Glashütte is a small town in Germany near the border with the Czech Republic. It’s a picturesque place of green hillsides and gabled buildings, but behind its quaintness is a very serious business. Glashütte is home to nearly a dozen watch brands, and has been the home of the German watchmaking industry for over 175 years. Glashütte Original isn’t the biggest or most famous brand among them, but the watches they produce are of spectacular quality nonetheless. From dials to movements, Glashütte Original designs, produces, assembles, and finishes almost every component it needs in-house, and the results can stand alongside the best watches in the world. For insight into what makes this brand unique among watchmakers, including among its high-profile neighbours in Glashütte, we spoke to Roland von Keith, CEO Glashütte Original. Here’s what he had to say.
What makes Glashütte Original unique among watch brands?
The uniqueness of our brand is rooted in our originality and power of innovation on one hand and our heritage and rich history on the other hand. A Glashütte Original represents functional design, sophisticated engineering, robust mechanics and top craftsmanship that is visible in the smallest detail. Nearly every component that goes into a Glashütte Original has been designed, crafted and finished to perfection, from the smallest polished screw to a perfectly hand-engraved three-quarter plate. More than 175 years of watchmaking expertise combined with state-of-the-art technology, innovative and creative thinking have enabled us to stand out in the market as a true original in fine watchmaking art.
Why is German watchmaking unique in and of itself?
German watchmaking has been influenced by German engineering art for a long time. The robustness of the overall construction, the functional design, the timeless aesthetics, the careful choice of materials as well as the combination of user friendliness and product durability are all very typical features of machines, cars and watches manufactured in Stuttgart, Munich, Ingolstadt, Leipzig and Glashütte. “Made in Germany” is a globally recognized seal of quality that we proudly display on the dials of our watches along with the lettering “Glashütte I/Sa.”, which stands for the famous town of Glashütte in Saxony.
Which piece or pieces for you are most representative of Glashütte Original’s approach to the craft of watchmaking?
It is difficult to name only one particular piece, there are so many outstanding watches in our collection. One would definitely be our most recent PanoInverse Limited Edition that combines several unique features: First of all, it presents the typical asymmetric dial design shared by all our Pano models and takes its inspiration from the so-called Golden Ratio. Second, the movement has been constructed in an inverse manner allowing its inner beauty to be displayed on the dial side. This way, the elegant butterfly bridge with its duplex swan-neck fine adjustment can be admired on the front of the watch; normally this elegant construction can only be seen through the sapphire crystal on the back. In addition, this limited edition in platinum features a panorama of a big city with urban structures and individual sky-scrapers on both sides of the movement. A partially skeletonized movement adds transparency and unusual insights.
Another fascinating piece of Glashütte watchmaking art is definitely our Senator Cosmopolite, a watch that takes all 35 time zones of the world into account that are currently in use. In addition to the well-known 24 time zones that differ in full hours from GMT, it offers a choice of time zones that differ half hours and even ¾ hours from GMT such as the Chatham Islands in New Zealand that have a time difference of 12 hours and 45 min. Moreover, the watch takes summer time (Daylight Saving Time) and winter time (Standard Time) into account and features a Panorama Date that switches forward and backward according to the direction and time of travel.
Why is it important to make 95% of your components in-house?
It is absolutely vital for our company to produce nearly all watch components in-house as this high degree of production depth allows us full control over the level of quality and adds flexibility and independence to our operations. Especially the Covid pandemic has shown how quickly delivery chains can be interrupted and how important it is to be as independent as possible from suppliers and service providers. We are proud to be able to design and create not only our own special tools but nearly every component that goes into our watches including the smallest screws or the filigree discs that are the basis for our Panorama Date. In addition to the technical aspect, it is also part of our brand identity to make watches the authentic way; from the first sketch to the final product – all done in-house by our own people.
What are the advantages of being a part of the Swatch Group and how much does it influence the brand’s output. Does it create any new opportunities with the other prestige brands?
Being part of the world’s biggest watch group has many advantages. Glashütte Original benefits from a global distribution network, established contacts with influential media representatives and trusted suppliers for the few parts that it does not produce itself such as cases, straps or clasps. We definitely enjoy more synergies and resources as a member of the Swatch Group family of brands than a stand-alone brand without any affiliation to a bigger group. Moreover, being part of an international group helps attract and retain especially younger staff who look for international job opportunities when making a career choice.
How does the current trend of enthusiasm for watch collecting benefit Glashütte Original?
The current enthusiasm for collecting fine watches is of course a positive trend for us. In addition to our unlimited models that are all exquisitely crafted and unique, we offer a various pieces that are limited to a very small number, which makes them ideal timepieces to collect such as our PanoInverse Limited Edition launched this year or the skeletonized version of our PanoMaticCalendar that we presented last year. The colourful Seventies Limited Edition models we introduced over the past 2 years in bright yellow, sky blue, or deep turquoise sold out quickly and have become sought-after collector items. We also offer on a regular basis Annual Editions that are not limited by number but limited within a certain time period. Our iconic Sixties watches with their stunning colours and dégradé effects now have many fans within the watch community.
What are your ambitions for Glashütte Original in the future? Would you like to see the brand become a global household name or are you content to remain a niche brand known mostly among collectors?
Our ambition is of course to have a healthy growth and an expansion of our customer base. While we are already well established within the community of watch connoisseurs and collectors, it is our aim to broaden our appeal to younger and new audiences that have a taste for unusual designs, refined materials, exclusive products and high-end craftsmanship. Due to the nature and relatively small size of our manufactory and thus the limits imposed on production numbers, we will never become a global household name. It is definitely not our ambition to become a mass market luxury brand with hundreds of thousands of watches produced a year.