Discovering NOMOS Glashütte
The brand's Think Tank in Berlin, the manufacture in Glashütte. And how they became an independent manufacture.
The Germans are proud people, much more than one would imagine, and this is a compliment, most certainly not a criticism. Travel in the direction of Glashütte, and do it on a motorbike if you have the chance and it is spring; you will breathe in the air of a city that proudly carries on a centuries-old tradition of watchmaking school, reduced to mass mechanics during the GDR, and further mortified during the modern era, following the quartz crisis triggered by the Rising Sun during the 70s, which decimated its skills.
It is in this area that, during the past ten years, the greatest development of classical watchmaking took place, also because all the brands born from a single rib started to move their first steps independently and simultaneously, although they did so under the wing of different industrial groups. The Saxon rebirth has given life to objects that have carved out their space in the history of modern watchmaking, and the most interesting case study of recent years, is undoubtedly Nomos Glashütte.
Roland Schwertner, founder of NOMOS Glashütte: the watchmaking alter ego, for his tenacity, of a Ferruccio Lamborghini
The seemingly unlikely comparison is not in fact so unlikely: to devise not only a brand, but to create from scratch a new product philosophy, as well as a manufacture, equates the Saxon businessman to the great Emilian in terms of tenacity, if we take into consideration the competitors that both had to face up to. They lived in different ages, but are united by a great spirit of innovation and by a desire to challenge conventions.
Roland, who currently holds the position of sales manager, while Uwe Ahrendt is NOMOS Glashütte's CEO, has not simply created a brand, but an integrated manufacture that can boast of being able to build all parts of a watch from A to Z, apart from the supply of accessories that a manufacturer has no interest in realizing, and which does not constitute its expertise, such as straps.
Yet even the best product lasts for a short time, if it does not have a credible product philosophy behind it, a source of inspiration that can identify an overrated item such as the wristwatch.
The Bauhaus school and the interest (not so unexpected) of the Cupertino colossus
NOMOS Glashütte watches are clearly inspired by the Bauhaus style, by its almost extreme rationalism codified, perhaps for the first time, in watchmaking. The advantage of the Bauhaus school is that a designer object (I am expressing a personal opinion, without having the presumption of condensing a school of thought in just a few lines) that cleverly grasps the canons of this philosophy, stands good chances of retaining its appeal for a long period of time.
The Berlin-based Berlinerblau studio is the brand's “think tank”, and the choice of the city is not fortuitous: it suffices to just walk around its center to feel the energy that animates the Central European capital and it is crucial, to fully understand the philosopy behind NOMOS Glashütte, to spend at least an hour with the team of young people who take care of the design of watches and dials, a team that draws inspiration from all Bauhaus objects.
On one of the walls of the studio's spacious meeting room, there are the fonts used by the brand on dials and date, and this immediately made me think of a beautiful scene of Joshua Michael Stern's film, in which a young Steve Jobs (played by Ashton Kutcher) gets angry when a person in the Design team dismisses the choice of font characters of a Mac as "superfluous".
Is it a coincidence that, as I read online, Apple has showed interest in the Saxon brand? The way in which the brand's creative team conceives a product, including the packaging design, seen from the perspective of a consumer, has many affinities with the approach adopted by the team led by Jonathan Ive.
From Berlin to Glashütte, through (the university of) Dresden
Those who, such as the undersigned, come from the industrial world and from durable consumer goods, are very clearly aware of the difference between the creative soul (brand marketing and product marketing) and the industrial soul of a company, and are aware of how important it is to correctly combine these points, in order to create a product that speaks for itself, aesthetically and functionally. I have had more than one experience in which the brand promise has been betrayed, and the brand gradually lost its value, diluting both its image and its excellent initial ideas, in the blink of an eye.
With the introduction of the Swing System proprietary escapement, officially launched in 2014, the brand has fully maintained its promise to become a 100% independent manufacturer (the very first movement conceived in-house is the Epsilon, however it is still equipped with a sourced escapement), being the first producer of mechanical watches in Germany, and proudly displaying the caliber of its manufacturing through the back cover; these movements fill the box completely, because they are an integral part of the organic design process of a new watch, and not a complement.
What does Dresden have to do with this process? Its university has had the task of studying and developing the proprietary escapement in collaboration with the brand, from theoretical studies to its industrialization, and has favored the development of skills that the Saxon valley had lost at the end of the '70s, when the crisis generated by the advent of quartz, in a short time destroyed skills which were no longer passed down from one generation to the next.
Perhaps this is the reason why the headquarters of the NOMOS Glashütte factory, built inside the original railway station, boast a lower age average in the field, and certainly lower than the ones I experienced in other Swiss realities. These ingredients, combined with thoughtful choices and well-recognized manufacturing products, offered in a price range that does not exceed the € 5,000 mark (steel versions), have guaranteed a double-digit growth, a successful case-study in a time of market decline, which only in 2017 experienced a first real turnaround.
The Independence Day of NOMOS Glashütte and the opportunities for manufacturing.
Once they became independent, the race towards the manufacturing calibers started. In an attempt to talk about numbers, NOMOS Glashütte started with the first manufacturing caliber, the DUW3001, later passing to the DUW6101. Today NOMOS Glashütte boasts 11 in-house calibers and a product that, as anticipated earlier, has a roof of about € 5,000 (gold collections apart).
This mix is unique on the market, and so are also some of its technical choices: the adjustable date in both directions, or the rapid adjustment of the time zone on a Zürich (although the “touch and feel” can still be improved). This is also rationalism. In developing its complete manufacturing concept, NOMOS Glashütte has invested several millions of euros, starting precisely from the development of the Swing System, a choice that puts NOMOS Glashütte in a favorable market position, in the event that it would one day decide to become a supplier of calibers for other brands. Having an alternative subject to ETA, Sellita, Myiota, can only be good for the market, as it increases competition and is always an advantage for the final customer.
Thirteen collections and an exclusive distribution
NOMOS Glashütte has created many collections since 1990; today there are officially thirteen, and with Autobahn it created the first collection inspired by the automotive world and designed by an external designer, the eclectic Werner Aisslinger. In 2018 the brand also collected the sixth official recognition, the German Design Award, after having collected prizes in all continents, including the United States of America and Australia.
The perception that one has when walking through the factory and on the sites, one in the city and the other, industrial, located a few km from Glashütte, and where the escapements are fine-tuned, and the cases are built respectively, is that of a united group, where everyone is proud of the largest independent project of German watchmaking, and translate it into a product.
There is still work to be done: the brand shoud make its part, constantly improving the product and further increasing its perception as a luxury product; the other part competes to the distribution, following a commercial strategy that aims to position NOMOS Glashütte in selected stores around the world, alongside best sellers like Patek and Rolex, proposing it as the entry-level luxury alternative that complements the two brands. A good rate of appeal is however due to the Saxon school, which proudly claims its independence in watchmaking and high-end watchmaking, and continues to show great consistency with its history, a pride that the brand shares with other major brands of the city.
(Photo credit: courtesy of NOMOS Glashütte)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®