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.
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