More than we’d like to admit, the context in which something is made plays an essential role in how it comes together. Take the Swiss for instance. The country became so well known as watch makers because, over the course of a century or two, they developed a style of production called ‘etablissage’. This type of production – smaller shops producing specific components or functions necessary for a watch, and then shipping them to a central factory to be assembled – was in part a response to the country’s geographic and meteorologic quirks.
Switzerland is a country of high peaks, low valleys, and cold winters. When the fields were too cold to farm in the winter, peasants in the valleys would keep themselves busy putting together watch components. And given that each valley was separate, pockets of expertise around very specific parts of a watch began to emerge. Eventually, big players moved the experts from these areas and put them under one roof – refining the process further.
German brands got to a similar point through a much different route. When the Soviets cordoned off East Germany and socialized all the watch companies, it forced what was left of the industry to become self-sufficient. Much like the Swiss had nearly a century before, these watch makers began to produce all of their springs, jewels, and other essential items themselves. Rather than having their industry and process be formed by geography and meteorology, German watch makers were influenced by a political geography and ideology. After the iron curtain fell, the companies that had once been choked off by an oppressive system of government roared back to life like a fire being fed more oxygen. Today, you’ll find some of the best watch brands in the world in Germany. Take a look through our rundown of the best German watch brands and read a bit about their history.
A. Lange & Söhne
Among the oldest watch makers in both Germany and the world, A. Lange & Sohne was founded a little over 173 years ago in the small town of Glashütte by a man named Ferdinand Adolph Lange. Using his sons Richard and Emil as his primary work force, Ferdinand set his small company apart by producing some of the best quality pocket watches at the time. As styles changed after WWI with soldiers coming back back from the trenches with watches strapped on their wrists as opposed to stuffed in their pockets, A Lange & Sohne changed too. By the outset of WWII, the family company was making pilot’s watches for the Luftwaffe.
Not long after they started producing these oversized flight watches, the brand was put to of business. The new Soviet government split Germany in two, and nationalized businesses like A. Lange & Söhne. It wasn’t until the reunification of the country that the company started its efforts to once again start making watches. Now, over 20-years after Walter Lange brought his family’s business back to life, it is regarded as one of the world’s premier luxury watch makers.
Year Founded: 1845
Location: Glashutte, Germany
While they’re less than two decades old, Archimede watches claims a heritage that is much much deeper than their 15 years of business would leave one to believe. Given that they’re operated by Ickler, a 90+ year-old watch case maker based out of the same town in Pforzheim, Germany, Archimede positions themselves as a young brand with an old soul.
Whether or not you find that association convincing – it is hard to deny the brand’s quality. They produce attractive and relatively affordable watches (they retail under $1,000) that are driven by quality Swiss automatic, hand wound, and chronograph movements. All things said Archimede offers itself up as an entry-level timepiece for those looking to getting into the undeniably expensive world of mechanical watches.
Year Founded: 2003
Location: Pforzheim, Germany
Some watch lovers may have an issue with our inclusion of Chronoswiss on a list of German watch brands. And we get it. Not only do they have their headquarters in Lucerne, Switzerland – their name has the word Swiss in it. Why not include it in a list of the best Swiss watch brands?
Well, our reasoning here is that the relatively young brand was originally founded in Muchen, Germany. From the outset, the brand produced to-tier watches and started blazing trails with examples like their skeletonized chronograph watch (the first of its kind), and incredibly detailed crowns. In fact, they did so well that Chronoswiss claims not only to be great watch brand, but a co-founder of the mechanical renaissance.
Year Founded: 1983
Location: München, Germany
Watches are all about precision. The sloppier a manufacturer is with the production and assembly of a timepiece, the less useful an instrument it is. This emphasis on precision has scared a lot of would-be entrepreneurs from the world of watches, but for Konrad Damasko, it was part of the appeal.
Before starting his watch company, Damasko cut his teeth producing tools for clients in high demand spaces like the aeronautics industry. The namesake of the watch company ended up applying much of the same methodology to producing watch and watch technology. For instance, the company owns the patent for a special type of polycrystalline silicon used in essential watch components. They also set themselves apart in the world of watches by producing an incredibly tough nitrogen enriched and nickel-free case that has a HRC rating of 64. That hefty case technology was a large part of the reason that Sinn (another German watch brand included on this list) once partnered with Damasko for sourcing their watch and dive watch cases. Now, Damasko primarily makes pilots watches – one of which, the DC56, is the official timepiece worn by Eurofighter test pilots.
Year Founded: 1994
Location: Barbing, Germany
Tracing the origins of watch companies in East Germany is always a little tricky. For all intents and purposes, before 1994, there was no such thing as Glashütte Original. The company was formed after the wall fell and the once socialized conglomerate watch maker VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (called GUB) was privatized and turned into Glashütte Original. But the heritage of the brand really does reach much further than 1994.
Much of the resources used by GUB had been pulled together from disparate watch makers in East Germany that themselves had been around for nearly 100 years before the end of the Second World War. In a sense, a watch brand like Glashutte Original claiming a heritage as far back as the 1800s serves as a kind of rebuke to the oppressive Soviet system that had constrained their growth and independence, and a celebration of the long history of watch making in the town of Glashutte. Any way you cut it, the German brand is now among the world’s best – being one of the few watch makers who makes their own in-house movements.
Year Founded: 1845
Location: Glashutte, Germany
While German watch brands east of the wall were living a pretty spartan life during the 1950s and 1960s, brands in the west like Junghans were making the most of post war life.
While they’d been around since the 1860s – founded by Ernhard Jungians and his brother-in-law – and started making wristwatches in the mid 1920s, it wasn’t until the brand started working with Bauhaus designer Max Bill in 1956 did they really come in to their own with a distinctive, exciting style. Bill applied a minimalist, attractive take first to wall clocks by Junghans, and then wristwatches. They remain some of the most popular examples from the brand.
Year Founded: 1861
Location: Schramberg, Germany
Meister Singer, the relatively young brand based out of Munster, isn’t founder Manfred Brassler’s first rodeo. In the late 1980s, Brassler founded a company that specialized in selling quartz watches. After just ten years, he sold the brand and set out to follow something he was much more passionate about; mechanical watches.
Named after singers from the Middle Ages who discovered and experimented with new melodic elements, Meister Singer has fought to define themselves in a crowded market by doing things like only producing watches with a single hour hand, and eventually by developing their own in-house movement (they sourced an ETA SA movement before making the switch). An altogether impressive brand with fun timepieces ranging from dress to dive watches.
Year Founded: 2001
Location: Munster, Germany
While they’re maybe best known for their high-end pens, Mont Blanc also produces a number luxury watches. They are, for all intents and purposes a German company with over a century worth of history doing business in the country, but they do not produce their watches in the country. Instead, the brand relies on the expertise of the Swiss to produce their watches.
It was only in 1997 that they started to make their watches in Le Locle, Switzerland, and it is only for the past decade that they’ve been producing in-house movements. But there are advantages to being young and nimble. More recently, Mont Blanc – like Tag Heuer – has been producing high-end smart watches.
Year Founded: 1906
Location: Hamburg, Germany
Another brand to rise up after the reunification of Germany, Nomos embraced the same Bauhaus design that made Junghans such a popular watch brand in the mid 20th century. In fact, many people find the cleanly designed faces with unique shades and colors to be the main attraction of these watches.
In the watch world, however, the brand has a special cache thanks in part because they’re among the few that make their own in-house movements. And for a brand that manages to consistently produce award-winning dials with their own movements, they’re relatively more affordable too.
Year Founded: 1990
Location: Glashutte, Germany
Founded by Walter Storz roughly a decade after WW1, Stowa specialized in making reliable mechanical pocket and wrist watches. Not long after the brand started up in Englesbrand, they moved on to Pforzheim where they’d begin to develop Bauhaus-Style wristwatches nearly 20-years before their peers at Junghans began their partnership with Max Bill.
Stowa’s history, like most all other brands from Germany, is also tied up in the Second World War. During the 1940s they made Pilot watches too be used by the Luftwaffe, and had their building destroyed during allied bombings. A flattened factory didn’t deter the company, however. Within the year Stowa relocated to Rheinfelden where they’d eventually build a new factory (though they’d also rebuild their first in Pforzheim). The brand still produced both their Bauhaus and pilots watches, along with a host of new styles including dress watches and divers – all driven by automatic movements.
Year Founded: 1927
Location: Englesbrand, Germany
The watch business is a tough one to break in to. Hemet Sinn, founder of the eponymous German watch brand knew as much when he set out to start his own company selling pilots watches and navigational clocks. So to get a competitive edge on all of the watch companies that had a century of history behind them, Sinn cut out the middle man and offered sales directly from his company.
Their ability to offer great quality timepieces for less money helped launch Sinn into the market where they’ve since established themselves as a truly premier brand. Sinn’s watches were reliable enough that they were used by everyone from astronauts like Reinhard Furrer and the Marine unit of the German federal police.
Year Founded: 1961
Location: Frankfurt, Germany
Even as far back as 1893, people thought that watches were just too damn expensive. In fact, that was the impetus for Johannes Dürstein to start Glashütte Ruhrenfabrik Union. The company’s mission? Produce great watches that wouldn’t cost a small fortune. In its original formation, the company had a long run – but like so many others, they would be consumed by GUB during the Soviet Era, and then reformed in the early 1990s after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Today you can still get great quality mechanical timepieces for a relatively more affordable price than you at other marquee brands.
Year Founded: 1996
Location: Glashutte, Germany
25 Best Luxury Watch Brands
Germany doesn’t have a monopoly on great watches. Take a look through our list of the best luxury watch brands and you’ll see for yourself.