Leseprobe SIGHTGEIST / Rubrik: Business

Timeless Watches

Keeping track of time in the watch-making town of Glashütte

Glashütte is an illustrious name in the world of watches. Watches from Glashütte are legendary. Instilled with the passion of their makers for precision craftsmanship and artistic refinement, they embody a very unique zeitgeist. And yet watches from Glashütte are also said to have a timeless beauty. Ever since 1845, watchmakers in Glashütte have been elevating the measurement of time to the status of an art. People are magically drawn to these mechanical miracles, which do nothing more than show the time. How did a small mining town in the Ore Mountains become a centre of world-class watchmaking? And what makes watches from Glashütte so fascinating? A search for clues in the town reveals the answers to these questions.
Glashütte is situated in the Müglitz Valley, south of Dresden. The road leading there winds up a steep, rocky gorge along the Müglitz, a minor mountain river. On entering the small, tranquil town, there appears to be nothing unusual about it at first glance. The Ore Mountains are full of small mining communities like Glashütte. At second glance, however, on arriving at the central square, Ferdinand-Adolph-Lange-Platz, it is impossible to miss the magnificent buildings with their large, brightly lit windows. The signs of famous watchmakers catch the eye: A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original, Moritz Großmann, Mühle, Nomos and Union. Watches made here are among the most sought-after and expensive on the market. New models are presented every year at Baselworld, the world’s largest trade fair for clocks and watches, or at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva. Top of the range worldwide is the Tourbograph Perpetual “Pour le Mérite” by Lange & Söhne, which sells for 480,000 euros.
The best place to start exploring Glashütte is right here at the centre of town, where it all began. A large, stately building stands alone, island-like, between Schillerstrasse and Hauptstrasse. Formerly the German Watchmaking School, it now houses the German Watch Museum. To its left, at Hauptstrasse 12, is a watch shop, where Ferdinand Adolph Lange, Glashütte’s most-famous watchmaker, set up the town’s first watchmaking business in 1845.

Glashütte celebrates two anniversaries in 2018: The German Watchmaking School was established 140 years ago in 1878, and the German Watch Museum commemorates its 10th anniversary. It is only thanks to fortunate circumstances that visitors can now embark on a journey through time here, says museum director Reinhard Reichel. Following the demise of the East German regime after 1989, all clocks in Glashütte seemed to stand still. The only watchmaking company left at the time, Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe – a state-owned enterprise now renamed Glashütte Original – faced an uncertain future.
After German reunification, the collection of historic watches, the library and archive were turned over to the town council, thus preserving these significant testimonies to the past. In 2006 a foundation was set up by the town of Glashütte. One of its benefactors was Glashütte Original, which in turn was supported by the Swatch Group and its founder Nicolas G. Hayek, who had acquired Glashütte Original in 2000. A home for the museum was soon found in the former German Watchmaking School. After the building had been renovated, the German Watch Museum opened on 22 May 2008.
Watch enthusiasts can explore the complete history of watchmaking here in all its detail: Exhibits from the early years of watchmaking, tools from the watchmaking school, the evolution of clockwork from the 19th to the 20th century, a restoration workshop, and of course the vault, with its gold and gem-studded pocket watches. The museum also showcases the nine watchmaking companies currently in Glashütte along with their collections. “This is the most important room in the exhibition. We are not a museum that is restricted to a certain period. Time literally does not stop here. Watchmaking not only has a great history, but also a vibrant present”, Reinhard Reichel points out.
The Glashütte watchmaking industry was back in business within two decades following German reunification. Exactly 145 years after the cottage industry had been established by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, his great-grandson Walter Lange registered Lange Uhren GmbH as a new company on 7 December 1990. Other companies followed: Glashütte Original (1990), Nomos Glashütte (1990), Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte (1994), Union Uhrenfabrik (1996), SUG - Sächsische Uhrentechnologie Glashütte (1998), Bruno Söhnle (2000), Wempe Chronometerwerke (2005) and Moritz Grossmann (2008). Some 2,000 people are now employed in watchmaking in the town. Many are proud of having worked here for generations. The watch brands have become closely interwoven with the name of the town, a tradition that all new companies established since 1990 have drawn on.
In 2014, NOMOS Glashütte caused a sensation when it presented its proprietary Nomos Swing System at the Baselworld watch show. Comprising a balance, balance spring, escape wheel and pallet, the system powers a mechanical watch and sets the pace. Up until then, this mechanism was considered too sophisticated, complicated and expensive for a small watchmaking company to build itself. It would have to be made by hand, which would push up the price of the finished product. A special manufacturer in Switzerland had therefore gained what was essentially a monopoly on the business and was supplying virtually the entire watchmaking industry. But NOMOS Glashütte now has its own swing system and is no longer dependent on suppliers. What is more, the new system is not only of the highest quality, it can also be mass-produced, meaning the watches themselves are no more expensive. (excerpt)

Carsten Schulz-Nötzold, decorum Kommunikation

Photo: (c) Stiftung Deutsches Uhrenmuseum Glashütte/Rene Gaens


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