Some 650km south-west of Germany’s watchmaking hub in Glashütte, nestled in the Black Forest, lies the town of Schramberg – the home of what was once the world’s biggest watch and clock manufacturer, the Uhrenfabrik Junghans GmbH & Co. KG. After being rescued from the brink of bankruptcy in 2009 by local businessman Dr. Hans-Jochem Steim, the then CEO of the Schramberg-based Kern-Liebers group, Junghans this year celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Matthias Stotz, the Junghans workshops in 1920 and 2011
The rebirth of a giant
The company takes its name from Erhard Junghans, who founded it with his brother-in-law Jakob Zeller-Tobler in 1861. Although Junghans initially concentrated on the production of components for the famous clocks of the Black Forest region, the company soon came to master the entire production process, producing its first timepieces only five years after its launch.
“The location of Schramberg was chosen for strategic reasons over 150 years ago. In addition to the town being close to the watchmakers in the Black Forest, the availability of a power supply was also important,” says Matthias Stotz, CEO of Junghans. “The size and renown of Schramberg is closely linked to the production of Junghans watches. History has shown that many of the developments that revolutionised German watchmaking originated here.”
By 1903, Junghans had a workforce of 3,000 and was selling three million watches per year, making it the largest watch factory in the world at the time. The company launched its legendary Meister collection in the 1930s and, after surviving the Second World War intact (the company infrastructure was undamaged, despite Junghans being a supplier of fuses and on-board clocks for the German army), the factory became the biggest manufacturer of chrono-meters in Germany during the 1950s.
By 1956, the year in which Junghans was taken over by the Diehl Group, the company had grown to be the world’s third biggest producer of chronometers, selling 10,000 pieces in what became the company’s peak year, behind Omega and Rolex.
As befits such a watchmaking giant, Junghans was also involved in sports timekeeping and the development of quartz technology. It was thanks to this that Junghans was able to launch its first quartz wristwatch in 1970. The company even became one of the few watch brands to reach the pinnacle of sports timekeeping and act as one of the official timekeepers of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. But by the mid-1970s it was this very quartz technology that was threatening the traditional mechanical watch manufacture. In 1976 Junghans ceased its mechanical timepiece production in favour of quartz technology, with the launch of the company’s first quartz chronometer one year later – as a high-end timepiece – seemingly making mechanical chronometers superfluous.
ERHARD JUNGHANS 2
Pioneering radio reception technology
In the 1980s Junghans became a pioneer in a field for which it is perhaps most remembered today. Starting in 1985 with the use of radio waves to control highly precise clocks using the time signal transmitted from the atomic clock at the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), the German National Metrology Institute in Braunschweig, and followed one year later by a solar-powered version, the technology was refined until it could fit into a digital quartz watch, which was launched under the name Mega 1 in 1990 and became the world’s first radio-controlled watch.
Today, the brand’s heritage in ultra-accurate timekeeping lives on in the current collection with the Mega Futura – a purely digital timekeeper with a radio-controlled movement (J604.90) with autoscan and FSTN (Film Super Twisted Nematic LCD) technology that automatically adjusts the contrast of the digital display. The Spektrum models offer a more classic three-hand analogue design but with a digital big date display and a solar-powered radio-controlled movement (J615.84) that has a power reserve of 21 months – more than enough to cope with long winter nights.
MEGA FUTURA, SPEKTRUM
A return to traditional values
The Erhard Junghans 2 model celebrates the brand’s 150-year anniversary in a truly exclusive fashion as a limited edition of only 12 pieces, each of which is both identified and rendered unique by a discreet change on the dial: the German abbreviation for “number” (Nr) replaces the Arabic numeral in the spot corresponding to the limited number of the watch.
Beneath the classic exterior in 18-carat red gold beats a heart that illustrates the strength of this Black Forest company’s watchmaking potential. The new hand-wound J330 chrono-meter calibre features a blue balance spring produced by Schramberg’s Carl Haas company [see sidebar at the end of the article].
The re-focus on mechanical timepieces is also apparent in the brand’s Meister line, as well as the Max Bill by Junghans collection. Seen in its entirety, the Junghans collection offers a unique product offering.
“In addition to mechanical watches, Junghans offers modern technologies such as radio, solar and quartz like no other brand in the world. This special product mix allows us to adapt the brand easily to the local conditions in individual markets,” Matthias Stotz explains.
MEISTER CHRONOSCOPE , MAX BILL CHRONOSCOPE
A promising future
Over the past two years, Junghans has recorded double-digit growth in sales in percentage terms and has made a profit. In anticipation of further growth, production capacities have been increased.
“In our 150th anniversary year we took a major step with the launch of the Meister collection,” Stotz says. “We are fortunate that the Junghans brand stands for tradition and historical milestones in watchmaking. These offer excellent starting points for future collections, regardless of whether they are fitted with mechanical movements or Junghans’s own radio-controlled movements that recall our leadership in radio technology over the past 20 years.
“At Erhard Junghans we have already taken the necessary steps to prove that classical watchmaking still has a place in Schramberg. Many of the components in the Erhard Junghans J325 and J330 movements, such as the bridges, clicks and gold settings are produced and finished by experienced watchmakers in the Erhard Junghans atelier.
“We are well equipped for the future because we will have our own mainsprings and balance springs in Nivarox 1 quality available in Schramberg from Carl Haas. We are working more on key components rather than trying to produce quickly complications that are not always necessary. Our main goal is preserving the authenticity of the brand and the ‘Made in Germany – in Schramberg’ quality seal.”
To drive the brand forward, Matthias Stotz aims to improve the quality of its distribution in the brand’s home market and to harmonise its global distribution network. “Because of the major changes in the brand over the past few years, we have different set-ups across the world,” he says. “In the markets where we have a strong presence, we will continue to work with our long-standing partners. In some countries we have either experienced higher demand or made changes in the distribution because of the brand’s success. Now seems to be the time to look for strong partners worldwide.”
Springs from Schramberg – the key to success
Junghans watches owe their success – and their rebirth – to the unique concentration of industry in the Black Forest town of Schramberg. Over the years, various specialists in the production of highly-resistant springs required in the production of clocks and watches have fused into a major conglomerate, the Hugo Kern und Liebers GmbH & Co. KG, the former CEO of which, Dr. Hans Jochem Steim, became the saviour of the Junghans brand in 2009, when it was on the brink of bankruptcy.
April 14, 1861 – Erhard Junghans establishes the clock component maker Zeller & Junghans together with his brother-in-law Jakob Zeller-Tobler.
- 1888 – Hugo Kern starts producing mainsprings for the clock and watch industry.
- 1890 – Pfaff & Schlauder is founded. The company specialised in the production of balance springs but also produced mainsprings.
- 1904 – Carl Haas established his company and soon became a specialist in the production of balance springs.
- 1926 – The company Franz Josef King is established, also specialising in balance springs.
- 1931 – Carl Haas obtains a permit to be the sole manufacturer of Nivarox balance springs in Germany.
- 1971 – Hugo Kern merges with plate manufacturer Liebers & Co to become the Kern-Liebers Group.
- 1981 – At the height of the quartz era, Pfaff & Schlauder closes.
- 2007 – The Kern-Liebers Group takes over Carl Haas and, in 2008, Franz Josef King.
- 2009 – Dr. Hans-Jochem Stein, former CEO of the Kern-Liebers group and now Chairman of the Board of Directors, acquires Junghans.
- 2011 – Balance springs from Schramberg are once again used in Junghans timepieces.
Focus on Germany
- Glashütte, cradle of German haute horlogerie
- The Lange Akademie, getting to know the tree and its roots
- Tutima’s “hommage” as a symbol of its new ambitions
- The Original from Glashütte
- Nomos, doing things differently
Source: Europa Star October - November 2011 Magazine Issue