The road to the town of Glashütte is long, winding and beautiful-just like this watchmaking brand, Glashütte is original. So, what is the internal connection between Glashütte Original and German watchmaking history? From the four founders of the Glashütte watchmaking industry in the early 19th century, to the German Democratic Republic (GDR East Germany) after World War II, to the revival of modern watchmaking technology we are witnessing today, Glashütte watchmaking has never stopped. Join the editor on a trip to a small German town to learn the true meaning of ‘Original’ in Glashütte’s original name.
Glashütte town sign, meaning ‘Stop time in Sri Lanka, I wish you a pleasant journey’
Glashütte Watch Museum
There is no better place to learn about the history of German watchmaking than the German Glashütte Watch Museum. Located in the center of the town, the museum now includes a variety of exhibits, a restoration workshop, and the Alfred Hevig Watchmaking School.
Original letter from F.A. Lange to the Saxony government
The legend of watchmaking in Glashütte began in 1843. Master watchmaker F.A. Lange wrote a petition to the Saxony government, hoping to create a watchmaking factory in Glashütte and teach watchmaking apprentices. The detailed plan is set out in the letter, and what sets it apart is that it teaches apprentices to specialize in work, thus laying a solid foundation for the watchmaking industry in Glashütte. F.A. Lange had just returned from Switzerland at that time, where he witnessed the excellent operation of this model. This model is different from traditional German watchmaking, but it finally won the support of the Saxony government, which provided F.A. Lange with a large loan to start his plan. Then, Moritz Grossman, Julius Assmann, and Adolf Schneider (along with F.A. Lange as the four founders) also began to act, and the watchmaking industry in Glashütte began to flourish.
Swiss movement with ‘System Glashütte’ engraved on the bridge
Glashütte watchmaking was so prosperous that products began to be copied. Watchmaking companies in some other countries are interested in engraving ‘System Glashütte’ on their own watches and using illegal methods to increase sales. In response, Glashütte watches used the word ‘Original’ to prove that the watch was indeed made in the town, which is why it is now named ‘Glashütte Original’.
Fast forward to the end of the Second World War, the town of Glashütte went through fire and suffered heavy damage. To make matters worse, after the war, the Soviet army asked Glashütte to pay compensation in the form of tools and machines. Although the Glashütte watchmaking industry is in a bad situation, it has never stopped watchmaking. In fact, Glashütte watchmaking can reach today’s heights, thanks to the direct help of that time.
Glashütte Gem Production
GUB (VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe) Gem Screening Machine
The difficult post-war period forced Glashütte watchmakers to develop their own manufacturing processes, and they could no longer rely on hairspring, precious stones or even machinery from external suppliers. Today we use the term ‘in-house’ to describe watchmaking brands producing all mechanical components independently. For the Glashütte watchmaking industry, ‘in-house’ is not only a marketing point, but also a way of survival and development.
Watches from the GUB period
GUB period pocket watch dial
Scale model of calibre 67, produced in the GUB period from 1960 to 1967
Soon, the East German government decided to integrate all local watchmaking companies into a state-owned watchmaking factory, VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB). Today, the legal successor of GUB is Glashütte Original.
Glashütte Original Watchmaking Lathe
During the GUB period, a large factory building was built, where all watchmaking activities were concentrated. Today, after a major renovation, the building bears Glashütte’s original watchmaking legend. The first floor of the building specializes in the production of tools and parts, which has great practical significance. Those large lathes, milling and etching machines are heavy industry equipment and difficult to place on higher floors.
Finished oscillating weight
Engraving balance wheel processing
Inside the finishing department
The second floor of the building is the component assembly department, where technicians perform rivet fixing, gear correction, balance wheel installation, and so on. In addition, the watchmaking department is also located on the second floor. The third floor of the building is dedicated to the finishing department.
Dial & Case
Dial manufacturing workshop
Glashütte’s original dials and cases are made in Germany, but they are not located in this small town. For a time, Pforzheim was the traditional source of German dials and cases, and to this day, it is still an important dial and case manufacturing center. Pforzheim is about 600 km from the town of Glashütte. The former is located in western Germany, near the French Alsace region; the latter is located in eastern Germany, just a few steps from the border with the Czech Republic.
Moon phase profit and loss display
Pforzheim’s history is not as well-known as the history of the town of Glashütte, but in fact, the former has a deeper connection with watchmaking and even jewelry making. As early as the mid-eighteenth century, watchmaking became popular in Pforzheim, and the city even won the reputation of ‘Goldstadt’ for its thriving watch and jewelry trade.
Dials with varying degrees of completion
During World War II, Pforzheim was also severely damaged-one third of the city’s population was killed in the 1945 Allied bombing, and as many as 80% of the buildings were destroyed. As a result, the city today is mostly modern, but the traditional watch and jewellery industry still exists.
A vintage dial that inspired modern creations
The dial and case manufacturing plant is a two-story building located in the city’s industrial park with guide signs. The first and second floors are used for dial and case manufacturing, respectively. It should be reminded that the dial manufacturer is entirely owned by Glashütte Original, but the case manufacturer is not. Having said that, in fact, the products of the case manufacturer are also exclusively for Glashütte originals.
Past & now
Here, the original metal material goes through a complete manufacturing process and is ultimately transformed into a Glashütte original finished dial. There are no short cuts to the manufacture of the dial. The focus is on quality, not quantity. The different manufacturing steps are completed in separate workshops, including machining, finishing, chemical processes, quality inspections and plating decoration.
Alfred Hevig flying tourbillon model
The multi-axis CNC milling machine of the watch case manufacturing factory is constantly running, and it is exciting to see this scene. The CNC milling machine is responsible for giving the basic contour of the case, and the finishing process is all done manually. At the rows of workstations, the craftsmen are concentrating, using various tools to paint the final retouching color for the newly processed case.
Dresden Glashütte Original Boutique
Jurgen Franke at work
Back to the Glashütte Museum in Germany, Glashütte Original has a restoration workshop here, with watchmaker Jurgen Franke as the head. All timepieces that meet two simple conditions can be returned to the workshop for repair: one, the timepiece must originate from the town of Glashütte, and the other, the timepiece must be produced before 1990 (German Unification).
Just before leaving the workshop, he noticed that Jurgen Franke was repairing a Lange pocket watch at the end of the 19th century, which fully explained the watchmaking concept of Glashütte. The restoration workshops and museums are all run by Glashütte, paying the bills, but their mission goes beyond their own business. Glashütte original, and even all watchmaking brands in Glashütte, inherit and carry forward the German watchmaking tradition in this way, which deserves the respect and respect of the entire industry.