August 24, 2015
By Jody Hume
THE ULTIMATE DESTINATION FOR THE WATCH-OBSESSED: GLASHÜTTESHOP FINE WATCHES
Some hobbies are pretty solitary, never requiring you to leave your proverbial armchair. Luckily for horology enthusiasts, watchmaking has a history that ranges across the global map, and destinations worth jetting to. Case in point: the epicenter of German watchmaking, Glashütte. Located in the Free State of Saxony in Germany, Glashütte is home to storied watch brand A. Lange & Sohne and respected newcomers like Nomos, and it offers visitors a view into the history of precision watchmaking past and present.
It’s a destination that sparks passion in Senior Director of Fine Jewelry & Watches Michael Groffenberger. “If you’re talking about German watchmaking, there’s only one town that matters, and that’s Glashütte,” he says. His admiration for German watchmaking runs deep, and having experienced Glashütte firsthand, we asked him to share the not-to-miss manufactory tours, historical sites and restaurants to experience true German food. Read on for his guide, in his own words.
Setting The German Watchmaking Scene
German watchmaking is all about form following function — it’s very Bauhaus in terms of the way they think about the aesthetic. Just like with German cars, it’s all about precision engineering and making it the way it should be made regardless of how visible that is. For example, A. Lange & Sohne takes the finishing of a watch to an absolutely ridiculous level. They polish every single component of their watches by hand, even though 70% of those components you’ll never see.
Another thing that’s common in German watchmaking is the ¾ plate, which is all about making the watch more sturdy. If you had a criticism of German watches, it could be that they’re a bit cold. They’re not as warm as the French watchmakers in Geneva where you get a lot more romantic influence, like at Patek Phillipe and Vacheron Constantin. German watches are much more stoic. It’s about sturdiness, durability and dependability.
They build their watches to last forever — even the finest watches. I would put a $100,000 Lange up against a $500 watch from any other company in terms of durability. They’re just built to last forever, and they’re built with true passion. They’re designed to be the best time-keeping machines on the planet. Other watch brands talk about tolerances or acceptable levels of variation, and if you talk to watchmakers in Lange’s factory, they don’t know what that means — there are no acceptable levels of variation. They’re making hand-made things to absolute exacting precision.
Watch Factory Tours
You can’t go to Glashütte without visiting A. Lange & Söhne. Ferdinand Adolph Lange basically founded the town of Glashütte. He got a grant from the Saxon government to build his watchmaking factory in this little town, and if it hadn’t been for him, there would be no watchmaking in Glashütte. Today they’re the finest German watchmakers — they make my favorite watches.
During the Soviet era, when Glashütte was under the control of the Soviet Union, the factories there were actually used to make military watches. Many different factories were built then, and they all broke off and became different companies. For example, the original Lange factory turned into a mass market watch brand, and so when Walter Lange, the great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolph Lange, brought back the brand in 1990, he actually didn’t buy the original company from the Soviet government, he actually just reconstituted his own company.
So the original company, which had really gotten away from what the original Lange company was doing, ceased to exist in 1946 and became Glashütte, the brand that shares the name with the town. Glashütte makes fantastic watches at a more accessible price point than Lange. They’re not as exclusive, but they’re still absolutely terrific timepieces, so you should try to visit that factory as well. They also run The German Watch Museum Glashütte where they go through the 160 years of watchmaking history in the town.