Whenever looking for high quality and particularly exquisite timepieces, one will inevitably take the manufacturer’s origin into consideration. Especially since watches from Swiss manufacturers have rightly earned their status over the years as the crème de la crème of haute horlogerie. It goes without saying that the term “Swiss made” has become a synonym for exceptional watch brands intertwined with a certain measure of prestige. Companies based in Deutschland have been able to slowly catch up with both the technical innovations as well as the designs and refined taste embodied in many Swiss timepieces since the reunification of Germany in 1990. The label “Made in Germany” has finally been able to hold its own in the competitive market of watches, while closing the gap on well-established Swiss brands.
Keeping this in mind, in the following article you’ll find our list of the top ten most important German watchmakers. This, of course, is entirely a matter of preference as it’s impossible to cover all the ground concerning everyone’s individual taste or affinity for a specific brand. We’ll be focusing less on those manufacturers hailing from the Alps and more on the path leading straight to the Black Forest. We’ll also be taking a closer look at the southern Erzgebirge region of Germany. However, before we check out the manufacturer in Saxon Glashütte, we’re on our way first to central Germany. Where the skyline of banker’s high-rises is visible from far away and which signals the first destination on our top ten list: the city of Frankfurt am Main.
In the German center of finance, of the bull and bear market, the world of stock brokers and highflyers, the flight instructor and former rally participant Helmut Sinn founded his company in the city still affectionately referred to as ‘Mainhattan’ in the early 1960s. What began with the arrangement of on-board instruments in Bundeswehr aircrafts, rapidly turned into the invention of chronographs designed primarily for pilots. From the very beginning, Helmut Sinn Spezialuhren GmbH excelled with watches that were expected to fulfill the highest technical demands. For example the Sinn 142S proved the functionality of automatic winding wristwatches in a zero-gravity environment. The divers watch UX can even be found now firmly around the wrist of the elite German Federal Police, the GSG9.
Let’s continue on to Münsterland, a city that is known as a cyclist’s paradise in Germany. Here, one timepiece producer is fighting against established conventions by breaking free from any unnecessary trappings and creating watches for what they were originally intended to be: instruments to measure time. Unique features of a Meistersinger timepiece are the scale division in five-minute-increments, the zero by single-digit numerals, and a needle hand. Another characteristic of Meistersinger watches is the typical design that is reminiscent of a barometer, which has received numerous prizes e.g. the Red Dot Design Award.
Our next stop is in the middle of the quiet idyll of the Black Forest, where not only cuckoo clocks have born witness to a centuries-old watchmaking tradition. Once one of the world’s largest manufacturers, Junghans, is headquartered here. After putting some initially turbulent years behind it, Junghans is now able to draw on past successes and creates a lot of buzz with its striking product portfolio. It covers everything from solar to radio controlled watches and also mechanical chronographs. On the one hand this German manufacturer focuses on watches such as the Mega and the Voyager, which have achieved the highest standards of electronic engineering. On the other hand, the mechanical watch has lived to see a remarkable revival at Junghans. The collection, named after the company’s founder Erhard Junghans, really stands out as does its Meister series. The real star however, very well may be the collection named after the Bauhaus designer, Max Bill.
In a globalized world of watches in which components don’t know national borders any more, we are next going to take a look at a hanseatic city, whose port has long been regarded as a gateway to the world. At the beginning of the 20th century a company settled in Hamburg, which initially made its mark with elegant fountain pens. Until today, Montblanc is headquartered on the Elbe, for the production of luxury timepieces however, they resort to the expertise of Swiss watchmakers in Villeret and Le Locle, where their collections such as the Star, Timewalker, Sports or Bohème model are manufactured. The Meisterstück models emulate the style of the famous pens as much as the reminiscence of the Princesse Grace de Monaco. However, the watch manufacturer cements its extraordinary reputation with the Series Villeret 1858 timepieces and the Nicolas Rieussec Monopusher Chronograph.
Another producer who has broken free from any national constraints and still continues to do so, is Chronoswiss. Even if the brand name is suggestive of Swiss provenance, this watch manufacturer was actually founded in Munich in the early 1980s. Its visionary Gerd-Rüdiger Lang defied the so-called quartz crisis and relied exclusively on mechanical components for his watches. Chronoswiss has been allowed to carry the “Swiss Made” label, since these were mostly provided directly by Switzerland. Relatively speaking, Chronoswiss should be crossed off this list since its company headquarters were relocated to Lucerne, Switzerland in 2012. Yet we wanted to adorn it with the company whose collections such as Sirius, Timemaster, and Régulateur are well known for their distinctive onion crowns, the knurled bezel, and their screwed spring bars.
6. Union Glashütte
The next leg of our journey leads us straight to the postcard picturesque of the German Erzgebirge. It is in and around Glashütte where Germany’s most prized watchmakers are gathered. There is no single other city in Germany with more luxury watchmakers then Glashütte and it is unsurprising that the local manufacturers proudly brand themselves with the name of this tiny village in Saxony. In 1893, Johann Dürrstein, the Union Glasshütte founder, gave his newly minted company some sound business advice. The watches of the brand should be as inexpensive as possible, yet still retain the highest possible quality. This forward-thinking motto is still reflected in its current model series of the Belisar, Viro, Noramis, Seris, Sirona, 1893 and Averin.
7. Mühle Glashütte
Vallée de Joux is for the Swiss watch industry, what Saxon Switzerland is for the German one. It was in this region that Mühle Glashütte first opened its doors in 1868. According to a plan for the watchmaking industry in Glashütte by F.A. Lange, the company’s founder, Robert Mühle, supplied the German School of Watchmaking with precision measurement instruments. After having specialised back in the 1990’s in marine chronometers and other nautical equipment, the manufacturer is currently dedicated to the wristwatch collections Terranaut, Terrasport, Germanika, Antaria as well as Teutonias. Following a legal dispute with its competitor Nomos, both are now considered strong contenders for top rankings in international awards. In 2014, the Teutonia II Chronograph received the prestigious “Goldene Unruh” award.
8. Glashütte Original
After the unrest of World War II, the watchmaking industry in Glashütte was consolidated into the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB). Glashütte Original emerged as the legal successor to the GUB, once Eastern and Western Germany unified in 1990. This manufacturer was able to set new standards in the industry with refinements e.g. the three-quarter plate with stripe finish, the patented panoramic date display, and also gooseneck fine tuning. The manufacturer also has an obsession with specific technical features that run throughout the entire Glashütte Original collection e.g. the moon phase in the Panomatic series or the Grande Cosmopolite Tourbillon. Lovers of fine design can always find something to suit their taste in its vintage inspired timepieces, namely the Sixties and Seventies collections, as well as in the more ladylike series of the Pavonina and Lady Serenade.
While we’re on the topic of style: founded in the early 1990s, watch manufacturer Nomos was dedicated to the timeless, no-nonsense approach of the Bauhaus avant-garde. Although today, the designs come from Berlin, the manufacturer still operates from Glashütte. The company has experienced a stellar ascent into the top tier of the watch industry with its models Tangente, Tertra, Club and Zürich. They’ve established a reputation that echoes far beyond Germany’s border.
10. A. Lange & Söhne
When Ferdinand A. Lange arrived in Glashütte, the local economy had already long hit rock bottom in 1845. The once rich ore deposits had been exploited and the town had been bled dry. Nowadays, Glashütte is the undisputed center of the German watchmaking industry and A. Lange & Söhne has even become the poster child for German watch manufacturers. There is not a single manufacturer in Glashütte who doesn’t refer to the founder of this proud watchmaking tradition, yet there is only one who is allowed to officially use his name. The company prides itself for manufacturing nothing less than the best watches in the world. An ambition which causes them to design each new model with increased functionality, especially in regards to legibility and handling, as well as further perfecting precision. After it has been assembled, the watches from Lange & Söhne receive the finishing touches and are then reassembled. This manufacturing process further underscores the company’s aspirations. The manufacturer was also able to launch a number of luxury watches in recent years that are already considered classics, such as the Lange 1, Saxonia and the Langematik.