieces. Hailing from Glashütte, Germany, but with a history which is different from the other well known Glashütte maisons. We caught up with the CEO of Nomos, Uwe Ahrendt when he was in Singapore recently, and chatted about the company, their watches, and their value proposition to serious collectors looking for bang for the buck.
The author has known Uwe Ahrendt since 1999 or so, when Uwe was Director of Production at Lange Uhren. Through the years, contact was consistent, if a bit infrequent, and it was a good opportunity for us to catch up.
Nomos is a modern company, founded in January 1991, barely months from the fall of the wall which started the process of re-unification of Germany. Unlike some of the other famous brands from the city, it was born afresh, well, sorta…more details next paragraph, but it was not from the conglomerate of Glashütte Unrenbetriebe (GUB) which was the holding company which owned all the Glashütte brands which existed before World War II. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) had nationalised all the watchmaking companies in the region in 1951. It held all the brands and names under GUB. From within came the current names from Saxony vis a vis A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Orginal and Moritz Grossmann.
However, Nomos was founded in Glashütte by Roland Schwertner, a computer expert from Düsseldorf. He founds the company Nomos Glashütte/SA Roland Schwertner KG. The name “Nomos” had already existed previously in Glashütte from 1906 to 1911, as Nomos-Uhr-Gesellschaft, Guido Müller & Co, Glashütte i/S. Their watches were made entirely in Switzerland but had carried the inscription Glashütte. This was in violation of German law, and the company had to close.
Even when Roland founded the modern Nomos in 1991, he had to fight for the name “Nomos Glashütte i/Sa.” (Nomos Glashütte in Saxony) in court shortly after its launch, after a warning by the German Centre for Protection Against Unfair Competition. The early collection had featured movements from ETA Peseux, but Roland could prove that most of the value creation of his production happened in Glashütte. This point is not lost with the Nomos till today. Since 2005, they have used only in-house manufactured movements, and is ready to defend their “Made in Germany” tag by having a value addition in Germany of more than 65% to 95% against a legally required 50%.
The Peseux movements used were based on the 7001, with some finishing done in the Glashütte style by Soprod. A sunray finishing was applied to the crown and barrel wheels, “Glashütter Streifenschliff” (Glashütte Ribbing or Côtes de Genève)was applied to the bridges, and the screws were flame blued. The plates are also rhodium plated to protect the base brass from oxidation and then blasted and gilded.
From March 2002, the Peseux 7001 modified movements were renamed Nomos 1T. This was done not to confuse customers but on request by ETA as they did not want their name on the movement due to the modifications that were being done. The Nomos 1T had a new balance cock which were decorated at the Nomos facility, and regulation was done using the Triovis fine regulation system to 4 positions. The next developments to the movements were the Nomos 1 TSP and subsequent movements which feature Glashütte style three-quarter places and a ratchet to lock the barrel wheel. The look of the movement now looked like it was derived from Glashütte, although the donor ebauche was still the Peseau 7001.
In 2005, with the introduction of the Tagente Automatic’s Alpha movement, Nomos gained the status of a true manufacture. The basic design is retained from the Peseux 7001 design of the Nomos 1 Series, but does not share any major parts with the ETA ebauche. The movement still used a Nivarox balance and hairspring, but all other parts are made in Glashütte by Nomos or by close suppliers. The movements are as follows:
- Alpha manual winding movement
- Beta manual winding movement with date
- Gamma manual winding movement with power reserve indicator
- Delta manual winding movement with date and power reserve indicator
- Epsilon self-winding movement
- Zeta self-winding movement with date
These movements were improved on with additional value addition in-house and finer finishing with the “Deutsche Uhrenwerke NOMOS Glashütte” collection in 2013.
- DUW 1001 – Round, 29 jewel, double barrel, hand-wound, power reserve indicator
- DUW 2002 – Tonneau, 23 jewel, double barrel, hand-wound
- DUW 4301 – Nomos Swing System, 17 jewel, hand-wound, power reserve indicator
- DUW 4401 – Nomos Swing System, 23 jewel, hand-wound, power reserve indicator, date wheel
With the Nomos Swing System, the manufacture was fully independent, and was able to manufacture all the movement in its facilities in Glashütte.
In 2016 with the “neomatic” an ultra flat movement the DUW3001 was introduced. See our full hands-on review of neomatic on this link.
In 2014, they announced their independence from the Swiss by introducing their own escapement system as part of the Deutsche Uhrenwerke production. They named the escapement the Nomos Swing which is made in their in-house facility in Glashütte. This was a project which cost them some € 11 million, but was necessary for continued independence.
At first glance, it seems that that’s an quite a lot of investment for something as small as an escapement. For for a long time, The Swatch Group held a near monopoly of hairsprings and escapements through Nivarox. And only a few forward looking manufacturers sought to break this monopoly by making them in-house.
As early as 2000, Ulysse Nardin presented the UN Freak with its unique escapement developed by Ludwig Oeschlin. Rolex, Patek Philippe also pioneered the development of the silicon balance with the project they co-funded with The Swatch Group. This gave rise to their own escapements. Lange announced their in-house escapement in 2004 with the Double Split and currently all their models use Glashütte made escapement. Girard Perregaux followed with their Constant Force Escapement. This was shown as a concept as developed by Nicolas Dehon and Stéphane Oes in 2008, and introduced in a wrist watch in 2014. As did Ulysse Nardin with their Anchor escapement Tourbillon in 2015, having shown the concept the year before. Dominique Renaud also announced plans for a completely new escapement in 2016, though he has yet to show a working prototype.
But for a small company like Nomos, this was an interesting development. And they had attempted to do this construction on its own by collaborating with the Dresden University. The result is the Nomos Swing. It is a complete new system comprising of many little advancements in research, development, and now production.
The Nomos Customer
Uwe revealed that the main market is still Germany with some 65 points of sale, although the rest of the world is catching up very quickly. The USA is a close second with 54 POS, and China/Hong Kong, Japan and the UK are also significant markets. Uwe adds that he sees most of his customers being young professionals who desire an entry level watch which expresses their elegance in a very understated manner. Interestingly, the ownership demographics are that they see their typical German customer to be a bit older than the twenty somethings who are buying their watches in the rest of the world. The Orion is their best selling line, with the Metro Power Reserve and Tangente 35 following close.
Nomos will continue to focus on the € 1500 – € 3000 (internationally US$ 1500 – US$ 6000) price range. Uwe points out that they are able to do this by keeping the cost low even though they strive to keep quality high.
“Nomos does not employ a huge sales force and does not spend on huge marketing and roll-out campaigns like some brands”, he says with a grin.
The company is focusing on expansion by selecting to work with exclusive partners worldwide. This has proved to be successful with their turnover doubling in the last 3 years. However, he cautions that they are still a very conservative company, and will only work in adding 1 -3 markets in the next 2 3- 3 year timeframe.
We hope we have given you a glimpse of this amazing company. Young (for a watch company where history, tradition is a large part of being able to sell in this luxury industry), vibrant, energetic (their current catalog lists 14 inhouse calibers on 12 models each with variations). We love the Bauhaus inspired design. Clean, clear. Very legible and very understated. Look out for in-depth reviews of the new Midnight Blue series as well as of the Lamda Roségold.