Watches - Buying Guides

Glashütte: A German Powerhouse of Endurance and Innovation

When it comes to fine watchmaking and all aspects of Haute Horlogerie, there’s really only one country which immediately springs to mind. The lush valleys, snow-capped mountains, and crystal waters of Switzerland - home to the kind of obsessive attention to efficiency and meticulous detail which watchmaking requires - are deeply associated with high-end timepiece production. They have been for several centuries, and will most likely be for several centuries to come.

However, Switzerland isn’t the only European country producing truly superb watches, and nor does it have a monopoly on quality horology. Indeed, one only has to look to neighbouring Germany to find another country with a rich tradition of quality watchmaking; a land which has well and truly perfected the art of masterful engineering, and which proudly gave rise to a timepiece brand which sits near the top of any watch lover’s wishlist.

For the past two centuries, the Glashütte timepiece company has upheld the high standard associated with German watchmaking and has consistently impressed not only with its dedication to excellence but with its spirit of resolve and adaptability throughout a series of tumultuous eras. Few firms of any kind would be able to survive - reputation intact - the reinvention and changes which Glashütte had to endure, and yet now, in 2018, the Glashütte brand continues to shine as brightly as it ever did. With innovation and a highly teutonic perfectionism at its core, this is a watchmaker worthy of the utmost respect and attention, and which boasts a backstory which informs the fame and high regard it enjoys to this day.

Glashutte Pavonina Stainless steel
Glashutte Pavonina Stainless Steel Dial

The Glashütte Story Begins

If you visit the tiny German village of Glashütte, which is where the company was founded and continues to operate, the first thing you will notice is the sign which greets you as you drive across its cobbled streets, and which proudly proclaims that “Time Lives in Glashütte”. Time has made Glashütte its German home ever since 1845, the year in which Ferdinand Adolph Lange first established his workshop, hired fifteen eager apprentices, and set up a homegrown brand intended to rival the great watchmaking companies of Switzerland, France, and England.

Lange was an ambitious young man, who headed off to Paris immediately after completing his school years to study astronomy and physics, before gaining employment with renowned Austrian clockmaker, Joseph Thaddeus Winnerl. His time with Winnerl deeply impressed and inspired Lange and, filled with an insatiable drive for success, he went on to become an apprentice watchmaker under Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes (a key name in the horology history books, and the man who engineered the first ever ‘five minute clock’, still operating in Dresden today). Once his apprenticeship was complete, Lange was determined to strike out alone. However, instead of relocating to Switzerland, which would surely have been the expected next step for a talented young watchmaker such as himself, Lange decided to use his talents and vision to reinvigorate his bitterly impoverished home village of Glashütte, and he established his company there.

The years which followed the founding of Glashütte in 1845 were busy ones, and they were marked by a series of industry-changing innovations which would go on to typify the Glashütte approach to Haute-Horlogerie. Firstly, Lange would pioneer the use of the considerably more logical and efficient metric system in watchmaking; something which other brands would take decades to catch up on. As well as this, Lange invented the three-quarter plate; a larger, more stable component for high-end watches, allowing an entire gear train to sit on one supporting piece. This innovation remains a cornerstone for the timepiece industry to this day.

Those early years at Glashütte introduced another key aspect to watchmaking, too: the implementation of divided labour and production line techniques. This allowed for swifter, more precise manufacturing, and encouraged individual craftsmen to specialise in one aspect of the production, which led to them honing and perfecting a more streamlined set of skills. Little wonder, then, that Glashütte was quickly recognised as being considerably ahead of its time, and the wealth and prestige Lange had wished for began to roll into the valley, and change the fortunes of his hometown as he’d planned from the very beginning.

Glashütte as a Hub of Watchmaking Excellence

The establishment of the Glashütte company in 1845 was a major catalyst for the entire region, supported by funding from the Saxon government, and propped up by the innate industrious attitudes of the local workforce. Within a decade or two, dozens of workshops, factories, and suppliers cropped up along the banks of the Muglitz river which ran through the village of Glashütte, the vast majority of which were involved in the watchmaking industry in some way or another.

The driving force at the centre of all this dynamism was a drive to further innovation in German horology. Inspired by Lange’s continually growing company, Glashütte became a hub of watchmaking and bold new designs, with plenty of the ideas which sprung up in the region feeding back into Lange’s workshop. One significant example would be the opening of the School of Watchmaking in Glashütte, a centre of excellence which trained over 4,000 horologists, and which led to the invention of several key components - including the flying tourbillon - which changed the industry as we know it.

The 19th century had been full of successes for Lange and his successors. However, the turn of the 20th century saw trouble brewing on the horizon.

A Century of Dramatic Changes

The first major setback which altered the fortunes of Glashütte came about in 1926, during the global economic crisis. Like most other industries, and especially the luxury and high-end industries in Europe and the US, Glashütte suffered from a lack of commerce and the rising rates of inflation, which resulted in raw materials becoming all but inaccessible during the latter half of the decade. However, Glashütte got back on its feet during the decade which followed and started exploring the latest realms of possibility brought about by the popularity of the wristwatch - an item which the Glashütte company quickly excelled in.

Interestingly, the advent of the Second World War was something of a boon for Glashütte. While other industries were floundering as a result of instability, lack of workforce, and the threat of destruction, the German government was keen to keep the national watchmaking industry in rude health, and went well out of their way to protect the Glashütte factory. This was mainly due to the fact that precise and accurate timekeeping had taken on a powerful new significance in wartime, and partly due to the fact that nationalism demands the protection and promotion of homegrown industries and labels. When the war ended in 1945, however, things were about to dramatically change for Glashütte, which was to be subjected to a transformation it would take decades to overcome.

The Soviet troops poured into the watchmaking village in 1951, and quickly set about uniting the various watchmaking firms and companies in the region, and ensuring that they all operated under the same label: VED Glashutter Uhrenbetriebe (or GUB). In true Soviet style, the GUB was a state-owned, mass production company, charged with producing vast quantities of affordable wristwatches, to be distributed everywhere across the union. On the one hand, this wasn’t the crushing disaster one might expect - the GUB remained dedicated to innovation and design, albeit designs which forewent the values of the company’s previous high-end incarnation. On the other, it meant that Lange’s vision for his company, which was built upon years studying at the finest Horlogerie houses under the greatest masters, was put on hold for a very, very long time.

The Rise of Glashütte Original

Glashutte Senator Chronometer Regulator 18k Rose Gold
Glashutte Senator Chronometer Regulator 18k Rose Gold

Following the collapse of the DDR and reunification in 1989, luxury watchmaking flooded back the Muglitz Valley, and by 1990, the company (now rebranded as Glashütte Original, to distinguish itself from the many other watchmaking firms re-establishing themselves in the region) was well and truly back in its rightful place as a watchmaker of real distinction and class.

By combining the original sense of innovation and wonder first championed in Germany by Lange, and the drive to distinguish German watchmaking from that of neighbouring countries and regions, Glashütte Original has carved out a powerful niche in the modern timepiece scene. Elegant yet practical, sophisticated yet understated, they offer a brilliance and sense of style which, quite simply, couldn’t come from anywhere else on earth.

The Glashütte Original Senator Chronograph Datum

Glashutte Senator Chronograph Satum Stainless Steel movement

With a brand as prestigious and as committed to fine detail and impressive accuracy as Glashütte, you can always be sure that each and every one of their timepieces is primed to impress. This is certainly the case with the Glashütte Original Senator Chronograph Datum, a watch currently available at Xupes, and a beautiful example of everything this brand does best.

Combining a contemporary finish with a distinctly retro vibe (not least from that fantastically teutonic example of a branding font on the dial), this is a watch which neatly sums up the twin aspects of Glashütte Original; sombre yet stylish, and utterly irresistible. Its trio of dials - at three o’clock, six o’clock, and nine o’clock, and central time display present a stunningly balanced look, and the house-made movements within offer the kind of precision that the company is famed for across the globe.

Glashutte Senator Chronograph Satum Stainless Steel movement
Glashutte Senator Chronograph Satum Stainless Steel movement

Purchasing a pre-loved Glashütte timepiece gives you the chance to revel in the quality of a truly unique brand; one which began with a singular vision, defined the watchmaking industry of an entire nation, and which continues to impress, fascinate, and inspire to this day. Effortlessly stylish, undeniably distinctive, and packed full of character, the watches of Glashütte are a must-have for any lover of timeless German design.