A Brief History of Germany’s Watchmaking Capital

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Certain places become popular for the commodity that they produce. Bangladesh, for instance, is famous for making textiles, while Canada is renowned for its maple syrup. Watchmaking is no exception to this, and only a few regions around the world have become the centers of this special craft. In Switzerland, the Geneva and Jura regions emerged to be one of Europe’s and even the world’s centers in watchmaking. But in Germany, a small sleepy town in the Saxony region has been hailed as Germany’s watchmaking capital. 

But how did the town that birthed A. Lange & Söhne, Nomos Glashütte, and Glashutte Original become a center of German watchmaking in the first place? This article will delve into the brief history of Glashutte as a watchmaking town as well as the famous watch brands that put the town on the watchmaking map. 

 

Beginnings in Watchmaking

Before the birth of famous German watch brands like A. Lange & Söhne, Nomos Glashütte, and Glashutte Original Watches, the town was relatively unknown to much of Europe and even Germany and was first mentioned in a historical document in 1445. But the town’s future would change around 400 years later when the town’s first watchmakers would inhabit the town with support from the Kingdom of Saxony and train Glashutte’s inhabitants to become great watchmakers. These watchmakers would go on to establish some of the most well-known brands in German watchmaking, such as Nomos, Original, and the A. Lange & Söhne. 

These developments would forever change a small town located 30 kilometers from the Saxon capital of Dresden, as more and more watchmakers establish their shops in the town and solidify the brand’s identity as the watchmaking capital of Germany. The first watch factory in Glashutte was built by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1845, who went on to establish A. Lange & Söhne. It is one of the most popular luxury watchmaking companies in Germany and around the world, But this would not end there, as the German School of Watchmaking was established in the town in 1878 to ensure the continuation of the brand’s newly-found watchmaking tradition.

 

Watchmaking Capital

 

The World War

Initially, pocket watches were made by watchmakers in this German town but as time went on, wristwatches were soon developed by the town’s watchmakers. Soon enough, wristwatches created in this town became synonymous with quality and sophistication. But things would change when the two world wars erupt, and the town’s watchmakers went from changing history to becoming victims of history. Glashutte’s watchmakers soon found themselves in a strange situation, as the Western powers occupied the Western parts of Germany, while the Soviet Union occupied the remaining Eastern part, where the town was located. 

German Democratic Republic Years

The Soviet Union helped form the German Democratic Republic in the Eastern parts of Germany in 1949, and this changed the fortunes of the town’s watchmakers for a long time. But it’s not just Glashutte whose fate changed when the Communists took power after World War II. Ruhla is another German town popular for making watches, and all of the watchmaking companies in both towns were consolidated by the Communists in East Germany into a single, publicly owned company.

This was part of an effort by the GDR to nationalize its industries to mirror the economic system of the Soviet Union. Some of the most established watchmaking companies in this town, such as the Glashütte Original and A. Lange & Söhne, were merged into a single state-owned enterprise called the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe or GUB. The same thing happened to watchmakers in Ruhla a year later. 

The town’s watchmakers now operate under a completely different philosophy, where there is less emphasis on producing luxurious smartwatches as their newfound priority was to create mechanical timepieces that were affordable and durable. But there were instances when watchmakers continued making luxury watches such as the Glashutte Original Spezimatic model, which was produced and then exported to non-Communist countries, including West Germany from 1965 to 1979. These watches were made for export, as they were expensive for the average East German consumer.

 Around 3.7 million Spezimatic models were produced during this period, and even until now, this watch is a favorite among vintage watch collectors. But this would not last forever, as the GDR collapsed and merged with the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990. This provided a new sense of entrepreneurship and freedom for watch manufacturers in the town, who seized the opportunities to reinvent themselves. 

Famous Glashutte Watch Manufacturers

Today, there are around ten watchmaking companies currently based in Glashutte, such as A. Lange & Söhne, Nomos, and Original. These three watch companies all have customers and retailers who sell these watches for them. For Glashutte Original, this company employs around 600 employees who meticulously and tirelessly create timepieces. This includes the Senator line, one of Glashutte Original’s most famous watch families. 

Glashutte Original constantly introduces new models and it also produces all its parts in-house, even if the company became a part of The Swatch Group in 2000, which includes more prominent watch manufacturers such as Tissot and Omega. But aside from that, other watch companies continue to stay here, such as A. Lange & Söhne, one of the most popular German luxury watchmakers in the world, and Nomos, famous for its Bauhaus-inspired watches. These three companies helped shape the brand’s past as a watchmaking town and they remain pivotal in directing its future. 

Aside from watch companies and a watchmaking academy, there is also a museum in Glashutte dedicated to telling the fascinating history of watchmaking in the town. Visitors all over the world could visit there to know how a small German town became one of the centers of watchmaking in Europe and the rest of the world. Visitors could also see artifacts of different watches that have been manufactured in Glashutte for the past hundred years, including those that were developed during the years of the German Democratic Republic. 

In Conclusion

No one would imagine that a sleepy village located near the Ore Mountains in the Saxony region in eastern Germany would have an impact on the watchmaking industry, and would even define German watchmaking itself. Nowadays, many of us know about the simple yet classy watches, the elegant and timeless chronographs of the Glashutte Original, and the luxury watches made by A. Lange & Söhne.

But most people who wear their wristwatches do not have an idea about their history and the town that shaped these companies today. The history of this town is the history of every watchmaking company born and based there because, without this town, the watches that many of us love would not exist. 

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