The main historical centers of German watchmaking are the Black Forest, Pforzheim and Glashütte, where many watches are still produced today.
Clocks from the Black Forest
Since the second half of the 18th century, wooden clocks have been produced in large numbers in many small workshops in the western part of the Black Forest. Thanks to early division of labor and simplified design, the alarm, wall and grandfather clocks from the Black Forest were internationally successful with low prices and high quality. The basis formed the cheap and easy-to-use raw material wood, which was available in sufficient quantities literally in front of the door. In addition, the production of metal watches was subject to the guild rules and was limited exclusively to urban watchmakers. Wooden clockmaking, on the other hand, was a free trade that anyone was allowed to practice. The Black Forest watch industry experienced its heyday around the penultimate turn of the century, when mostly in the western part innovative production methods and metal cases were used.
After the two world wars and the quartz crisis, however, the Black Forest watch industry did not return to its old size. Nonetheless, there are still numerous manufacturers of clocks and mechanical movements in the Black Forest.
Wristwatches from the gold town Pforzheim
In Pforzheim, Margrave Karl-Friedrich of Baden founded the watch and jewelry industry in 1767. With the support of a Swiss entrepreneur, a watch factory was set up in the local orphanage for the employment of orphans. A little later, the factory was expanded to produce jewelry, where the focus of production shifted over the coming years. From 1920, however, the manufacturing of wristwatches in Pforzheim experienced a renaissance. The city became the most important center of watch and jewelry production worldwide, whereupon the epithet gold town refers. Numerous factories were built during this time, as was the Pforzheimer Uhren-Rohwerke GmbH, founded in 1933, which produced and sold self-developed mechanical movements, already one year after its founding. Due to the long-lasting quality and accuracy, the movements enjoyed an excellent international reputation. In the 1970s, almost 30,000 people worked in the watch and jewelry industry in Pforzheim. However, just like in the rest of the Black Forest, many businesses and jobs in the watch industry disappeared in Pforzheim due to the quartz crisis.
Today again many traditional and young watch companies are active in Pforzheim. In the city you can still find everything to make high-quality watches “Made in Germany”, from excellent watchmakers to guilloche makers who produce elaborated, unique watches. In Pforzheim there is also a goldsmith and watchmaking school, the Federal Association of Watches and Jewelry, as well as the Technical Museum of the Pforzheim jewelry and watch industry.
Pocket watches and boat chronometers in Glashütte
In 1845 Ferdinand Adolph Lange became the first master watchmaker in Glashütte. With a loan from the Saxon state government, he began to train local workers to watchmakers. As a result, the watch industry flourished in Glashütte with numerous start-ups and was mainly known for their precision pocket watches and marine chronometers. After the end of the Second World War, the Glashütte watch manufacturers were expropriated by the Soviet occupiers and summarized in 1951 in publicly owned company “VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe” (GUB).
With the reunification of Germany, many well-known watch companies were newly founded under the use of old brand names or have emerged from the former GUB. Since then, mainly high-priced mechanical watches have been produced in Glashütte.
Text: Cornelius Huber