Unlike Switzerland, where a visit to the key watchmaking areas will require a sightseeing tour across half the country, the main chorological heritage of Germany is located in one region. Well, sometimes greatness do come at a very modest size.
The tiny town by the name of Glashütte, located 30 kilometers south of Dresden, can rightfully be called the cradle of German watch industry. Even now its population barely exceeds 7000 inhabitants, but still this is where A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original, Nomos, Moritz Grossmann, Tutima, Union Glashütte are created, and this is far from a complete list.When you’re in Saxony it’s probably best to start admiring local attractions with its capital – Dresden. Though the former glory of the so-called Florence on the Elbe was largely lost because of the Second World War, the restored historical center is still able to impress even the most sophisticated traveler. Here is the famous Old Masters Gallery with original paintings of Raphael, and the Opera House built upon the project by Gottfried Semper, where one can listen to one of the oldest orchestras in the world& And don’t forget to take a look at the monumental architecture of Hofkirche and the Palace of the Electors of Saxony. And be sure not to miss numerous boutiques of the most prestigious German brands – for local variety of pieces easily leaves behind even the biggest retailers around the globe.
Any local manufacture is particularly proud of its Teutonic origin. If asked, what makes their products better than the Swiss ones, any watchmaker would boldly answer: they make Swiss watches, we make German watches. The inscription Glashütte I/SA, with I/SA meaning ‘in Saxony’, proudly looks at you from any local dial. With a dozen of eponymous towns scattered across Germany, and the local companies tried to avoid confusion from the very beginning.The whole region basically owes its rich watchmaking traditions to one person – Ferdinand Adolph Lange. An apprentice and later son-in-law of Saxony court watchmaker Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes was destined to lay the foundation for the whole industry. Presenting a plan for employment the disadvantaged town residents to the Saxony officials, he received a substantial loan. And in 1845 Glashütte saw the opening of a new manufacture, known now as A. Lange & Söhne.
The mining industry, formerly the main economic force of the region, was experiencing hard time. Locals desperately needed jobs, and Lange’s business literally became almost a city-forming enterprise. Hiring apprentices among former miners, he trained each a particular craft, so even leaving the manufacture they continued to cooperate with each other producing certain watch components. In a decade Glashütte has grown into a full-blown industry, which attracted artists from the nearby regiong, including such famous watchmakers as Julius Assmann, Adolf Schneider and Moritz Grossmann. Glashütte watches turned into a kind of a trademark, at least considering the number of fakes produced at all bordering territories, including Switzerland.
Glashütte is unlikely to impress you with size and fuss, but one cannot deny its natural charm of a small European town. Toy-like buildings, mountains stretched out around, and of course, lots of green. All major targets of a watch pilgrimage are actually located on the same street. If you are lucky enough, you can even witness how some of the world's leading watchmakers discuss the routine in a shared parking lot.By the way, the fundamental virtue of any modern manufacture – creating all the components in-house – has become the motto of local industrylong before the overall trend. When at the end of World War II the Allies nearly wiped Dresden off the face of the earth, Glashütte was also considerably damaged. The entire surrounding area later became the Soviet occupation zone, and the surviving enterprises were nationalized and merged into a single state company VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe. For ideological reasons, the GDR could not fully cooperate with Switzerland, so the Germans had to produce all components and tools themselves. With the fall of the Berlin wall that rather bitter experience suddenly turned into a serious competitive advantage. And knowing all this, is hard not to think about the ups and downs of life in general. After all, what’s a good watch, if not a philosophy expressed through time?