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The Identifying Facets of German Watchmaking

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by Tom Chng

 

Today, the Swiss are known globally as the watchmaking powerhouse. The Swiss watch industry has an annual export valued at over 20 billion Swiss Francs. While not the first country that jumps to mind when talking watches, (especially to the regular joe on the street) Germany has a rich heritage dating back to as far back as the 1760s. Most of these watchmaking activities were isolated in the cities of Pforzheim and Glashütte, where many of today’s exceptional timepieces are still being made.

 

A.Lange Söhne Lange 1: an icon of high-end German watchmaking. See it in the shop.

 

Some 300 years ago, London peaked as the watchmaking capital of the world. English watch and clock makers were flourishing, producing quality scientific instruments for proper timekeeping. Timepieces during this era were not so much for visual enjoyment, but played a crucial role in the regulation of shipping, finance and trade. Many of the signature characteristics of German watchmaking can be traced back to the English, granted infused with a German spirit.

 

The three-quarter German Silver plate

The most recognisable architectural difference between modern German and Swiss timepieces, is the former’s extensive use of three-quarter plates. Adopted from the English, the three-quarter plate covers almost the entire movement, only leaving the balance and escapement displayed.

 

The Glashütte Original Panoinverse presents a view often only seen on the caseback: the signature German three-quarter plate style prominently exhibited. See it in the shop.

 

This architecture style is structurally more stable compared to the “finger” bridges of the Swiss, but much trickier to assemble. The German style also favoured nickel silver decorated with Glashütte ribbing as opposed to the traditional frosted gilt movements of the English.

 

The minimalist case back of the Glashütte Original Panoinverse: on display are the distinct elements of fine German watchmaking. See it in the shop.

 

The nature of untreated German silver also allows it to pick up a warm goldish patina over time, which can be reversed with a factory service, or left to age elegantly over time.

 

Gold chatons

Chatons are round metal pieces inserted into holes on the plates. They hold the rubies used as bearing for many of the moving components in a watch. This technique requires more material and more time to assemble, thus were commonly fitted into movements of higher quality. The use of chatons have been on the decline and rarely seen on Swiss watches anymore, due to improvements in production tolerances of parts and synthetic jewels. They are still very often seen on German watches, especially made of gold, secured to the movement with 2 or 3 flame-blued screws to achieve a beautiful and colourful visual effect.

 

Chatons aplenty, admired through the exhibition case back of this A.Lange & Söhne Lange 1. See it in the shop.

 

Flame-blued screws

Steel can be blued by heating it to about 290°c. However the process is tedious and achieving an even, perfect blue requires dedication. Even then, the shade of every individual blued part has to match.

 

The colourful hallmarks of German watchmaking all present on this rare A.Lange & Söhne Saxonia Limited Edition: blued screws, gold chatons, red rubies and warm German silver. See it in the shop.

 

Hand engraved balance cock

German watches, especially those of Glashütte origin often feature a characteristic not commonly seen elsewhere. While the three-quarter plate takes up most of the movement’s real estate, prominently advertised is an ornate engraving on the balance cock. This fine detail is a pleasure to admire, especially close up with a loupe.

 

The hand-engraved balance cock of the A.Lange & Söhne Saxonia Limited Edition, in its full glory. See it in the shop.

 

Swan neck regulator

The modern swan neck regulator can be traced back to American watchmaker George Reed, who patented his design in 1867. It brought forth some improvements in the fine-tuning of the movement’s beat or regulator. The beautiful swooping curves of the swan neck regulator gradually became more of an ornamental feature in fine watches, especially on those with free sprung balances. Today, it has become an identifying facet of German watchmaking marques.

 

Double swan neck regulators adding another dimension of beauty to the Glashütte Original PanoMaticLunar, note the oscillating rotor unusually placed in an off-centred manner to allow an unobstructed view of the movement. See it in the shop.

 

Explore our collection of exquisite German timepieces here.



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