When we think about watchmaking in Europe, it’s likely that we first think of Switzerland. If you also think of Switzerland, you’re probably right. The Swiss luxury watch industry is the largest in the world and it has become synonymous with the world of luxury watches. But long before Switzerland became the leading and largest center in the world for the luxury watch industry, another country in Europe developed and advanced watchmaking in Europe and the world at that time – Germany. In this article, we will explore the history of watchmaking in Germany and introduce the 13 Best German Watch Brands these days that you need to know.
History Of German Watch Manufacturing
Watch manufacturers in Germany are actually pioneers in Europe, having produced the first portable clock sometime during the 1530s.
Peter Henlein (approximately 1485-1542) was a watchmaker from Nuremberg, Germany, who is often associated with the invention of the pocket watch, also known as the “Nuremberg Egg”. However, the truth of this legend is a matter of debate.
There are few sources that directly refer to Peter Henlein and his “Nuremberg Egg”. One book from 1512 mentions Petrus Hele, stating: “With a little bit of iron, namely, he makes clocks with many gears, which, no matter how one holds them, show and strike the time without the use of any weights, even when one wears them on one’s chest or in one’s pocket.” In another text, Henlein is mentioned as being “one of the first to have invented the making of such tiny little clocks (…).”
Henlein and his family were involved in several litigations, which have provided ample material for writers and filmmakers. In 1913, Walter Harlan wrote the play “Nuremberg Egg”, which was later filmed by his son Veit in 1938 under the title “The Immortal Heart”. The play stylizes 16th century Nuremberg as the hub of the universe, where the first world globe and the first portable timepiece emerged against a backdrop of tragic events.
The exact date of Peter Henlein’s birth is unknown, and it is highly doubtful whether Henlein’s portable clocks were truly the first of their kind. The early portable clocks did not offer much innovation. Both the steel spring for impelling the movement and the oscillating balance were already present in the table clocks of the late 15th century. The only innovation was the reduction in size of the mechanism. Despite these uncertainties, the story of the invention of the portable clock by Peter Henlein has found its place in the collective memory.
Nearly three centuries after Henlein, another significant German watchmaker emerged – Ferdinand Adolph Lange.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange (1815–1875) was a pioneering spirit who revolutionised precision watchmaking. Born in a period of defeat and new beginnings for Saxony, Lange was raised by the family of a merchant friend, which allowed him to attend the Technical School in Dresden. This education, usually only bestowed upon engineers and technicians at the time, was complemented by his studies with renowned master watchmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, who recognized and encouraged Lange’s watchmaking talent.
Lange’s early career saw him working near Paris with Austrian watchmaker Joseph Thaddeus Winnerl, a student of Abraham-Louis Breguet. During this time, Lange also studied astronomy and physics at the Sorbonne in Paris. Upon his return to Dresden, he partnered with his teacher and father-in-law Gutkaes, achieving success as both a watchmaker and a businessman.
Lange’s ambition and sense of civic duty led him to campaign for the establishment of a watch manufactory in the Erzgebirge, creating a counterpoint to the centers of fine watchmaking in England and Switzerland. Despite initial challenges, Lange’s determination and innovative approaches, such as the introduction of the metric system in watchmaking and the division of labor, revolutionized the industry.
Lange’s contributions extended beyond watchmaking. He served as the Mayor of Glashütte for 18 years and was elected to the Saxon state parliament. Despite his many achievements, Lange remained humble, famously rejecting an honor from the King of Saxony with the words, “A real man honors himself!”
The watchmaking industry in Glashütte flourished to such an extent that Glashütte watches began to be copied by other countries. To combat this, Glashütte watches started using the word “Original” to indicate that they were genuinely from Glashütte. This is where the brand Glashütte Original gets its name from today.
Despite the extensive damage caused by World War II and the subsequent demands for reparations from the Soviet army, watchmaking in Glashütte never ceased. The post-war hardships forced the watchmakers in Glashütte to become self-reliant, making everything themselves, from springs and jewels to machinery. This period of self-sufficiency has shaped the modern watchmaking industry in Glashütte, where the term “in-house” is not just a marketing point but a necessity for survival.
Now that we’ve grasped the history and beginnings of watchmaking in Germany, let’s acquaint ourselves with some of the most renowned German watchmakers in the present day.
13 Best German Watch Brands
Glashütte Original is a prestigious German watchmaking brand that traces its roots back to the mid-19th century. It is the legal successor to the state-owned enterprise VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB), which was established during the era of East Germany.
The brand is known for its commitment to traditional watchmaking techniques and the high quality of its timepieces. Glashütte Original watches are characterized by their distinctive three-quarter plate, a feature that was introduced by Ferdinand Adolph Lange and remains a hallmark of Glashütte watchmaking to this day.
Glashütte Original operates in a large manufacturing building where all watchmaking activity is centralized. This includes machining, finishing, chemical processes, inspection, and electroplating. The dials and cases for Glashütte Original watches are made in Pforzheim, a city with a long history in watchmaking and jewelry making.
In addition to manufacturing, Glashütte Original also operates a restoration workshop under the careful supervision of watchmaker Jurgen Franke. The workshop restores any watch that originates from Glashütte and was made before 1990, demonstrating the brand’s commitment to preserving the tradition of watchmaking in Glashütte.
Glashütte Original’s collections include the Lange 1, Zeitwerk, Saxonia, and 1815, each offering a unique blend of style, precision, and craftsmanship. These collections pay homage to the brand’s rich heritage while also showcasing its innovative spirit.
NOMOS Glashütte stands as an illustrious German horological brand that was established by Roland Schwertner in the year 1990. Situated in the picturesque town of Glashütte, which we mentioned above, enveloped by verdant nature, it lies in close proximity to Berlin and Dresden.
The appellation “Glashütte” is exclusively bestowed upon products that meet the most exacting standards of quality, exemplifying the town’s illustrious heritage. Only a select few items possess such a prestigious designation globally.
At present, NOMOS Glashütte reigns as the premier producer of mechanical watches in Germany, celebrated for their distinctive attributes and exquisite craftsmanship. In a momentous event in March 2014, NOMOS Glashütte achieved a groundbreaking feat by introducing an internal component that imparts vitality to the timepiece, referred to as the swing system – a proprietary escapement.
NOMOS Glashütte has also ventured into the realm of opulence by creating a collection of opulent timepieces adorned with lustrous gold since 2013. Each of these timepieces stands as a testament to the consummate artistry of watchmaking.
Sinn Spezialuhren GmbH, commonly known as Sinn, is a German watch manufacturer based in Frankfurt am Main. The company was established in 1961 by flight instructor and pilot Helmut Sinn. Originally, the company focused on creating navigation cockpit clocks and pilot chronographs, selling these through direct selling and bypassing traditional retailers.
In 1994, the company was sold to Lothar Schmidt, who introduced significant changes. The company expanded its model range, developed its own watch models, and introduced innovative technologies. Today, Sinn produces over 12,000 watches annually and is known for its high-quality mechanical and quartz wristwatches.
Sinn watches are used by professional users, including special forces such as the marine unit of the German federal police GSG 9, the fire service, divers, and pilots. The watches are certified by independent institutes according to existing standards and guidelines to ensure their suitability for professional use.
The company also co-founded Sächsische Uhrentechnologie GmbH (SUG), a watch-case firm, in 1999. Today, SUG supplies cases to Sinn and other well-known watchmakers.
Sinn watches have won numerous awards, including first place at the Goldene Unruh awards in multiple years. The watches are known for their technical details, such as pressure resistance up to 20 bar and more, and anti-magnetic functionality according to DIN 8309.
Meistersinger is another wonderful German watch brand known for its unique single-hand watches. The company offers a variety of collections, including Single-Hand Watches, Single-Hand with Additional Function Watches, Limited Edition Watches, Form and Style Watches, and Circularis Watches.
The Single-Hand Watches collection, as the name suggests, features watches with a single hand. This design is a nod to the earliest timepieces, which only had an hour hand. the minutes are usually shown on an aperture window. The collection includes models like the UNOMAT Sunburst Medium Blue, the Manual Wind ETA2801, and the No.03 Black Line Automatic, among others.
The Single-Hand with Additional Function Watches collection includes watches that, while still featuring a single hand, also incorporate additional functions. Models in this collection include the Pangaea Day Date Black/Yellow and the Single Hand Perigraph Blue.
The Limited Edition Watches collection features unique watches produced in limited quantities, like the Bell Hora Petrol Dial and the Edition 366 Manual Winding.
The Form and Style Watches collection includes the Urban series, which features a modern, urban design. Models in this collection include the Urban Day Date Ivory Dial and the Urban Opaline Silver.
The Circularis collection includes watches like the Circularis Automatic Black, which features a distinctive design and high-quality craftsmanship.
Damasko is a German company that makes beautiful watches and chronographs. Damasko care a lot about making their watches accurate and strong.
A Damasko watch is something that will last you a long time. These watches can deal with the challenges of everyday life, and still keep time very well. Damasko has many kinds of watches, and some of them are very popular, like the DK36 and the DC56. Each Damasko watch is beautiful, made with a lot of attention to detail. This shows how much they want to make their watches good and precise. And the best part? Damasko lets you choose different watch cases and straps, so you can make your watch look the way you want. What makes Damasko really special, though, is their passion for making their own watches. They do everything in Germany, which helps them keep an eye on everything and make sure their watches are great. So, when you pick Damasko, you’re not just getting a watch – you’re getting a piece of German art.
Mühle-Glashütte is a German watch manufacturer with a rich history that spans more than 140 years. The company was founded in 1994 by Hans-Jürgen Mühle, but the family’s involvement in precision instrument manufacturing dates back to 1869 when Robert Mühle established his own company in Glashütte.
The current CEO is Thilo Mühle, who continues the family tradition of creating high-quality steel watches. Mühle-Glashütte’s designs are regal, timeless, and sober, setting them apart in the watch industry.
The company offers a variety of models, including the Panova Red, the 29ER DAY/DATE, the Teutonia IV Moon Phase, the ProMare Lady, the Sea-Timer Blackmotion, the S.A.R. Flieger-Chronograph, the Teutonia Sport II, the 29ER Casual, and the 29ER Zeigerdatum, among others.
Stowa is a German luxury watchmaker that was founded by Walter Storz in 1927. The name “Stowa” is a combination of the founder’s name, Storz Walter. The company is based in Engelsbrand, Germany. From 1996 until 2021, Stowa was led by Jörg Schauer, who also owns the Schauer watch brand and the DUROWE watch movement brand. As of July 1, 2021, Stowa became part of Tempus Arte GmbH & Co. KG, which also owns Uhrenmanufaktur Lang & Heyne Dresden, UhrenWerke-Dresden (UWD), and the Munich-based company Leinfelder Uhren München.
Stowa has a rich history and has produced a variety of watch models over the years. Some of their notable models include the Antea, a replica of an original Stowa design from the 1930s, and the Flieger (Pilot), which is a homage to the original Beobachtungsuhren (B-Uhr) design. They also have the Prodiver/Seatime line, which are sports diving watches that are water resistant to 1000m/300m.
The movements in Stowa’s watches are mostly ETA movements with significant decoration and, in the case of the Airman Original, mechanical modifications. Since Jörg Schauer owns the DUROWE (Deutsche Uhrenrohwerke) movement brand, it is anticipated that Durowe movements will be used in Stowa watches in the future.
A. Lange & Söhne
A. Lange & Söhne is a prestigious German watch manufacturer that was originally established in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in Glashütte, Saxony. The company is known for its high-quality, finely crafted timepieces, many of which are made of precious metals like gold or platinum.
The company’s history is marked by several significant events. After Ferdinand Lange’s death, his sons, Richard and Emil, took over the business and continued to develop it. However, the company was expropriated after World War II, and the Lange brand ceased to exist for some time.
In 1990, Walter Lange, the great-grandson of Ferdinand Lange, revived the company with the help of Swiss watch manufacturer IWC and the Richemont group. Since then, A. Lange & Söhne has reestablished itself as a leading brand in the luxury watch market.
A. Lange & Söhne watches are characterized by their distinctive design elements, such as the three-quarter plate and precision beat-adjustment system. The company’s timepieces are also known for their complex mechanical features, including chronographs, perpetual calendars, and tourbillons.
The company’s most famous models include the Lange 1, a watch with an off-center dial and outsize date that has become a signature model for the brand, and the Zeitwerk, which features a mechanical digital time display.
Laco is a renowned German watch manufacturer with a rich history dating back to 1925. The company was founded by Frieda Lacher and her companion Ludwig Hummel, and the brand name “Laco” was derived from their company name, Lacher & Co.
In 1936, Frieda’s son Erich took over the company, renaming it Erich Lacher Uhrenfabrik. It was under his leadership that the company produced the legendary Laco observation watch, a timepiece that became a world-famous classic for its quality, solidity, and reliability.
The company continued to uphold its commitment to quality in the 1950s, establishing Laco as a reputable name among renowned watch brands. In 1983, the Günther family took over the company, ensuring the continuation of the Laco tradition and maintaining a strong focus on producing special limited editions and mechanical watches.
Laco has also been innovative in its watch designs, producing models like the Laco Radio Controlled Watch in 1995 and the stylish ABACUS in 1999, which are considered to be future classics. The company’s commitment to tradition and innovation ensures that the Laco story, “Made in Germany,” will continue into the future.
Davosa is a German watchmaker that specializes in the production of high-quality timepieces. The company was founded in 1983 and has since established a reputation for its craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Davosa offers a range of watch collections that cater to different styles and preferences. Their watches are known for their Swiss precision and reliability. The brand incorporates both automatic and quartz movements in their timepieces, providing options for those who appreciate the traditional mechanical movements as well as those who prefer the accuracy of quartz.
Davosa watches are often characterized by their classic and timeless designs. They focus on creating elegant and functional watches that can be worn for various occasions. The brand uses premium materials such as stainless steel, sapphire crystal, and genuine leather straps to ensure durability and longevity.
In addition to their standard watch collections, Davosa has also released limited editions and special collaborations, further showcasing their commitment to innovation and uniqueness.
Overall, Davosa is recognized as a respected watchmaker that combines Swiss craftsmanship, precision, and style to create timepieces that are cherished by watch enthusiasts around the world.
Steinhart is a German watch manufacturer known for its high-quality timepieces. The company was founded in 2003 and has since made a name for itself in the watch industry. Steinhart offers a wide range of watch models, including dive watches, pilot watches, marine watches, and more.
One of the unique aspects of Steinhart is their commitment to quality and precision. They offer a variety of watch sizes, ranging from 39mm to 44mm, to cater to different customer preferences. In addition to their standard models, Steinhart also offers a premium line of watches and a selection of limited edition models.
Steinhart also provides a range of accessories, including watch bands, clasps, and other watch-related items. Their watch bands come in different sizes (20mm, 22mm, 24mm) and materials, including steel and rubber.
Although Steinhart is known for making homage watches just like Davosa, but her watches are usually considered as timepieces with a lower quality compared to Davosa.
Note: Davosa and Steinhart are German watch manufacturers, but they are operating in Swiss and their watches are caring the label – Swiss Made, this is why they are not included in our brands count for this article.
Moritz Grossmann is a prestigious German watch manufacturer with a rich history that dates back to the 19th century. The company was founded by Carl Moritz Grossmann, who was born in Dresden in 1826. After graduating from elementary school, he attended the Technical College for two years, where he developed a fascination for technology and the complexity of timepieces.
In 1846, Grossmann became a journeyman and set out to acquire the world’s horological know-how. His journey took him to various places, including Hamburg, Munich, La Chaux-de-Fonds (the hub of Swiss watchmaking), England, France, Denmark, and Sweden. He returned to Dresden in 1854 and fulfilled his dream of establishing his own atelier.
Grossmann was not only a watchmaker but also an award-winning technical author. He crafted pocket watches, pendulum clocks, and precision measuring instruments, ranging from innovative details to complete movements. He was also committed to the welfare of the town of Glashütte and served as a representative of the Royal Saxon Landtag from 1866 to 1878.
In 1878, he initiated the German School of Watchmaking and outlined the curriculum. His life was permeated by the art of watchmaking, which was his greatest passion. He died unexpectedly on 23 January 1885 after delivering a speech about the introduction of World Time.
Zeppelin is a German watch brand known for its technical sophistication and timeless beauty. The brand draws its inspiration from the elegance and fascination of Zeppelin airships, offering a collection of watches that impress with their distinctive design, excellent price-performance ratio, and high product quality.
The watches are made in Germany by highly qualified watchmakers. Zeppelin offers a wide range of men’s watches that showcase the trends of modern timekeeping, combining classic designs with the highest technical quality. The brand also offers a collection of women’s watches that express individuality through their classic design and high technical quality.
Junkers is a German watch brand that embodies a sense of adventure, great visions, and boundless freedom. The brand was inspired by the rich history of Junkers aircraft, which have been around for over 100 years. The watches are designed with great attention to detail and the aspiration to be timeless and beautiful.
The brand offers a variety of watch collections, including the Junkers W33, the Junkers JUMO, and the Junkers J1. The W33 collection is a tribute to the successful F 13 passenger aircraft, while the JUMO collection pays homage to the research and business field of Junkers Motor. The J1 collection is a special edition dedicated to an airplane that took to the skies only once and yet represented a revolution.
Junkers also has a strong connection with the Bauhaus movement. Hugo Junkers, the founder, was a supporter and promoter of the Bauhaus from the very beginning. The Junkers Bauhaus series commemorates the collaboration between the Bauhaus Dessau and the Junkerswerke.
Hanhart is a Swiss-German watch company that was established by Johann A. Hanhart in Diessenhofen, Switzerland, in 1882. The company is known for its Bicompax chronographs and stopwatches. In 1902, Hanhart relocated his business to Schwenningen, southern Germany. The company launched its first stopwatch in 1924, and soon after, extended its product range to include pocket watches and wristwatches.
In 1938, the first single-button chronograph with the “Calibre 40” entered series production, and pilot’s chronographs followed in 1939. Today, Hanhart produces its instrument watches and stopwatches in its workshops in Gütenbach, southern Germany. The registered offices of the brand are in Diessenhofen, Switzerland.
13 Best German Watch Brands – To Sum It Up
Germany has a rich and storied history in the world of watchmaking, dating back to the 15th century. The country’s watchmaking tradition began in the Black Forest region, but it was in the small town of Glashütte where German watchmaking truly flourished. This article explores the 13 best German watchmakers who have contributed to this tradition. From the pioneering work of Ferdinand Adolph Lange, who established A. Lange & Söhne and helped transform Glashütte into a hub of horological excellence, to the innovative designs of modern brands like NOMOS Glashütte and Sinn, these watchmakers represent the best of German precision and craftsmanship. The list also includes lesser-known but equally impressive manufacturers like Stowa, Damasko, and Moritz Grossmann, each contributing to the rich tapestry of German watchmaking with their unique approaches to design and manufacturing. Whether it’s the aviation-inspired timepieces of Laco, the robust and reliable watches of Hanhart, or the affordable homages from Steinhart, these German watchmakers embody a commitment to quality, innovation, and timeless design. As we can see, German watchmakers have a rich history and heritage, and they have nothing to be ashamed of, even compared to French watchmakers, such as Breguet, Cartier and others.