5 German watch brands you may not have heard of, but will desire – 2020 editionThor Svaboe
Germany is solidifying its position as among the very best go-to alternatives to Switzerland for wrist-worn marvels. While we all know that the Glashütte-based A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original, Nomos and Sinn produce top-notch alternatives to the Neuchâtel valley, here is an ode to the lesser-known maisons. These are fiercely independent brands showing their 2020 models, many of which you will not find even in our comprehensive Time+Tide archives. We will endeavour to broaden your Germanic horizon with five German independent watches, from traditional Haute Horlogerie, through Bauhaus and classic Flieger style.
The Kudoke 2 Nocturne
Stefan Kudoke is one of the top independent proponents of classical Haute Horlogerie, seen here underlined in his 2020 model, the Nocturne. After the award-winning Kudoke 2 in 2019, this is a sharp limited edition piece infused with a calm minimalism in dark galvanic grey. There is no distraction from a moving seconds hand, a perfectly bevelled plaque above 6 o’clock and a brushed steel rhodium-plated chapter ring with a fine bevel against the rehaut. What grabs the attention, though, is the beautiful engraved domed motif that makes for an imaginative 24-hour display at 12, framed by a delicate chapter ring.
The sky motif is hand-engraved and galvanically treated with gold and black and white rhodium, representing the day and night skies in a most delightful way, especially the deeply engraved rays of the golden sun. The rhodium-plated hands are both classical and whimsical in design, specially the rhodium-plated hour hand with its charming figure-eight end, which is Kudoke’s signature infinity symbol. This is a limited piece in the HANDwerk line of Kudoke, a term I think you’ll understand clearly, and consider the dial a mere intro.
Yes, this limited piece at less than US$10,000 has Stefan Kudoke’s first manufacture hand-wound 24-hour version of his movement Kaliber 1, in all its hand-finished rhodium splendour. Hand-hammered and hand-finished, it’s a picture of simple beauty, showing us his typical infinity symbol-engraved rhodium balance bridge — a clear sign of the influence of antique English pocket watch movements — and will no doubt make you lose hours as you turn it around, loupe in hand (and turn your phone off, come on). All things considered, gazing at the hand-engraved, gold numbered plaque with its bevels and the movement details, including blued screws and a mesmerising large balance wheel, the intriguing Kudoke 2 Nocturne is superb value for what is classic hand-finished craftsmanship with a twist. Price: €8665 excluding taxes. More information, or inquiries to order one of these, can be found at Kudoke.eu.
Dornblüth & Sohn
The Dornblüth & Sohn 99.6-M
What do the small German watchmakers do best? Timeless designs, craftsmanship in the details, and superb legibility. Here we have a classic example of this in the beautifully untrendy textured black dial with a balanced twin register layout, and a beautiful detail at 6 o’clock. This is the new Dornblüth & Sohn 99.6-M from this year, with a classic chronometer layout, small seconds at 9 o’clock and a delicately printed power reserve at 3, with two more exquisite small details not noticed at first. Legibility is superb with crisp white print and white lacquered feuille hands pointing to a sharp railway track and classic Arabic numerals.
The M in 99.6-M is the moon phase complication, which is discreet to the point of introverted shyness, but how it then surprises you. The very small delicately framed window at 6 shows a gold-starred sky changing gradually into a mother-of-pearl moon image. And above, just below centre, is what looks like a plaque, but examine it closely and it is another window, this time counting down the nine days before a full moon and before a new moon.
Through the very large sapphire back is a typical ¾ plate covered hand-wound movement, rhodium-plated to coincide with the moon theme, and delicately detailed with a classic large balance, swan-neck adjuster and a hand-engraved base visible. Exquisite, in-house and inspired by antique pocket watch movements, equally beguiling as the timeless dial. Another sense of the timeless nature of the Dornblüth & Sohn 99.6-M is that the detailed movement is only 4.4mm, making the case a perfect 10 with a 40mm diameter and shapely lugs that say Ergonomy. Price: From AUD$13,800
The Malchert Schlossberg
One man, one watch perfected. Bauhaus minimalism, and a circular case with classic lugs. Yet there is something special about this hand-wound 36mm Schlossberg. It may come from the obsession of one watchmaker, Daniel Malchert, but this sole model has been perfected for 2020. The delicate size of 36mm is bound to sit perfectly on the wrist, and is a quirky choice with a large emphasis on craftsmanship. The bezel-less design of the classic polished case will no doubt make this sit more like a 38-39mm piece due to the expanse of silvery white legible dial, so a clear win-win.
Galvanic silver treatment of the dial. That’s how to get this silken texture and crisp background to what is a classic Bauhaus-inspired, yet intrinsically modern, face. The hour and minute markers are printed on what could be described as a semi-railway-track close to the vertical rehaut, while there is a classic small seconds register at 6, snailed to perfection. The wholly contemporary edge here comes with the rather large logo on the top half of the dial, distinctly modern minimalist of font, like the delicate Arabic numerals.
The hands are the pièce de résistance on the zen-like dial, bold and blued, with a minute hand like no other. It has a long counterweight with a circular shape, and is exactly as unconventional as the reason you might fall in love with a timepiece like this. There is no homage or cream lume, instead a distinctly modern and focused modernity that would not get sketched up in a group design meeting. Price: €3400 including taxes.
The Moritz Grossmann Hamatic
A French term for this seemingly quiet German would be tour de force. The Hamatic is a watch that might even give more pleasure worn upside down on the wrist. This is what Moritz Grossmann released this year, concealed behind a seemingly classic hand-wound classic piece. Behind a demure face lies their version of a seldom seen hammer-type self-winding mechanism, anachronistically fascinating and different. So, before perusing the dial and case, let’s start with the interesting movement, a first for many of you. A self-winding system invented long before the advent of the trusty rotors was the hammer-winding system developed for pocket watches by that brand of many inventions, Breguet.
An oscillating mass moving through an arc to wind the mainspring, being damped at the end of each movement by a buffer spring. Obviously, a mechanical timepiece in itself is by nature less precise than both radio-controlled quartz watches and our step-counting wearable tech, but that’s not the point, is it? How can a hammer-winding system be made to work within the constraints of today’s high standards of mechanical horology? The hammer, as it were, is centrally mounted within an oval pendulum, and draws the eye in through a very large open caseback, with the contrasts between warm German bevelled silver and brushed and black polished steel.
This splendid theatre partly hides a large balance, with a classic balance bridge hand-engraved as another nod to the pocket watch inspiration behind the detailed movement. An intellectually inspiring movement complex enough that you will be reading up on the the basics of caliber construction to better understand the micro mechanical marvel under the rear sapphire, anachronistic as it may be. A solid 72-hour power reserve is bestowed on this, impressive for such an intricate antique-inspired caliber, which runs at a calm 21,600 vph.
The case is pure classicism in a 3-part white gold construction, with ergonomic lugs and a slight step on the slim hint of a bezel. This is a medium-wearing 41mm, and a superb dial worth every extra millimetre of sapphire opening. The dial is solid silver, with a “black-or” gloss black finish, and the delicate classicism of Roman numerals and a small seconds register at 6. The handset is unfeasibly thin, the minute hand stretching out to the crisp printing of the railway minute track with a hint of an arrow-esque tip. This particular 25-piece limited edition perfects the vintage inspiration, with a serifed, capital letter vintage M.GROSSMANN logo at 12 being the finishing touch to a strict, perfectly proportioned black dial. A halo piece underlining the focus and craftsmanship behind the creations of Moritz Grossmann in Glashütte, an independent of note, and the most well known in this compilation. Price: €44,400, excluding VAT. It is a limited edition of 25 pieces.
The Tutima Grand Flieger Airport
Here we have Tutima, another manufacturer based in the German answer to the Neuchâtel valley, Glashütte, and a fresh fumé dialled new model in the green and blue colours du jour. This has got the classic Flieger name, though visually it does have a hint of vintage diver. Not a bad thing, as both have legibility and toughness as first points on the agenda. The dial is a useful day-date, unusual on a vintage-inspired dégradé dial and no doubt inspiring a few date/no date discussions, but what a useful feature, here delicately framed in a rounded-edge narrow window.
Large rectangular applied framed indices, with a double at 12, are sharp and in keeping with the legibility focus, and the utilitarian black sword hands match the width of the indices. Plenty of crisp white lume is applied to the pilot-style hour and minute hands, which have a dark blue base, and the rest in pure white Super-LumiNova. The dégradé dial colour is of the discreet kind, with a slight variation from the middle blue centre to the dark navy edges, giving it depth and a clean look, with the reassuring print of 20ATM , and a charming swirly font on the Tutima logo at 12.
The workmanlike brushed steel case is dominated by the dark blue 60-minute bezel and distinctly fun detail, a small bright-red stripe on the bezel just visible above the framed lume pearl. The crown is large and in keeping with the aerial aspirations of the Grand Flieger, as what I can only categorise as a nouveau onion.The fabric strap matches the dial and bezel tones to a tee, and comes with a steel folding clasp, alternatively an oyster-style bracelet. Summed up? A large 43mm clean design with a top legibility rating, a Flieger watch, yet with its clean 60-minute bezel with pip at 12 and a 200m WR also putting it in a vintage-inspired diver niche. What about the movement? The tried-and-trusted ETA 2836, with a decent 38-hour power reserve, a solid workhorse more than anything, but the best thing for a functional tool such as this slightly idiosyncratic but damn sharp Flieger from Tutima. Price: €1900 on strap and €2200 on steel bracelet.