The town of Glashütte in the German state of Saxony celebrated 175 years of watchmaking in 2020. Although not the oldest, Glashütte is now certainly the most famous German centre for high-quality watchmaking.
The town of Glashütte was founded in 1450 and was initially known for silver mining. In the 19th century, the region around Glashütte (the Ore Mountains) suffered a great decline. In 1831, the town council of Glashütte sent a request for help to the Saxon government. In 1843, a gentleman named Ferdinand Adolph Lange (he was a court clockmaker in Dresden) developed a concept that would not only help the region, but also establish an organized clock industry. The contract between Lange and the state of Saxony was officially signed in 1845. With this, well-known names such as Julius Assmann made a career in watchmaking, the most famous among them being Moritz Grossmann, who also founded the German Watchmaking School in Glashütte in 1878. In 1869, Robert Mühle founded his company to manufacture precision measuring instruments.
After World War I, the factories in Glashütte had to be rebuilt and production reorganized, since pocket watches were no longer in demand due to the advent of the wristwatch and they had to face stronger competition from inexpensive Swiss watches. And so Glashütte watch production developed strongly in the direction of industrial production. The goal was to produce cheaper, contemporary watches and cases.
In preparation for World War II, Glashütte factories increasingly became armaments factories, as they now built timepieces for the German Wehrmacht, a circumstance that led to the bombing of Glashütte toward the end of the war. On May 8, 1945, just hours before the official end of the war, Russian troops bombed Glashütte, destroying most of the factories still located there. What was not bombed was confiscated by the occupying forces and taken to Russia. Regardless of the bleak outlook at the end of World War II, what came after was actually even worse.
On June 30, 1946, most of Glashütte’s watch and precision mechanics operations became the property of the “people” of the German Democratic Republic and became VEB Mechanik Dresden. On July 1, 1951, the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB) was founded and the remaining independent Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe were expropriated and combined into one large corporation. During the time of the communist GDR, GUB was the only watch company in Glashütte, employing about 2,000 people. GUB continued to produce mechanical watches, from about 1954 even automatic watches, and from the 1970s also quartz watches.
Walter Lange, great-grandson of F. A. Lange and watchmaker in the family business, had moved to Pforzheim in West Germany after the war, where he worked as a watchmaker. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought him the opportunity to rebuild the Lange company in Glashütte.
With the help of Günter Blümlein, a fanatical manager from the Swiss watch industry, and the Mannesmann-VDO Group as a financial investor, Walter Lange succeeded in reestablishing the family business in Glashütte where it belonged. This was the foundation stone for the modern era of today’s Glashütte watch industry. The East German VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB) was purchased by Heinz W. Pfeifer and partners in 1990. Pfeifer restructured GUB, which later became the Glashütte Original brand, owned by the Swiss Swatch Group since 2000. The Union Glashütte brand is also owned by the group. Hans-Jürgen Mühle, great-grandson of Robert Mühle, re-founded the Nautical Instruments Mühle Glashütte. The Nomos brand was re-founded by Roland Schwertner, a Düsseldorf businessman. Other brands have come and gone, but most have stayed, including Wempe Glashütte and Moritz Grossmann. Today, the small town in Saxony’s hill country is fully engaged. And the industry continues to grow, attracting brands and suppliers to settle in the region.
At the beginning of the 17th century, many Huguenots with craft expertise moved to the city of Hanau. Along with other crafts, this led to a concentrated settlement of goldsmiths in the small Hessian town. A long tradition of goldsmithing and jewellery making was established in Hanau, which continues to this day.
An important factor in Hanau’s reputation for jewellery making is the world-renowned Staatliche Zeichenakademie Hanau, which is a vocational and technical school for precious metal design professions and one of the oldest goldsmith schools in Europe. It was founded in 1772 as an academy of drawing. Similar to the school founded a few years earlier in Pforzheim, the goal was to increase the design quality of goldsmiths and silversmiths for jewellery, silverware and metalware.
Also to be discovered in Hanau is the German Goldsmiths’ House of the Society for Goldsmiths’ Art.
The formerly separate towns of Idar and Oberstein developed into a center for gemstone cutting and jewelry production as early as the 14th century. In the region in today’s Rhineland-Palatinate, the professions of gemstone cutter and gemstone driller had already developed early on due to the natural deposits of agates, jasper and other gemstones. As a result, goldsmiths settled in the region from the year 1660, who knew how to use the production of cut gemstones as a source for their jewellery production.
From the middle of the 18th century the agate deposits in the region were exhausted, more and more agate was imported from other regions of the world, e.g. Brazil. Also, the share of manufacturers of metal goods, especially jewellery and (watch) chains increased. During and after the First World War, with the advent of the wristwatch, the demand for watch chains decreased and many factories switched to costume jewellery. These factories then came under pressure in the 1970s due to production in low-wage countries.
Today, there are still very important jewellery manufacturers in the Idar-Oberstein region, mainly in the real jewellery sector. In addition, many gemstone and diamond cutters and dealers can still be found. With the German Diamond and Gemstone Exchange, which opened in 1974, Idar-Oberstein provides an important world trading center for gemstones and diamonds. The stock exchange’s imposing high-rise visually dominates the cityscape. In addition, Idar-Oberstein is home to the German Gemstone Museum and the German Mineral Museum. The city hosts the annual gemstone trade show Intergem and is the headquarters of the Federal Association of the Gemstone and Diamond Industry, which, among other things, awards the annual German Jewelry and Gemstone Prize.
More than 250 years ago, in 1767, Margrave Karl Friedrich von Baden laid the foundation stone for the jewellery industry in Pforzheim. He allowed the Frenchman Jean Francois Autran to set up a pocket watch factory, and in the same year he expanded it into a jewellery and steel goods factory. Shortly after the establishment of the watch and jewellery factory, the new industry flourished. Just one year later, the world’s first vocational school for jewellery production was established (as a drawing school). Pforzheim was soon respectfully referred to abroad as “Little Geneva,” because the city supplied jewellery to foreign countries near and far after a rapid boom.
In 1913, with a population of only 75,000, Pforzheim employed a total of 37,500 people in the jewellery and watchmaking industry. When an Allied bombing raid completely destroyed Pforzheim overnight on February 23, 1945, the centuries-old jewellery industry also came to a complete standstill. But after the war, Pforzheim was rebuilt. By 1953, Pforzheim was once again the world’s main supplier of jewellery and silverware.
To this day, about 70% of the turnover of the German jewellery industry is generated in Pforzheim. The former drawing school (now the Goldsmith with Watchmaker School Pforzheim) enjoys a high reputation in the industry.
In the 1960s and 1970s, competition from low-wage countries and the so-called quartz crisis in watches began to take their toll on the industry to some extent. But many Pforzheim family entrepreneurs with a focus on high-quality genuine jewellery defied the crises and keep the city’s two hundred and fifty-year-old tradition alive. Much here still revolves around gold and jewellery, and industries for medical technology and other precision products have evolved from the traditional jewellery and watchmaking industries.
Pforzheim displays its industrial history in the city’s jewellery museum and technical museum. The Federal Association of the industry (German Association of Jewellery, Watches, Clocks & Supplying Industry) has its headquarters in the city’s traditional so-called “Industrial building”.
Schwäbisch Gmünd has a centuries-long tradition of goldsmithing and silversmithing. Since the middle of the 17th century, it continuously developed into the determining trade in the former imperial city. The majority of the craftsmen working in the gold and silversmith trade were engaged in the production of jewellery. Despite occasional economic downturns, the gold and silver trade developed steadily towards the city’s jewellery industry in the 19th century. In the period around 1860, the number of jewellery factories increased to 29.
Today, there are more than 50 gold and silversmiths, jewellery designers and over 20 manufactories and factories producing jewellery in Schwäbisch Gmünd. With the Technical College for Design, Jewellery and Appliances and the Vocational College for Design, Jewellery and Appliances, training is offered for the industry.
The first Black Forest wooden clocks were made in the second half of the 17th century. However, due to constant wars, clock making could not establish itself as a separate trade until about 1730.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Black Forest wooden clocks were popular worldwide and could be successfully manufactured, which was not least due to a well-established division of labour. Thus, the actual clockmaker obtained subcontracted parts from (wood) frame makers, foundries for bells and gear blanks, chain makers and sign painters. The involvement of the many trades quickly resulted in high productivity through specialization and industrialization of processes and procedures. As production numbers increased, so did the number of employees. Around 1840, about 600,000 wooden clocks were produced annually, and about 5,000 people were employed in the associated factories. For distribution and export, the clock manufacturers used the existing distribution network of the glassmakers, who were also located in the Black Forest, and who distributed their products (and also the Black Forest wooden clocks) at home and abroad via so-called glass carriers. Black Forest clock dealers quickly established themselves in many European countries.
In 1850, the government of the time founded the first German watchmaking school in Furtwangen to provide training for smaller craftsmen and thus increase the region’s sales opportunities. At the same time, the first larger watch factories were established, as a result of which the first centers of watch production developed in the Black Forest in towns such as St. Georgen, Triberg, Furtwangen, Titisee-Neustadt and Lenzkirch. From 1880 onwards, the Württemberg part of the Black Forest with Schramberg (Junghans) and Schwenningen (Kienzle) also developed into a world centre of the clock industry. Junghans’ robust W10 alarm clock movement, for example, enabled the well-known manufacturer to rise to become one of the largest watch factories in the world. Through the alarm clock production as a whole, the Black Forest covered 60% of the world export of large clocks before the First World War. Afterwards, however, the permanent economic crisis of the 1920s caused problems for the manufacturers, and the Second World War also interrupted clock production.
The Second World War itself survived the clock industry at the locations in the central Black Forest largely unscathed. As early as 1949, 85% of pre-war production had been achieved again. However, the sharp rise in real wages had a devastating effect on the earnings of the watch industry from the 1960s onwards, and the invention of the quartz movement also caused problems for many traditional manufacturers. However, the resulting market consolidation also enabled some manufacturers to successfully establish themselves in today.
The Federal Republic of Germany consists of 16 federal states and is a free democratic and social constitutional state and with about 83 million inhabitants the most populous country in the European Union. The federal capital and seat of government is Berlin, which is also the most populous German city.
Since 1871, when the then so-called German Empire was founded, the location has developed rapidly from an agricultural to an industrial state. In all regions of Germany, there are hundreds of manufacturers of watches, jewellery and silverware and supplier parts for these products. Building on the know-how of the watch and jewellery industry, many companies also developed in the direction of highly modern and precise metal processing. As a result, many companies in the fields of precision mechanics, medical technology, dental technology, automotive supply industry and others are now also in the historically traditional succession of the jewellery and watch industry.
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