Think of Germany and you most likely think of great beer, Wurst, and maybe even some decent car brands. Watches probably are not top of mind. However, this country has rich roots in creating specialty clocks and wristwatches. In fact, it can trace watchmaking roots back to the town of Pforzheim as early as the mid 18th century. A host of watchmaking schools emerged in that area, and the first workshops were opened in a converted orphanage in the mid-1700s.
By the mid-1800s, the Saxony region of Germany was the area of choice for Adolph Lange, who led the pack when he established his watchmaking brand in Glashütte. Other brands followed and for almost a century, watchmaking was highly lucrative. Unfortunately, World War II witnessed the destruction of many factories that were bombed or forced to close. Following the war, the state took over most businesses in the East, and watch brands predominantly disappeared. In fact, many watchmakers fled for West Germany before the wall went up.
However, in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was torn down and Germany was unified, a good number of relatives of Saxony watchmakers dreamed of relaunching their brands in the area again. Over the ensuing decades, the Saxony region once again became a hotbed for watchmaking with brands such as A. Lange & Sohne, Tutima, and others re-emerging.
That reunification of the country has enabled German watchmaking to grow by leaps and bounds. Today we see the German design style in many of the brands from the region: minimalistic designs, sober lines, and top craftsmanship. Many are building their own movements in-house and are turning out watches that are turning heads amongst collectors. Here we look at some of the top German watch brands.
One of the largest producers of mechanical watches in Germany, Nomos proudly flaunts its Bauhaus design style and its bold use of color. Initially, the brand outsourced for certain parts and components, but year after year, it strove to become fully integrated. Originally founded in 1990, by 2005 they were producing some movements in house and by 2014, had created its own proprietary escapement with swing system. Nomos has consistently won design awards and collectors’ hearts with their value proposition timepieces.
Originally founded in 1861 by Erhard Junghans, this German brand was known for its fine pocket watches and was the world’s largest watch factory by 1903. However, it was one of the first to jump on the wristwatch bandwagon in the 1920s. Over the years, the brand created mechanical watches and, eventually, quartz watches. In the 1950s, it struck up a relationship with Bauhaus designer Max Bill and created a line of watches designed by him. To this day, there is still a Max Bill series. Nestled in the Black Forest region, Junghans produces pilot watches, classically elegant pieces, and even a radio-controlled solar line.
A caveat comes into play when we discuss German watch brands: Montblanc, founded in 1906 in Hamburg, Germany. The luxury goods company began as a writing instruments brand, Simplo Filler Pen Company. However, within a few years, the brand took the name Montblanc as the brand and introduced its logo- the six-point star that represents the snow-covered mountain Mont Blanc. When the brand began its foray into watches, it knew Switzerland was the place to do this, and so set up its manufacture in Le Locle, Switzerland. Under the umbrella of the Richemont Group, Montblanc also owns the legendary Minerva workshops in Villeret.
Located in the thriving city of Frankfurt, Sinn was founded 80 years ago in 1961 by Helmut Sinn who focused on navigation clocks for pilots, as well as chronographs for former World War II pilots. The brand quickly became known for its top-notch pilot watches and was even worn in 1985 by astronaut Reinhard Furrer during his space mission. The brand continues to be the watch of choice for pilots looking for a top-quality, anti-magnetic wristwatch at a value proposition. In the past couple of decades, Sinn has created diver watches and teamed with technology companies and Applied Sciences firms to ensure access to the best materials, applications, and testing for its watches, including Hunting watches, diver, pilot ad EZM 12. It has twice won the Red Dot design award.
Having won the German Design Award and the Red Dot Design Award of 2020, Meistersinger is in a class by itself with its single-hand watches. Each and every collection features just one hand on the watch dial, recalling the clock towers of the medieval days that typically only displayed a single hand to showcase the hour. Since the brand’s founding in 2001, this has been the design ethos. However, the different collections offer other options, including moonphase display, date indications, and more. Designed in Germany, the watches house Swiss movements that are tailored to suit Meistersinger’s needs.
A Lange & Sohne
Located in a state-of-the-art highly sustainable new factory in Glashütte, A. Lange & Söhne was brought back to the world in the 1990’s thanks to Walter Lange, great-grandson of the original founder, and watchmaking’s legendary Gunter Blumlein. The luxury watch brand remains true to its historical roots and regularly creates complicated watches that have watch collectors waiting in line. With six core collections, A. Lange & Söhne deftly blends superb hand craftsmanship with technology and German design ethos. Its collections include the creative 1815, Saxonia, Richard Lange, Lange 1, and Zeitwerk (where many of its chiming watches reside).
With a tag line today that succinctly sums up the brand – German watchmaking art since 1845—Glashütte Original creates mechanical timepieces with some very distinctive characteristics. Among them: clean design, creative displays, top-notch German watchmaking, and artful finishes inside and out. In fact, the brand takes extra time elaborately polishing all of the movement components even though most will never be seen by its owner. It is one of the top German brands when it comes to chronometers – ensuring precision and reliability. Among its most sought-after collections: The Senator and Pano lines, each of which boasts complications such as tourbillon escapements, moon phase displays, inverse calibers that use a double swan-neck fine adjustment and showcase the balance bridge on the dial side, and more.
Founded in Munich in 1983 by German watchmaker Gerd-Rudiger Lang, Chronoswiss was dedicated to creating the finest mechanical movements despite the quartz crisis. Fascinated by the mechanics of watchmaking, Lang worked tirelessly to create not just one, but many world firsts. Among them: a proprietary regulator-style display on a serially produced watch. The Regulateur showcased the hours, minutes, and seconds all separately on the dial. Even better, it was powered by a movement made completely in house. This collection remains the strongest of the Chronoswiss lines today. The other standout: the Open Gear ReSec collection launched in 2019 that is the world’s first regulator style watch a retrograde second hand. The Chronoswiss atelier and headquarters are today based in Luzern, Switzerland, and are owned by the Swiss entrepreneurial family Ebstein.
Made in Glashütte, Tutima has a rich history dating back to 1927 when the brand was known for its high-quality pilot watches. Like other German brands in the 1940s, the expropriation by the state would wipe out the brand’s existence. However, then-owner Dr. Kurtz was able to move the production to West Germany before that happened. After the Iron Curtain fell, Dieter Delecate, who owned the brand since the 1960s, moved back to Glashütte – opening a new integrated workshop. Today, the brand has a proprietary caliber and has created a host of collections that range from minute repeaters in its Patria line to a host of Flieger and pilot watches in its M2, Saxon One, and Grand Flieger lines.
About the Author
Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.