Glashütte, cradle of German haute horlogerie

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October 2011

On the borders of Switzerland, Germany has always been a great watchmaking nation. It has two main areas—one in the southern part of the nation in the Black Forest, and one in the northeast, in the Dresden region of Saxony. Here, most of the watch industry has historically been concentrated in Glashütte, a village located in a small valley, far from the large commercial thoroughfares. It is interesting to note the many parallels between Glashütte and the cradle of Swiss timekeeping in the Vallée de Joux or in the Jurassian arc—the same isolation, the same hard-working population, the same mountainous environment. But, the similarities end here because, at Glashütte, watchmaking began more than a century later than it did in the Vallée de Joux. In 1845, Ferdinand A. Lange and others, such as Julius Assmann, Adolf Schneider, and Moritz Grossmann, laid the foundations of watchmaking in Glashütte. From the beginning, the main objective, following the traditions established in Dresden, was to produce scientific instruments. For these pioneers, it was, above all, the German notion of “precision” that was important. The aesthetic approach would not take on such importance until much later, around 1870.

Contrary to Switzerland, however, which was spared history’s dramatic upheavals, Germany suffered many crises, wars, and governmental changes. And, on a number of occasions, Glashütte nearly disappeared from the timekeeping map. After World War I came the devastating economic crisis, and then following World War II, the communist regime took over in Eastern Germany and converted all the established companies, orienting watch manufacturing towards mass-produced watches for the low-end market.

Despite these obstacles, however, Glashütte raised its head and, in the same manner as A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original, and Tutima, the city rose from the ashes. Over this time, the links between Glashütte and Switzerland have been prosperous and complex. Until the 1920s, the Swiss delivered complicated movements to Glashütte, where watchmakers excelled (to the point that the Swiss made fake watches signed Glashütte, to which the Germans added the term “Original”). But during the destructive economic crisis, the Swiss cut all supply to the Germans in order to protect their own production.

During the 1930s, the exchanges again resumed, and the “saviour” of Glashütte, Dr. Ernst Kurtz, purchased equipment from the Swiss watchmakers and organised transfers of knowledge so well that he was able to break the Swiss monopoly, especially in the domain of chronographs. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was again the Swiss who would help with the rebirth of Saxon haute horlogerie. A German, Günter Blümlein, relaunched the activities of Lange by drawing on the savoir-faire of Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC, which he managed, but which belonged at that time to the large German enterprise Mannesmann, who sold it to the Richemont group. Later, the Swatch Group took over Glashütte Original. The result of this amazing acquisition is the very lovely Deutsche Uhren Museum, located in Glashütte and inaugurated in 2006, subtitled with the name of its founder: Nicolas G. Hayek. History is a perpetual repeater!

Focus on Germany

Source: Europa Star October - November 2011 Magazine Issue