Tick Talk | Episode 04: NOMOS Glashütte | MR PORTER
What if you could buy a beautifully designed and cleverly engineered mechanical watch, with an in-house movement, that didn’t cost silly money?
As common perceptions of luxury wristwatches have it, that watch doesn’t exist. Forgetting design, quality and even brand for a moment, if you want a watch with an in-house movement, you have to pay serious money for it.
When you do, you’re paying for two things. First, you’re paying the watch company back for the investment it’s put into building a manufacturing plant that can produce a watch movement from the ground up. That’s a crippling expense, usually millions in R&D alone, which is why most don’t bother, and instead buy movements in from third party suppliers. (Swiss companies ETA and Sellita are the leaders in that particular field.)
Second, you’re paying for kudos. Historically, the Swiss watch industry was anything but verticalised – watch houses would source parts from specialist case makers, dial makers and movement makers and then bolt them together. Établisseurs, they’re called – assemblers. Hardly any brought all the watchmaking disciplines under one roof. That gave those that did – and survived – a certain scarcity value. And in watchmaking, that pushes prices up.
But. There are one or two rare exceptions, one of which is NOMOS Glashütte, a watch company that makes its watches in-house and yet sells them at the kind of prices you’d expect of the humdrum établisseurs.
The question this always provokes is “how?” The answer lies in the story of the Deutscher Werkbund, or German Work Federation, a movement founded by German businesses, artists and architects in the early 20th century. The principle behind the Werkbund was that by combining industrial manufacturing techniques with hand-craftsmanship, you could deliver high-quality products at affordable (not cheap) prices. Not only does NOMOS (as it’s known) adhere to the same proposition, it’s a member of the Werkbund as it is in its 21st-century guise.
NOMOS isn’t 100-plus years old, though. It’s based in the town of Glashütte, formerly in East Germany, and was born out of the ashes of the GDR in the early 1990s. Glashütte is recognised by aficionados as the epicentre of German watchmaking, and home to A Lange & Söhne, which makes stunning, low-volume, high-tariff timepieces.
It launched its first collections 25 years ago and today adds 95 per cent of the value of its watches in Glashütte, more than enough for it to boast in-house status. It even makes its own escapements, the beating heart of a watch, but in its own quirky way (it has a creative hub in Berlin), it calls its creation a “Swing System”.
Stylistically, its watches are sometimes lumped in with the Bauhaus movement, but as I was told the first time I went to the factory (which is a converted railway station) some years ago, the Deutscher Werkbund was the precursor to Bauhaus, and the company prefers to consider its watches by those terms. As the case may be, NOMOS watches are defined aesthetically by their minimalism and by a clear relationship between form and function. We’re talking restrained dial designs, an absence of unnecessary flourishes, slender steel cases and clear, legible watches that do the job for which they’re intended faultlessly – telling the time. This quintet proves the point