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Review: Glashütte Original Seventies Chronograph Panorama Date

The seventies was a decade of catastrophic disaster. The oxygen tanks on board Apollo 13 ruptured, almost stranding the crew in space; the Unit 2 reactor of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant partially melted down; and the entire Swiss watch industry was destroyed by new technology coming out of Japan. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, because as far as watches are concerned at least, it was also the beginning of a new era in many respects, a story captured by the Glashütte Original Seventies Chronograph Panorama Date.

For the German watchmaker Glashütte Original, disaster is at the very core of its creation. It all started in 1845 when Ferdinand Adolph Lange—yes, of A. Lange & Söhne founding—took a loan to start a watch company in the German silver mining town of Glashütte. His approach to watchmaking, demanding efficiency and reliability of his watches, changed the town into a thriving, prosperous community.

His lead was followed by many others, and Glashütte flourished as a haven of precision watchmaking excellence. In fact—get this—the style of watchmaking that had emerged from the community, large three-quarter plates, gold chatons and the like, started to get copied by none other than the Swiss.

It gets even bolder than that, with Swiss manufacturers not only copying this German process—they even badged their movements as “System Glashütte”, trying to ride on the wave of Germany’s growing success. This forced the real Glashütte brands to respond with a moniker of their own: Glashütte Original.

But the good times were not to last. The Second World War saw the town razed to the ground. Tools and machinery were relinquished to the Soviet army seeking to recover its expense in the war. Then, to add insult to injury, the Soviet-controlled East German socialist republic seized control of all the watchmaking firms in Glashütte and combined them into one single public entity. From the ashes of war, a monolithic building was constructed to house everything this new, amalgamated organisation needed to make watches from start to finish.

Glashütte Original was founded in 1845

Glashütte Original was founded in 1845

On the 9th of November 1989, however, a welcome piece of good news emerged after half a million had gathered in Berlin in mass protest. Growing unrest forced the East German government to offer easier passage through the wall that divided the east and west, but with the waves of thousands pouring through unchecked, it became clear the Soviet rule was coming to an end. Economic problems and food shortages were rife, the hold of the USSR weakening, and on the 3rd of October 1990, Germany was free to reunite east with west.

For the little watchmaking town of Glashütte, it was the end of a difficult era. The watchmakers no longer needed to remain as one homogenised whole. For A. Lange & Söhne, that meant a new start in 1994 with the seminal Lange 1. For the remaining companies, they took a different approach: they would stay as one and continue the trade they had helped establish over a century ago. They would revive the mark that had come to define the town—Glashütte Original.

During the Cold War turmoil faced by the German people throughout the sixties and seventies, another crisis faced the watchmaking nation just to the south. As the government-controlled Glashütte watchmaking machine, employing some 2,500 watchmakers, continued producing mechanical watches to be shipped all around the world, the independent watchmakers of Switzerland were in a bit of a bind.

A new technology, one the Swiss were very familiar with, having jointly worked on a government-backed project to develop, threatened to spell the end of mechanical watchmaking altogether. Electronically powered watches, far more accurate than the mechanical Swiss ones, were gaining popularity. At first they had been too imprecise, too power hungry, too big and bulky, but with refinement came a very real competitor to a nation built on its predecessor.

Glashütte Original makes its own dials. They have a specialist in-house dial factory located in Pforzheim, Germany

Glashütte Original makes its own dials. They have a specialist in-house dial factory located in Pforzheim, Germany

The commercialisation of quartz movements is widely documented as being a bloodbath for Swiss watchmakers. Those who tried to move with the times and adopt the new technology with open arms faced competition in price and quality, and were unable to compete; those who doggedly stuck to what they knew were left behind, their day done. Over a thousand watchmaking firms shut their doors, never to open them again. Over 60,000 people lost their jobs.

But although it was an incredibly tough time, it wasn’t entirely mired in despair. In the panic to maintain relevance, watchmakers desperately sought to recapture the attention of a rapidly disinterested audience, drawing on bold styling cues and distinctive design to halt the crisis. It was a period of prolific turnover, with companies like Omega delivering model after model, each one a bit crazier than the last.

And although we know the forefront of this design was led by the outrageous Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, a watch so audacious—and audaciously priced—that it finally won over the world’s public to Swiss mechanical watchmaking once more, it was not the only brand to adopt this deliberately styled design. There are the ones you know from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, and perhaps ones you don’t from Omega, Bulova, Longines, Tissot, Eterna —Seiko even. Even the saviour of the Swiss watch industry, the $30 Swatch watch, drew inspiration from those themes.

So, from something not so good comes something great, a period of style that has left its mark on watchmaking for all time. Perhaps left unable to participate in quite the way it would have wanted, Glashütte Original has made amends with this Seventies Chronograph Panorama Date. The inspiration is clear: the big TV dial, streamlined strap, general chunky demeanour—it’s all very seventies. Yet here it meets the ethos that built the small German town into an internationally renowned hub of watchmaking.

Glashütte Original is owned by The Swatch Group

Glashütte Original is owned by The Swatch Group

The German silver dial, with its galvanised finish, harks back to the mining industry that seeded the small community; the crisp, clear layout is every bit the picture of deliberate German simplicity; and the calibre 37-02 stands in line with the mastery of complete in-house production necessitated by the segregation of Glashütte and East Germany during the Cold War.

In particular, the movement is the very essence of Glashütte Original as it was meant in the 19th century, definitively German in class and performance. From the swan neck regulator to the striped three-quarter plate; the 70-hour power reserve, big date and column wheel chronograph; it retains the spirit of those founding watchmakers who defined what it truly means to be Glashütte Original.

Here we have two distinct worlds united by one passion: the creation of fine mechanical watches. The Glashütte Original Seventies Chronograph Panorama Date is probably considered by a lot of people to be a nice watch, an interesting and unusual one perhaps, but just in a name and a style it epitomises decades of struggle, perseverance and accomplishment in the face of adversity. From disaster comes a new hope—one that we are all now free to enjoy today.

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