autische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte is a brand with a story as bumpy as the hills that surround the German town where it has been based since 1869 (the Ore Mountains, if you’re interested).
The company started out in the 19th century as a manufacturer of precise measuring instruments for the Saxon clock and watch industry. The company’s founder, local entrepreneur and watchmaker Robert Mühle, was filling a void. At that time, the Glashütte workshops adopted the new metric system, rather than the traditional Parisian unit of measure. From 1869, the measuring devices and instruments required for this were built by Robert Mühle’s company.
After the Second World War, the family business succeed in remaining active as an independent firm for three decades - albeit within the limited framework allowed by the then-East German government - before being turned into a state-owned enterprise in 1972 and eventually being absorbed into the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe, GUB for short (Glashütte Watchmaking Plants).
From 1869, the measuring devices and instruments required by the watch industry in Glashütte were built by Robert Mühle’s company.
- After training with watch manufacturer Moritz Grossmann, Robert Mühle ventured into business for himself in 1869. This picture shows the first three generations of the family company. Robert Mühle is third from right, front row.
Under socialist rule, the Mühle dynasty continued to play an important role in the local watch industry. Even after the company was expropriated, Hans-Jürgen Mühle worked as a sales manager at GUB. In this position, he gained exposure to the production of maritime timing systems and marine chronometers (the ancestors of the current GPS), an important task fulfilled by the GUB for the merchant navy. After the reunification of Germany, he took this knowledge and used it to relaunch the family company in 1994, with a new name: “Mühle-Glashütte GmbH nautische Instrumente und Feinmechanik”. These Mühle have a sense of resilience!
The manufacture of marine chronometers was the company’s bread and butter during its first new decade, and it allowed for the launch of wristwatches (the first ones ever produced by the family) in 1996. The representative of the fifth generation, current CEO Thilo Mühle, soon joined to help revive the family business, as wristwatch production gradually sidelined the deliveries of nautical instruments.
The first wristwatches ever produced by Mühle-Glashütte were introduced in 1996.
- Hans-Jürgen and Thilo Mühle, the 4th and 5th generations. The brand was named “Mühle-Glashütte GmbH nautische Instrumente und Feinmechanik” at its relaunch in 1994. But Mühle-Glashütte is just fine too!
Everything was yet to be built in this new venture, for a company that had gone from supplier of measurement tools to manufacturer of timepieces. At a time when so many independent watch brands disappeared under the pressure of the market, this may have been one of the biggest challenges accomplished by the brand over the course of its tumultuous history. Mühle-Glashütte has positioned itself in the mechanical sports watch segment, in the particular horological ecosystem of the German town. The first movement designed completely in-house was the hand-wound movement MU 9411, which is used exclusively in the Teutonia III Handaufzug watch.
Mühle-Glashütte has positioned itself in the mechanical sports watch segment, in the particular horological ecosystem of the German town.
2019 is a year of celebrations, marking the 150th anniversary of the company’s founding by Robert Mühle, and also 25 years of the new company “Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte”. For this occasion, the brand has launched a new complication designed in-house: a moon phase. We met Thilo Mühle for a 150-year recap.
- “Our market is increasingly controlled by big groups, so we have to find ways to give alternative offers to retailers,” says CEO Thilo Mühle.
What is the highlight of the 150th anniversary at Mühle-Glashütte?
Without a doubt, the Robert Mühle Mondphase model. We are producing 100 limited edition timepieces in stainless steel, 25 in platinum and 25 in red gold. The moon phase module has been developed on a manufacture movement, the RMK 04 Robert Mühle calibre. The large and small craters of the Moon have been carefully reproduced. And it’s a real complication: 122 years must pass before it deviates from the actual position of the moon by even a day. This moon phase is our third complication designed in-house. We also equipped the timepiece with our other two modules: the up/down display and the pointer date. The new calibre contains a total of 202 components: it is one of the most complex movements manufactured by Mühle-Glashütte.
“The moon phase is our third complication designed in house. We also equipped the timepiece with our other two modules: the up/down display and the pointer date.”
- The moon phase module is a development on the brand’s own family of calibres.
You only started producing your first wristwatches after the Cold War, when the family company was reborn. What did you take from your earlier career in measurement equipment and marine chronometers, to facilitate your transition to wristwatches?
I would say that it was always about high precision! One way or another, we have been active in the field of measurement and accuracy since our founding. As well as the navy, we also produced speedometers and clocks for the car industry, as many big watch brands did. Another important point is that my father kept a good network of customers for nautical clocks from the East German period, even after the Wall fell. Some of these customers were owners of yachts, and they asked him to develop diving watches. Then Mr Günter Blümlein, one of the “saviours” of the watch industry here in Glashütte, encouraged my father to start producing wristwatches, in the new era that was opening up. So as you can see, it was a rather natural transition. Today, wristwatches account for 95% of our total production.
When did you launch your own calibre?
It’s been five years now since we developed our first in-house calibres, in 2014. All the plates and bridges are manufactured in our facilities. It allowed us to develop complications such as the moon phase this year, and there are more to come! It must also be noted that we position ourselves in a more affordable price range that other brands from Glashütte, with an average of about 2,000 euros for 7,200 units produced per year. Apart from our manufacture calibre, we use Sellita movements, which we disassemble completely in order to adapt them to our own ¾ plate, rotor, woodpecker neck regulation and design.
What is the philosophy of the brand?
Primarily to offer the best readability. It is probably the legacy of so many years producing professional instruments. Coming from this professional background, we also insist on the robustness of the timepieces. We still work with organisations such as the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service. And this year we are proud to be the partner of the largest aviation association in the world, AOPA, for their special 80th anniversary watch.
“This year we are proud to be the partner of the largest aviation association in the world, AOPA, for their special 80th anniversary watch.”
- The AeroSport made to commemorate AOPA’s 80th anniversary is limited to 500 pieces worldwide.
- The M 29 Classic timepiece features a face with a fine and extremely clear scale that bears an unmistakable resemblance to its source of inspiration: Mühle’s historic measuring gauges.
Another particularity of Mühle-Glashütte is your patented “woodpecker neck regulation”. How would you describe it?
It goes beyond the regular shock-absorption system used in the watch industry, as we add our own extra protection to the calibre. Once its components have been finished and assembled, every Mühle movement is put to the test in six different positions and, thanks to the patented woodpecker neck regulation, regulated to achieve accuracy values of between 0 and a maximum of +8 seconds per day. This precision target forms the heart of Mühle-Glashütte’s very own regulation standards.
What is your bestselling line today?
The Teutonia collection is the core of our brand. The S.A.R. Rescue-Timer, with its unique design and history, is also hugely popular. This year, the Sea-Time BlackMotion has met with good results, thanks to its contemporary look.
- The new Sea-Timer BlackMotion features a 2.5-millimetre-thick double anti-glare sapphire crystal, a solid screw-in crown with extra side protection, as well as an elaborate TiC (titanium carbide) coating.
- The function and design of the S.A.R. Rescue-Timer were to a large extent determined by captains in the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service.
- The launch of the S.A.R. Rescue-Timer, one of Mühle-Glashütte’s bestselling timepieces, featured in 2002 in Europa Star.
- © Europa Star Archives
Where are your main markets?
The main market is Germany. Outside of our home market, we pay a lot of attention to new developments in the USA. As for e-commerce, we do not sell online yet: we have plans to do so but we’re looking for the right way to implement it, in order to include every partner.
“As for e-commerce, we’re looking for the right way to implement it, in order to include every partner.”
As a 5th-generation CEO since 2005, what have been your most important decisions?
A key decision was to repatriate all sales and export activities back in-house, as we were using external agencies previously. Another big decision was to reduce the number of timepieces to 58 references in order to focus on the bestselling lines.
What is your biggest challenge today?
Our market is controlled by big groups, so we have to find ways to provide alternative offers to retailers. Resellers today are feeling the pressure from the brands more than ever. We are a loyal and respectful partner, and as a family business we’re looking to develop partnerships over the long term. I don’t have shareholders or pressure from the stock exchange that would impact any of my decisions.
- The Mühle family also survived catastrophic flooding, as we reported in a 2003 edition! “In August last year, Mr. Mühle and his son Thilo were trapped in their own factory by the water of a small creek which had become a roaring river flooding vast areas of Glashütte,” we wrote. While the employees had been evacuated in time, father and son remained helpless prisoners of the flood with no electricity and no phone for two days and two nights.
- © Europa Star Archives