Nomos Glashütte isn’t the only German watchmaker to be making bafflingly affordable Bauhaus beauties – in fact, Junghans of Schramberg started in 1961 with the help of Walter Gropius’s star pupil before being rebooted as a modern design in the late 1990s
By Alex Doak
German watchmaking doesn’t begin and end with Glashütte, you know. Admittedly, the town has bounced back from its GDR doldrums with a dazzling flourish of new and revived names, but it pays to tear oneself away from this picture-postcard, fairytale story and look further afield. There’s Tutima in Bremen, for example, on the north coast; you’ll find Sinn more centrally in Frankfurt, making similarly utilitarian watches; and then Gerd-Rüdiger Lang’s confusingly named Chronoswiss in Bavaria, saved from bankruptcy two years ago by an investor.
The biggest of all, however, is Junghans – still going strong since 1861 and still nestled in Schramberg in the Black Forest, flanked by rolling scenery that gives Glashütte a run for its money. What’s more, Junghans is booming, as we reported here, with a majority of its output powered by mechanical movements, new owners pouring money into buildings and all-important manufacturing autonomy… and most tellingly, a new generation of design-savvy hipsters falling in love with their “Max Bill” reissues.
It began with a kitchen clock, developed together with Bill’s students at the Ulm College of Design in 1956. As a Bauhaus student of Walter Gropius, he understood how to apply the pursuit of constructive clarity and precise proportions to his work. His sparse dial, framed by a simple square case, embodies what the Bauhaus functional design is all about – equally, if not more so than the designs of Glashütte newcomer Nomos. The Max Bill design soon cascaded into watch form in 1961, when he laid the cornerstone for what was destined to become Junghans’ most celebrated collection – still hugely successful today, for men and women, and still virtually untweaked.
“The Max Bill watches have become absolute classics,” says CEO Matthias Stotz, “and point clearly towards the trend for traditional watches. Apart from our ongoing co-operation with [the ski champ-turned-fashion designer] Willy Bogner, there are no current plans for any further collaboration with an external designer. We have our own in-house design department in Schramberg.”
A department increasingly proving its chops, it has to be said, if the recent Meister Driver collection is anything to go by. But with Max Bill, the company made one their best decisions in reissuing the original design in 1997 and continuing to do so – even adding a chronograph into the mix in 2006 while retaining minimalist restraint.
Nomos Glashütte is playing fast and loose with its own breed of Bauhaus, but Junghans will do very well indeed to remain loyal to all that good work of 1961. Discover the full Max Bill collection here.
This is part of our Modern Classics series, profiling the most significant watch designs of the last 30 years. You can view the rest of the entries here. Disagree with our choices? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or by email.