Junghans is a brand that most people know from their clocks and radio-controlled watches. In both categories the brand has made quite a name for itself, often combining innovative design with the latest technical developments. But what Junghans decisively gave a place in watchmaking history is its collaboration with architect/designer Max Bill. As an apprentice of Walter Gropius Max Bill studied at Bauhaus from 1927 until 1929. It helped him develop a very recognizable, and very Bauhaus influenced style, in which he was able to bring objects back to their essence yet still keeping them very exciting.
In 1953 Max Bill, along with Inge and Otl Aicher, founded their own design school; the Ulm School of Design, located in Germany, the city with the same name. Max Bill not only designed the building the school was housed in, but also served as Rector of it. In 1956, together with a couple of students, he created his first design for Junghans, a kitchen clock. This was the beginning of a long relationship with the brand. In 1961 followed by the first wrist watch designed by Max Bill and made by Junghans. Little could they know that with the introduction of this watch they would write watch making history.
More than half a century later the “Max Bill by Junghans” is still going strong. Actually perhaps even stronger than ever! In today’s tumultuous world of watches is the Max Bill still a breath of fresh air; watch design brought back to its pure essence.
Let’s start with the pure essence of this watch; its design hasn’t changed over the years. And why should it? Just like a Gerald Genta-design did also Max Bill achieve a timeless elegance that only seems to get a stronger attraction over time. It is straight forward, easy to read and yet far from boring. It is one of those rare watches that are always correct. Junghans even resisted the temptation to make the watch in a larger diameter, but then again they are also still selling Max Bill’s clocks for those who really want to indulge in larger timepieces. Junghans also resisted the temptation of replacing the convex Plexiglas for a sapphire crystal. Not only does this gives the watch a more classic look, it also breaks the light in a much softer way then a sapphire crystal does.
The Max Bill is available with a charming 34mm diameter and a hand wound movement, or in a 38mm version with an automatic movement. Since in both cases the dial almost covers the complete diameter, with only little space needed for the case, they wear much larger than their initial size might imply. Junghans choose ETA’s 2801-2 as manual wind movement, and the 2824 to power it’s automatic watch. Both are considered absolute workhorses when it comes to watch movements; an almost obvious choice for the down to earth watch the Max Bill is.
As impressive as the time-only is by itself, it might even be surpassed by the chronograph-version. Junghans calls this watch the Chronoscope and that is indeed a far sexier name for a watch, that might actually be the best designed chronograph watch……ever. Big words but so earned! Look at the simplicity of the dial; it is so clean, yet it tells you everything and still has a ton of character. Don’t be surprised when even watch enthusiasts that normally shop with the ultra high end watch brands take off their Patek or Vacheron because they want to try on this Junghans! The design of the watch is simply that good, and that pleasing!
The 40mm diameter is on the small side for a modern chronograph, but since again most of this space is dedicated to the dial it looks larger. Inside ticks a modified ETA/Valjoux 7750. These modifications go as far as eliminating the running seconds and day-display feature of the movement, an important decision that realized a more clean look of the dial.
Watch aficionados with a more refined taste might be disappointed about Junghans choice for movements. But when you realize that there is also another aspect of these watches where Junghans showed the power of restrain you probably wouldn’t mind turning a blind eye, since it is about as breathtaking as the design. What that aspect is? It’s fair price.
Special thanks to Peter van Bruggen from Goudsmederij Van Bruggen for providing the watches and the location for the photo shoot.