Over the last few decades, German watches have experienced a renaissance. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was the catalyst. Prior to the period, German watches were relatively low profile. Many of the manufacturers were behind the Iron Curtain, making utilitarian watches for the Communist public. While those in West Germany, like Junghans fell victims to the quartz revolution as with their Swiss brethren. The Swiss revived the industry in the late 1970s, led by Nicholas G. Hayek of Swatch and the others who followed transforming them into luxury products. The Germans did not respond. Those in East Germany remained shielded from world affairs and economics and continued on their way. And those in West Germany simply did not respond or just disappeared. The few who remained in business did so with Swiss movements and knowhow.
Following the reunification of Germany in 1989, there was a flurry of activities in the region. In a nutshell, Glashütte Uhrenbetrieb (GUB) which was the conglomeration of all watchmaking companies in the Glashütte area was still in operation making utility watches. Günter Blümlein, Chairman of Les Manufactures Horlogères had just partnered Walter Lange, the Great Grandson of Ferdinand A. Lange who had started the watchmaking industry in Glashütte in the 1850s. He had, by then retired and living in recluse in Pforzheim. They returned to Glashütte and successfully negotiated the rights to the name A. Lange and Söhne. Later, German industrialist Heinz Pfeifer bought GUB together all the rights to all the other Glashütte watchmaking names, and renamed it Glashütte Original. Lange became part of the package in the sale of LMH to Richemont Luxury Group in 2001, and remain within their stables. And Glashütte Original was sold to the Swatch Group where they remain today. For some reason the name Moritz Grossmann was left un-registered, and was later registered by Christine Hutter in 2008.
Before we begin, we feel that it’ll be good to understand more about the German watch industry, in the essential reading that we have highlighted below. This will give you a better insight on both the Swiss and German watch industry, especially since the author is an insider with both A. Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original.
NOMOS Tetra neomatik
We begin with one of the up-and-coming watch manufacturer from Germany: NOMOS.
While NOMOS was established in 1990, but its rise to prominence only happened in the last few years. This was after the company decided to produce their own in-house movement in 2005. What really attracts the collectors are two factors: its excellent value based pricing, and the clean Bauhaus-inspired design.
This is perhaps encapsulated by one of their novelties in this year’s Baselworld, the Tetra neomatik. The Tetra is not a new model, but it now comes with some upgrades. This includes a larger square case (at 33mm), as well as the use of the in-house automatic DUW3001 movement. The movement was first featured in the inaugural series of the neomatik watches. It has a power reserve of around 42 hours, and the finishing is done rather decently.
Priced between S$4,920 and S$5,060 (depending on the dial option), the NOMOS Tetra neomatik is an excellent timepiece for one to get acquainted with German watches. The price point is excellent, and the clean classic design is something that will certainly appeal to many collectors.
Junghans Meister Kalendar Moon
Continuing with the theme of watches with clean aesthetics, we have the Meister Kalendar Moon from Junghans. Junghans is one of the companies not located in the Glashütte region, being in Schramburg in the Black Forest area of Germnay. Before the quartz crisis, Junghans was the world’s largest watch manufacture, and it fell victim to the surge of quartz watches. Without a luminary like Hayek to bail them out, they meandered about the industry, and only recently began to find its feet, capitalising on its history and traditional aesthetics.
Meister and Max Bill collection are two of their more successful series. These two series of watches feature its signature touches, which includes a rather neat-looking dial, coupled with an ultra-thin bezel and domed Plexiglas. The overall effect is rather pleasing; in fact, we feel that the classic interpretation is rather timeless. This is seen in the Junghans Meister Kalendar Moon, which is also one of the watches in those two collections that have caught our eyes. Despite featuring a calendar and moon phase complication, the entire dial is not cluttered at all. This is partially because of its minimalist design, as well as the very thin bezel makes the 40mm watch seemed larger and expansive than it actually is.
Beneath the dial, the watch is driven by a base calibre ETA 2824-2 and equipped with the calendar/moon phase Dubois Depraz 9310 module. As mentioned, the watch is capable of indicating the date, day, month, and the current moon phase. Not bad for a timepiece that is priced at S$4,980 and S$5,200, for models that comes with either yellow gold and rose gold plated respectively.
The U1-D – a special edition that was created for The Hour Glass.
The U1 is perhaps the timepiece that Sinn is most well-known for. Famed for its robustness and depth-rating, the U1 had managed to attain a strong following in the horological scene over the years.
The secret to the U1’s success is in the material that it uses, coupled with the German’s prowess in engineering. The 44mm watch is fitted with submarine steel, and coated with the TEGIMENT technology. It is said that the watch is scratch-resistant, and that it is 6 times stronger than the conventional steel that is used by many other manufacturers. An interesting fact: the steel that Sinn uses is similar to the ones that were used on the external hull of German U-boats. It is undoubtedly a bit of an overkill to use submarine steel, but then again, its ability to resist scratches or dings is one of the main reasons why most of us are attracted to buy this watch (incidentally, a few of us at Deployant actually own the U1, and we can definitely attest to that).
The U1 is available in many variants, including the Camouflage (US$2,160, or S$2,940) and the U1-D. It is certainly an excellent addition to any collection, especially if one is looking for a good-looking utilitarian tool watch that is solid and priced reasonably.
Glashütte Original Senator Chronometer
When it comes to luxury German watches, it is constantly dominated by the two big brands from Glashütte: Glashütte Original, and A. Lange & Söhne. While the both of them offer collectors great timepieces, but the former is often overshadowed by their more illustrious neighbour, whose reputation had soared exponentially with a series of watches that are capable of matching (or some say, even surpassing) to the standards of the “Holy Trinity” from Switzerland.
Despite not being in the limelight most of the time, Glashütte Original still produces great pieces, usually at a more affordable price range. The Senator Chronometer, which is a novelty in this year’s Baselworld, is an excellent example. The watch is not entirely new – it was actually launched in 2009. However, this particular model comes with a new blue dial, to showcase the manufacture’s dial factory in Pforzheim. Call us biased, but there is always something that we find to be mysteriously mesmerizing about a watch that is fitted with a blue dial. This is no exception either. Made from a massive sterling silver plate, the surface is given a frosted finish with a technique called blue grainé, and finally layered with lacquer to create the overall effects that we have seen above.
Other than the dial, the Kaliber 58-01 that is fitted onto the watch is a sight to behold as well. The manual-winding movement is finished beautifully, with the usual characteristics of a typical German watch: three-quarter plates, Glashütte ribbing, and engraved balance cock. The Chronometer-certified movement also includes both the big-date and power reserve indicator, as well as a unique hacking function which can be read in our review article here.
The 42mm timepiece is cased in white gold, and it is priced at S$50,000. While it is not as affordable as some of the other pieces in their collection, but we have noted in our review article that its closest competitor – the A. Lange & Söhne ReferenzUhr – is priced at US$55,000 (approximately S$75,000). While the Lange offers better finishing, and a limited run of 75 pieces, but at a premium of S$25,000.
Moritz Grossmann Benu Tourbillon
The story behind Moritz Grossmann is an interesting one. As we have mentioned at the beginning of the article, all the brand names that were under GUB were bought over and privatized under Glashütte Original. However, for some reason, Moritz Grossmann was not included in the list. That prompted Christine Hutter to acquire the rights.
Over the last decade, the Glashütte-based independent watchmaker had produced three collections: the Benu, Atum, and Tefnut. The Benu Tourbillon, is the flagship of the brand. The concept behind the watch is rather interesting, despite its seemingly traditional aesthetics. First off, the watch displays its time a la a typical regulator where both the hours and minutes indicators are separated. Next, the three-minute Helwig-styled flying tourbillon utilized a brush made of human hair (yes, you have heard that right) to stop the mechanism. That is rather unconventional, but Moritz Grossmann claims that this is a gentler way to stop the tourbillon. Finally, the operation of the crown is unique as well – one pull of the crown puts the watch in time setting mode, but it will return to the original position. After setting the time, a push at the small button at 4 makes the watch return to winding mode, returning the watch to the original mode allowing the watch to be wound by turning the crown.
The Benu Tourbillon is definitely intriguing, as it brings us a new perspective towards watchmaking with its unique features. The finishing is excellent, and the in-house movement is exquisitely done. But all these come with a hefty price tag, at a whopping €168,000 (approximately S$257,461). Though thankfully, there are some alternatives from Moritz Grossmann at a lower price point. We highly recommend you to check them out, if you are looking for something different from a German watch manufacturer.
A. Lange & Söhne Datograph
Saving perhaps the best for the last, we have the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph.
For our regular readers, it is not difficult to guess that A. Lange & Söhne is perhaps one of our favourite watch manufacturers in the industry. Within its short history, after it was revived in 1990, the Glashütte-based watchmaker have produced many fine luxury timepieces at the very top of the haute horlogerie industry, often beating the Swiss at their own game. The Datograph is one excellent example. Launched in the 1999 Baselworld, the Datograph caught many by surprise. It features a totally new flyback chronograph movement, a first in the industry in over two decades. That was also sort of a wake up call for chronograph manufacturers who till then had only offered movements made by third parties. This included those top brands like Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Rolex.
Over the years, Lange have incorporated other complications to the Datograph, such as the power reserve indicator and the perpetual calendar display, into the watch. See our article on the Essential Lange Collection for details. However, we think that the original version, with just the big date display, is good enough. It is not just the complications, but rather, the entire package that got us mesmerized with the Datograph. The combination of its superlative finishing, the symmetrical dial design, as well as their conviction to produce a new chronograph movement and challenge the big boys sum up why the watch, or rather A. Lange & Söhne as a whole, is such a darling.
Although the model that we have pictured above is already discontinued, but there are other excellent variants as well, such as the Perpetual Tourbillon (priced at €295,000, or approximately S$452,000) and the Up/Down (priced at €64,000). It is certainly a good piece to have for any seasoned collectors, especially if one has been contemplating to add a German watch into their watch collection.
At the start, we have highlighted an article that was written by Dr. Frank Muller that discusses if Swiss or Germans actually produce better watches. However, we think that it is rather difficult to compare between the both of them – it is just not fair to compare an apple to a pear, despite the both of them producing watches. It is the characteristics that makes them different, and hence it is not fair to say that one is better than the other. It simply boils down to personal preferences.
One way to solve the conundrum, we reckon, is to purchase a German watch and gauge for yourself! The beauty of watch collecting is to discover and enjoy the differences that different manufacturers offer, and what better way would it be than to collect watches that are manufactured from different countries? In today’s dynamic environment, German watches are pretty accessible – in terms of availability, complications, and even prices! For instance, a budding collector can get a simple Junghans for slightly over a grand, while a seasoned collector can look forward to tourbillons from a plethora of German manufacturers such as Moritz Grossmann, A. Lange & Söhne, and Glashütte Original. In short, there is a German alternative for most of the Swiss-made watches, and there is simply something for everyone.
So, do you agree with our thoughts on German watches? Or are you still not convinced, and will rather stick with Swiss-made watches? Do let us know your thoughts, as well as pieces that you think deserve a spot on this list. Cheers!