Brand Focus: Glashütte Original
The history of Glashütte Original is a long and winding one, and in order to understand how the brand became what it is today, you have to take a look back at the history of a small town deep in the Saxony region of Germany.
When most people think of fine watchmaking, they think Swiss—but Glashütte is a name that rivals Switzerland in watchmaking clout. The town is often considered the cradle of German horology, and this reputation dates back to the ambitions of watchmaker Ferdinand Adolph Lange.
You probably recognise that name—it would eventually form one half of another watchmaking brand of the region, A. Lange and Söhne. But at this time, Lange—who had spent time in Switzerland, and was influenced by the watchmaking practices there—decided that Glashütte would make the perfect base for German watchmaking.
To this end, he petitioned the state for the opportunity to open a watch company. The mining industry of the area was in a slow decline, and Lange posited that horology could make a lucrative replacement. The government of Saxony agreed, and granted the man a substantial loan to open a company in 1945.
Lange’s entrepreneurial exploits attracted other talented watchmakers to the area— including Adolph Schneider, Moritz Grossmann and Julius Assmann—and a tradition for high-end watchmaking began to develop. Due to their exceptional quality, Glashütte timepieces became increasingly acclaimed—to the point where demand for them meant more craftsmen were needed to meet production.
In 1878, Grossmann opened the German School of Watchmaking Glashütte, which was devoted to training new watchmakers in the most sophisticated skills. It produced a number of talented alumni—including Alfred Helwig, who would go on to win renown as the inventor of the flying tourbillon.
This flourishing popularity also had another, less fortunate, outcome: imitation. To distinguish the real deal from the many timepieces that were falsely being labelled as Glashütte products, the genuine independent watchmakers in the area began labelling their creations as ‘Original’ in the early part of the 20th century.
But the good times couldn’t last forever, and the Second World War signalled a period of turbulence for the Glashütte watch industry. The region was bombed, causing much damage to the infrastructure, and machinery was lost to the Soviet army when they demanded reparations at the end of the war.
The industry somehow powered through the trouble, and it would ultimately become stronger for it. As the town could no longer import watch components from abroad, Glashütte watchmakers had to learn to create them from scratch at their workshops—leading them down the path of designing in-house movements.
Up until this time, there had been several independent companies in the town, all creating their own timepieces—but in the post-war German Democratic Republic, this began to change. In 1951, eight firms—UROFA, UFAG, VEB Lange, VEB Feintechnik, VEB Messtechnik, VEB Estler, VEB Präzision Glashütte and the Makarenko trade school—merged to form the state-owned VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB). This was to be the ancestor of what would later become Glashütte Original.
Over the next few decades, the company produced a wide range of both mens’ and ladies’ watches, with a focus on utility and durability for daily use. GUB watches featured improved accuracy, and offered shock resistance, automatic winding, and date displays. When the quartz crisis hit in the 1970s, the company embraced the sudden demand for quartz-powered watches—but it refused to stop producing mechanical movements, maintaining its time-honoured expertise in traditional watchmaking.
The reunification of Germany in 1990 was the catalyst for the next evolution of the brand. VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe underwent yet another name change, becoming Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb GmbH. In 1994, the company was sold to Heinz Pfeifer, who—for the final time—renamed the brand to the now familiar Glashütte Original, harking back to the custom of marking watches as genuine Glashütte ‘originals’.
In the present day, under the ownership of the Swatch Group, all production of its timepieces are done under one roof. Glashütte is a mark of quality—just as significant as the term ‘Swiss made’. The town remains the heart of German watchmaking—and Glashütte Original continues to build upon the prestigious heritage that has been passed down to it over the years.