The town of Glashütte, Germany—what is now the center of the German watchmaking industry—is truly in the middle of nowhere. About a 45-minute drive from Dresden, Glashütte is a small village, not unlike Switzerland’s La Chaux-de-Fonds–both places where watchmaking enterprises congregated.

And like that Swiss village, I found the village to be very charming, calm and quaint, and the sidewalks roll up at night and nothing happens.

Unlike La Chaux-de-Fonds, upheaval came to Glashütte in the form of the German Democratic Republic. The thriving independent watchmakers of Saxony were appropriated by the State and a new watch production collective was formed—the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe(GUB). For more than three decades, these accomplished watchmakers worked on making watches for East German and worldwide customers, focusing on high quality standard timepieces.

When the Berlin Wall fell, and glasnost reigned, the collective economy was dismantled and the GUB was privatized.

Out of the ashes of the GUB was born Glashütte Original, which is still housed today in the (since renovated and transformed) GUB building.

A Little History

I did a tour of the fantastic German Watch Museum Glashütte and learned about how the Saxon King had decreed that watchmaking be created in Saxony, and how Ferdinand Adolph Lange convinced the king to choose Glashütte, a very poor, former mining town, to be its home. Lange, along with the other founding fathers of watchmaking in Glashütte, Julius Assmann, Moritz Grossmann and Adolf Schneider, built the industry here from the ground up.

They were very successful, and the name Glashütte became synonymous with excellent watchmaking (similar to how the Geneva Seal came about). At its height, the Glashütte area was home to a complete supply system of small companies specializing in different processes in watchmaking. Some made hands, others dials, others wheels and screws, still others specialized in engraving, and there were several key watch manufactures like A. Lange & Söhne, Albert Schneider and Moritz Grossmann, among others, based in and around Glashütte.

Then, World War II came and went and when the dust settled, Glashütte was part of East Germany and the various manufacturers were consolidated into that one collective watchmaking concern, the aforementioned GUB, and watchmaking was transformed in this little town.

Much has been made of this “tragedy,” but you have to remember that watchmaking didn’t die in Glashütte. The emphasis changed, but watchmakers still created and they were proud of the work they did. One of Glashütte Original’s watchmakers who worked for the GUB before the fall of the wall, put it this way: “Back in the GDR, consumption wasn’t the goal—we made sturdy, long-lasting watches. They were extremely reliable and precise and we were very proud of the watches we produced. Back then, it cost half a month’s salary to buy a GUB watch, so it was still relatively luxurious items.”

The Glashütte Way

Back in the glory days of Glashütte, companies outside of the village started to appropriate the name, pretending that their watches were from there. Many of the companies from Glashütte started to use the quality seal “Original Glashütte” to distinguish their watches from these counterfeits. When the GUB was privatized, the decision was made to call the new brand Glashütte Original.

Today, Glashütte Original exemplifies the traditions of German watches. Some of the hallmarks of the brand, and the Glashütte way, include the use of 3/4 plates, sober, pure designs, the use of Glashütte striping and more.

“The work today is more interesting and more challenging,” says that former GUB watchmaker. “I can really invest myself, include my own ideas and my experience. I am certainly more personally involved and there is more room for individuality. We never stopped making mechanical watches, and there is a bit of competition among the Glashütte companies to do things the best. Having competition is good, to create new ideas. In the past, we had a monopoly, so there was no need to challenge ourselves and come up with new ideas.”

The Glashütte Watchmaking School

Back in 1878, the German School of Watchmaking opened in Glashütte, founded by Moritz Grossmann. It quickly became an important training ground and by 1945 every third student came from outside of Germany.

The Alfred Helwig School of Watchmaking, the largest training institute in Glashütte (and run by Glashütte Original) is located in the same building as the watch museum. Each year, a new class comes into the four year school, and any graduate of the school with a grade of “B” or higher is guaranteed a job at Glashütte Original (though they are in no way obligated to work for the company).

Restoring Glashütte’s Past

In addition, Glashütte Original’s restoration workshop is in the museum building, and any watch made in Glashütte prior to the period of privatization can be returned here for service. The restoration department works on many of the clocks and watches from the museum’s collection, but they also have many watches from consumers that pre-date the GUB, and they are always servicing and repairing GUB-era watches.

So, in truth, the building that houses the museum, the restoration workshop and the Watchmaking School really shows the past, present and future of Glashütte.

Glashütte Original Today

Glashütte Original is keeping the tradition of the Saxon watch industry’s founders in mind as it develops new watches. The designs are clean, uncluttered and quite traditional, while continually innovating.

Last year, Glashütte Original introduced the Senator Excellence with the Caliber 36 movement, which offers 100 hours of power reserve. When the average for the industry is about 42 hours of power reserve, 100 hours is a true breakthrough. Having reliable energy for 100 hours means that you can put the watch down for about four full days and, when you pick it up, it will still be running accurately. Sure, there are longer power reserves on the market (many brands make eight to ten days and the current record is 50 days), but for an entry level product, which the Senator Excellence is for Glashütte Original, this is a great accomplishment. Also, in the Senator Excellence, this impressive power reserve is accomplished with a single spring barrel.

In addition to pushing watchmaking forward, Glashütte Original mines its past for inspiration—take for example the great looking 60s Iconic Square. The original was a GUB watch and Glashütte Original has played with this inspiration to make a thoroughly modern watch, with a state of the art movement at its heart.

“Today Glashütte Original is maintaining and furthering the tradition of watchmaking in Glashütte,” says Thomas Meier, president, Glashütte Original. “The brand is proud to make use of its rich heritage and the competences acquired in history as an important source regarding design, functions and mechanical complications of its current timepieces.”

Basel Novelties

Three of the important novelties presented this year include the Senator Excellence Perpetual Calendar, the Senator Chronograph Panorama Date and new colorful Pavoninas for the ladies.

The Senator Excellence Perpetual Calendar takes the caliber 36, which was introduced last year, and applies it to one of the most interesting, and challenging, complications. It makes sense to use this movement as the base, as the power reserve of more than 100 hours is perfect to ensure that the perpetual calendar doesn’t run down and require resetting. The 42mm case comes in red gold or stainless steel, and is water resistant to 50 meters.

Glashütte Original introduced its integrated Caliber 37 chronograph movement in 2014, and this year the brand is introducing a Senator Chronograph Panorama Date in stainless steel. In addition, this sportier version of the chronograph is upgraded to 100 meter water resistance.

Launched in 2013, the Pavonina collection is being expanded this year with new dial treatments and new colorful quick-change straps (taupe or rose-colored Louisiana alligator leather or calfskin in shimmering golden beige to Louisiana alligator leather in luminous red, anthracite, turquoise, pink, orange or dark blue). Powered by an in-house quartz movement, the Pavonina can be configured on the Glashütte Original website, choosing between cases, dials and straps.

Glashütte Original is nothing if not surprising, as they shift from high watchmaking developments to interesting designs and then back again. I can’t wait to see what the brand has to offer next.

The US is key to Glashütte Original, according to Meier. “The USA always has been and always will be a very important market for us,” he says. “Americans seem to enjoy our timepieces not only for the German art of engineering, but also and especially for their clean, but very distinct design. Quite a few Americans also have German roots–a quality timepiece made in Germany is thus for them a particularly emotional product. This is why we chose to introduce our new special collection–the Sixties Iconic Square first and above all in New York as a way of demonstrating the importance and special role that the US market plays for our brand.”

It’s really remarkable, on the one hand, that the center of German watchmaking is here in Glashütte, a small village in the Ore Mountains.

On the other, it makes perfect sense that German watchmaking, and especially Glashütte Original, is based here in this calm, quiet town, where watchmakers can concentrate to the exclusion of everything else.

In Glashütte’s case, there isn’t anything else to do but make watches.

And for that, we watch lovers are eternally grateful.

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