The German Invasion


Historically, the Swiss watch industry has been regarded as the standard bearer. All other watch industries (American, English, Japanese, German, etc.), were always trailing, or "beneath" that of the Swiss.

And this is true despite some historical anomalies, for example the American watch industry pre-1970's would have been (and was) something to worry about if you were Swiss.

But since that time, no one has been able to match the overall excellence of the Swiss. No one until the past decade or so: the Germans.

Germany, and German products have always had the respect of being considered high quality and/or very technical. Thats not to say they don't make garbage, they have and continue to do so from time to time, but overall we can expect a certain level of technical excellence from a typical German product. 

So, it should be no surprise that their watch industry, as it stands today, is one to be reckoned with. In many ways it not only matches the Swiss industry, but exceeds it as well.

The main difference perhaps, is the fact that the Swiss is much larger. So when one lists all the 'good' brands, there are more from Switzerland than there are from Germany.

But then again, the flip side of that is that there is also less 'bad' brands coming out of Germany.

And when it comes to German watch companies, the top tier belongs to one company, A. Lange and Sohne (ALS).

In fact, ALS is on top of the watch world, period. At best, Patek Philippe (PP) from Switzerland matches ALS, but can not claim to exceed it. And unlike PP that has many models so well known that they've even become a little ubiquitous (Calatrava, Aquanaut), ALS comparative models are no where near.

Technically speaking as well, no one can touch ALS. Everything, and I mean everything is made in-house, even down the tiniest of parts that others outsource. And their attention to detail is literally unmatched.

For example, take the following detail from the Calibre L051.2. As it's mainspring runs down and uses up the stored energy (72 hours power reserve), the second hand will stop precisely at zero.

Think about that for a second. Amazing!

And consider they even make their own balance springs. In the entire world, maybe a half-dozen companies make their own balance springs, and none as good the ones made by ALS.

Next in line is without a doubt Glashütte Original. Founded in 1994 VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB) was privatized. It's obviously based in Glashutte on the East German side and was originally part of a conglomerate made of companies from that area, which included ALS. ALS is now owned by Richemont and GO by the Swatch Group. Glashütte Original is one of the few watchmakers that uses its own movements, and has 10 proprietary movement innovations to it's credit.

In a nutshell, GO is JLC of the German industry and can best be compared with JLC. One might argue that JLC has a bit more style, their watches are a bit more 'beautiful', but that is subjective and by a bit I mean a tiny bit.

Next in line is NOMOS Glashütte. Based in Glashütte, Saxony, they specialize in manual-winding and automatic mechanical watches and since 2005, NOMOS has been designing and producing its watch movements completely in-house. Up until 2005, since their birth in 1990 (two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall), they used ETA movements.

Today, you'd be hard pressed to find a better watch, period, under $5000 MSRP. I would say it'd be a little difficult for me to justify spending too much more than that on NOMOS, but not because they're watches aren't worth it, but because the competition and options at $5000+ really tighten.

Down from there, companies like Sinn,  Mühle Glashütte, Junhans, Tutima, and many others have some strong followings and produce some solid watches as well. Some use ETA or Sellita movements, but unlike some bloated Swiss companies that use the same ETA/Sellita movements, these German companies won't rip you off with ridiculously high MSRPs.

Now if only the American watchmaking industry can follow suit.