The watchmaking tradition of Glashütte


To the east of Dresden, lies the town of Glashütte which is acknowledged as the major center of watchmaking in Germany. It differs in character from the cities of Augsburg and Nuremberg, famous for their medieval prowess in clock and watchmaking, in that it became successful in the 19th century.

First chartered by the Saxon Duke ‘George the Bearded’ in 1506, it was known as a silver mining town which  brought it  wealth until the industry declined.

Prospects improved in 1845 when the watchmaker Ferdinand Lange founded his company there. He initially trained a small team of watchmakers who focused on a range of high-grade precision watches. These were destined for the European market and soon became favoured in competition with the well engineered pocket watches available from the U.S.A. Whilst these watches fulfilled a demand for the substantial gold hunting cased pocket watches, the company ventured into creating complicated watches and finely enamelled cased watches which became popular among connoisseurs and collectors.

When the Deutsche Uhrmacher Schulle (D.U.S.) was established in 1878, by Moritz Grossmann, several different firms established themselves in the town. A series of small workshops emerged which catered for different aspects of the trade such as jewelling, engine turning and dial making.

Among modern collectors, the masterpieces made by the students from D.U.S., generally

tourbillon watches, are greatly prized. They include rare and inventive pieces by Alfred Helwig who, whilst principal of the school, developed the ‘Flying Tourbillon’ (Fliegendes Drehstelle) which has the entire carriage frame turning on a single pivot, mounted on the dial plate. He taught until 1942.

With the decline of the pocket watch and the constraints of being behind the Iron Curtain, the Glashütte factories were merged as a state-owned conglomerate known as Glashütte Uhrenbetrieb (G.U.B.) this was a V.E B. or Volkseigener Betrieb which means Peoples’ Company.

Watches produced at this time included a fairly robust automatic wristwatch stamped G.U.B. and a ladies’ calibre stamped Glashütte.

The effect of reunification allowed G.U.B. to be re-privatized and to become a Gmbh, or Plc.

Subsequently, the investment from the Swatch group helped some of the firms to re-invigorate their brands.The three main names of Lange, Union and Glashütte Original, started to develop separately. Union, using the brand Nomos produced a series of modern and minimalist watches using automatic movements supplied by Swatch, whilst Lange have become acknowledged as leading manufacturers of complicated luxury wristwatches. Amongst their products are the Langematik, with a perpetual calendar and a Ratrapannte Fliegende Tourbillon in a platinum case which, with only 20 models ever made, carries a price tag of half a million dollars in the aftermarket.

The German Watch Museum Glashütte was re-opened in 2008 in the former school of watchmaking in Schillerstrasse. It shows some prime examples of the rarer watches, some with enameled cases, and an astronomical clock by Goertz, programmed until 2899!

Nicolas Hayek, the founder of the Swatch group, established a tour of the city which involves a coach trip stopping at 35 different sites showing the homes and premises of various former craftsmen involved in the different watchmaking processes.

The Urania observatory in Glashütte provides the standard of accuracy in certifying chronometers for the German watch industry (DIN 8319).


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