Germany is a country renowned for its precision engineering and uncompromising exactitude, attributes that perfectly compliment the art of watchmaking. However, the country’s relationship with watchmakers hasn’t always been harmonious. During World War Two, many watch brands were forced to shut down. Now though, many of those brands have been revived and there’s a new wave of modern German watchmaking. Here are the best German watch brands you need to know.
A. Lange & Söhne
You can’t talk German watchmakers without kicking things off with the golden child of German haute horology, A. Lange & Söhne. Founded originally be Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1845, the brand quickly earned a reputation far beyond their native Saxony. For the next 100 years they enjoyed growth and development, helping to put the region of Glashütte on the watchmaking map. Then came the war and forced nationalisation. As with so many historic German watch brands, the A. Lange & Söhne name faded into legend.
In 1990, 145 years after its initial founding, Walter Lange revived his family’s legacy and brought A. Lange & Söhne into the modern age. They instantly shot back to the top of haute horology with one of their earliest revival timepieces being the Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite,” the world’s first fusée and chain transmission wristwatch.
Since then they have continued to create watches at the peak of haute horology with designs that are elegant and timeless, such as the Lange 1. Always they pay homage to their roots with traditional German finishing elements like the signature Glashütte stripes and German silver plates. Although it’s not all tradition with the hyper modern jumping display of the Zeitwerk being one of their most intriguing horological creations with models like the new Zeitwerk Minute Repeater Honeygold.
More details at A. Lange & Söhne.
Hanhart has a unique position in German watchmaking history because unlike the majority of watchmakers, their legacy was built during World War Two and not destroyed by it. Originally founded in Switzerland, Hanhart relocated to Germany in 1902, then in 1938 they developed their first chronograph the monopusher “Calibre 40”. Hanhart chronographs then became the watches of choice for German pilots and naval officers during the war. Their Flieger models became legendary pieces of military equipment and are coveted by modern collectors.
It wasn’t all roses though as production was halted for a time during the war period. However, they immediately bounced back in 1948, unlike most brands who took decades to recover. Their performance during the war made them a premier military watch maker and in the following years they created partnerships with both the German and French military. Today their collections continue to be informed by their historical archives with models like the Primus and 417 ES.
More details at Hanhart.
For a small family-run business like Mühle-Glashütte you’d expect them to have a similar story to other Glashütte watchmakers ending in closure. Yet against all odds they’ve kept the business running for over 150 years. And it’s quite the impressive story.
The company began life as a dedicated precision tool manufacturer under Robert Mühle in 1841, specialising in measuring instruments for other watchmakers and later for the automotive industry. A few decades later though and things weren’t quite so bright. Like many companies, Mühle’s was nationalised in 1945.
However, in a twist of fate, Hans Mühle (Robert’s grandson) was then hired to run the nationalised version of the company with no one realising his connection to its history. He was then able to grow a new Mühle-branded business alongside the old one.
Mühle-Glashütte’s decision to switch to wristwatches came in 1996, when one of the shipyards they had been working with was so impressed by their precision instruments that they asked if the company could make them some wristwatches. After a short discussion the answer was yes.
Popular models include the S.A.R Rescue Timer and 29ER.
More details at Mühle-Glashütte.
Germany’s history with the arts doesn’t all revolve around the oppression and repression of fascist states. Germany is also home to some of the richest and most interesting schools of artistic theory in the world with many German movements still in full force. One such movement is modernism with minimalist elements, originating in the 1920s with Bauhaus. The core tenets of Bauhaus focus on shape and colour, with circles, squares and triangles forming the building blocks of design language.
Nomos Glashütte take a similar approach to their watches, with models like the Tangente showing the interplay between the round case, sharp lines of the indexes and circular subdials. In fact, they recently launched a golden version of the Tangente to celebrate 175 years of Glashütte watchmaking.
The Bauhaus influence provides a distinctive style that works across their full gamut of watches, ranging from dress pieces to sporty numbers.
More details at Nomos Glashütte.
Glashütte Original’s heritage is linked, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the historic watch brands that were dismantled in the aforementioned period of German watchmaking upheaval. In 1951 the remnants of several brands were conglomerated together and in 1990 they formed the Glashütte Uhrenbetrieb, a company that was eventually privatised to become Glashütte Original. Meaning that while the names of those historic brands may no longer be around, their legacy is extremely strong in Glashütte Original.
On a watchmaking front, they tend to focus on retro designs with a fusion of modern and traditional execution. The SeaQ is a prime example, with its vintage diver aesthetic combined with the exceptional 36-13 calibre touting a power reserve of 100-hours.
There’s also watches like the Seventies Chronograph, which is more obviously retro than the classically flavoured Sixties – GO’s original vintage inspired watch. The angular, squared shape of the Seventies is a perfect tribute to the kind of TV-shaped cases that were popping up in its titular decade while avoiding the Genta-inspired shapes that have become shorthand for the period.
More details at Glashütte Original.
On the more minimalist side of German watchmaking, one of the names you can’t avoid at the moment is Junghans. Their combination of aesthetic design and accessible prices has made them a real talking point among collectors of all stripes. Which makes sense because one thing that Junghans has never struggled with is moving units, in 1903 they were the largest clock manufacture in the world and in 1963 they produced over 20,000 clocks and watches every day.
They’re also custodians of the highly influential art style of Max Bill, a Swiss artist and designer, one who today is held across some of the most important museums across the world, including the MoMA in NYC and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. He created a series of watches for Junghans over 60 years ago and every so often Junghans will break out the Max Bill name for a new model like last year’s anniversary model.
Like many of their minimalist German compatriots, Bauhaus provides a strong influence on their design concepts. Something which is the most apparent in the new Max Bill Bauhaus, a watch that quite literally has the school printed on its caseback.
More details at Junghans.
Founded in 1925 under the name Lacher & Co., Laco have been producing quality German pilots watches for close to 100 years. They were based in Germany’s second seat of watchmaking away from Glashütte, the town of Pforzheim. During World War Two, they became one of five watchmakers commissioned to create Fliegers for the Luftwaffe and in this manner managed to survive the turbulence of the period.
The pilot’s watch is still at the core of Laco’s watch production with retro style aviation watches like the Kiel.2 leading the charge. However, over the years they’ve also branched out into sport and tool watches like the Scorpion. Their German designs are backed up by Swiss movements, providing exemplary reliability and precision.
More details at Laco.
The single hand watches of German watchmaker MeisterSinger might seem like some quirky, novel way of timekeeping, but it’s actually been around for longer than you might think. If you want to get really pedantic about it, a sundial is a one-handed clock. But even as late as the beginning of the 18th century, most clocks were equipped with just a single time-telling hand.
Now, granted in both these instances they only told a rough time because that’s all they could do. It took a while before clocks could measure minutes to any degree of accuracy, anything more in fact than when it was about time to start work, stop work or go to church.
As such, MeisterSinger’s single hand watches, like the Perigraph or Pangea, might seem like a bit of an archaic design. And yet it’s what have built their entire brand on – and there are a handful of understandable reasons why. The first is practical. With fewer moving parts going on, you can use a simplified movement and there’s fewer things that can go wrong. The second is aesthetic. By having fewer indicators, you have a less crowded, more minimalist look; a broader canvas for MeisterSinger’s designers to work with.
Perhaps unsurprisingly they earn themselves a spot on our top 5 single-handed watches.
More details at MeisterSinger.
Moritz Grossman was a watchmaker operating in the Glashütte area in the 1840s, his atelier was one of the most prestigious and he served as a mentor to several notable watchmakers in the region. Perhaps most poignant is the fact he taught Robert Mühle, who we talked about earlier in this article.
Unfortunately, his work was cut short when he died unexpectedly in 1885, with his primary legacy being the German School of Watchmaking that he helped to establish. The same school survived under various names and iterations right up to 1992 and the name Moritz Grossmann began to fade into obscurity.
However, in 2008 the modern brand Moritz Grossmann was founded in his honour, with the aim of spreading the story of this important historic watchmaker. They pay homage to their patron with heritage watches that highlight the mechanical innovations he invented, as well as adapting them into contemporary and classical timepieces.
More details at Moritz Grossman.
Founded in 1961 by Helmut Sinn, Sinn Spezialuhren produces a diverse range of watches that span disciplines such as pilot’s watches, dive watches and even timepieces designed for space flight. The company has come a long way from Helmut Sinn’s original project, which revolved around creating navigation chronographs for military pilots at competitive prices. Sinn himself was a pilot in World War Two and later became a flight instructor.
1985-1993 was the peak period of Sinn Spezialuhren’s space exploration and saw the development of the ‘Space Chronograph’ family of watches, the 140 S and 142 S. They were lauded for their robust constructions that could withstand the extreme environments and trials of space. The 140 has been recreated as part of their modern collections with a 44mm diameter stainless steel case and SINN SZ01 movement. However, it’s the pilot’s watches that continue to form the backbone of the brand with models like the 103 St Classic C with a panda style chronograph design.
More details at Sinn.
Steinhart is substantially younger than the majority of brands here, founded in 2001 by Gunther Steinhart. However, they draw on the heritage of German watchmaking at large to create a wide-ranging series of watches that have strong retro designs. Fliegers, deck watches and more in the style of their vintage equivalents. They also specialise in executing on these retro designs at accessible prices with Swiss engineering, making them incredibly popular even if they aren’t the most original.
More details at Steinhart.
Sternglas’ story is familiar to anyone who has dabbled in the realm of microbrands. If you can’t find the watch you want to wear on the market, make it yourself. In this case the desired watch was a minimalist Bauhaus timepiece at an affordable price. And so the brand’s founder, Dustin Fontaine, set out on the adventure of designing his first watch. That watch was launched in 2016 and they’ve gone from strength to strength.
Watches like the Kanton 2.0 exemplify the Sternglas aesthetic. A 39mm stainless steel watch housing the Sellita SW200 movement and that has a silvery white dial with thin black indexes. And crucially it’s just £799, meaning it won’t break the bank while being stylish.
More details at Sternglas.
Stowa’s story is, by this point in the article, a familiar one. Founded during the boom period of the 1920s only to have their factory destroyed during the ensuing conflict of World War Two. Fortunately, they were able to relocate their production and resumed work in 1951, eventually expanding to encompass the original location as well once it was rebuilt.
Their watches adhere to the full breadth of German watchmaking tradition, with traditional style Fliegers at one end of the spectrum and the Bauhaus inspired Antea at the other. Housed inside are staple Swiss movements like the Sellita SW200, a fusion of German precision and Swiss mechanics in perfect matrimony.
More details at Stowa.
Kieser Design are a Frankfurt based brand that produce hand-made watches built to order using their detailed online configurator. It’s the project of Matthias Kieser, an engineer deeply inspired by the concept of bionics, meaning mechanisms inspired by nature. Specifically, their inaugural timepiece, the tragwerk.T is based on dragonflies with its titanium structure inspired by their exoskeleton and a hexagon dial inspired by their compound eyes.
Small independent brands like Kieser Design reveal another key aspect of German watchmaking: a focus on passionate engineering and personal influence.
More details at Kieser Design.
Another small independent German brand you should be aware of is Defakto. They combine the detail and passion of a one-man operation (every watch is produced by Raphael Ickler) with the minimalist style that we’ve seen is a German signature. The watches of Defakto all play along similar themes and ideas, making for a distinctive range of watches that have great cohesion together while standing out as unique on their own.
One of their signature watches is the Transit, which they produced for their 10th anniversary and which won a prestigious German Design Award in 2020. It features a 40mm diameter case in a slim, round shape with brushed finishing made in-house by Ickler in Pforzheim, whose family has been producing watch cases for almost 100 years.
More details at Defakto.
Botta are another watch brand based close to Frankfurt, as opposed to the major watchmaking centres of Glashütte or Pforzheim. They believe in creating watches that follow the timings of the real world with human centric designs rather than ones that follow the arbitrary patterns of timekeeping. As such they experiment with various styles of display such as 24-hour scales that match the true experience of the solar day.
Completing the package are Swiss movements because nothing screams efficiency as much as the Swiss and the Germans working together. Ultimately Botta are about the simplification of time to a point where wristwatches remember that they are functional tools and not just jewellery.
More details at Botta Design.
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