Made in Glashütte, the historic birthplace of German watchmaking, NOMOS watches are attracting a new generation of wearers through a canny blend of contemporary colours and minimalist design coupled with an unwavering commitment to precision, sustainability and craftsmanship.
NOMOS Glashütte is in the timekeeping business. And it is highly skilled at it. For all the undeniable aesthetic qualities of its watches – their delicate forms, clean lines and unhurried minimalism – the brand remains wedded to its foundational ethos of precision and quality. When asked what drives innovation at NOMOS, Deputy Head of R&D Theo Prenzel answers with a question of his own: “How can a mechanical watch be developed to be as precise as possible?”
The company was founded in January 1990 by Roland Schwertner in Glashütte in former East Germany just two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This small town had once been the hub of German watch-making but decades of Soviet rule had gutted the industry; machinery and technology had been seized and watchmakers forced to operate under the state-controlled GUB (Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe). Watches were still being produced but they were of inferior quality.
After reunification Schwertner saw an opportunity to bring back the quality and craftsmanship the small town had been renowned for. He established NOMOS with a commitment to Deutscher Werkbund principles – the production of beautiful, functional objects for the mass market – and an eye for innovation. His mission long-term was to become as independent as possible, which meant making the part that is found at the heart of every mechanical watch, the escapement, in-house. This assemblage of tiny components that gives a watch its rhythm is essential for accuracy. It is also exceedingly complex to manufacture so the vast majority of watchmakers buy their escapements from Swiss multinationals. In 2014 however, NOMOS released its own, the NOMOS swing system.
Developing the swing system in-house was a huge investment. So why bother? “We want to carry the 175-year-old Glashütte tradition into tomorrow – in other words, refresh it in a contemporary way,” explains Judith Borowski, Chief Branding Officer and a company partner since 2004. By manufacturing its own calibres in Glashütte, unbeholden to Switzerland and complete with the town’s classic stylistic features – a three-quarter plate, Glashütte sunburst and tempered blue screws – NOMOS is doing just that.
And the innovation hasn’t ended there. For Borowski, it’s important that NOMOS “can produce the best affordable watches in series – watches that can compete with very high-priced timepieces in terms of craftsmanship, quality and appearance”. This requires constant research and development. For example, the DUW 6101 calibre, which is part of NOMOS’ neomatik series, required eleven separate trials and a new gear wheel train.
A peculiarity of designing its own movements is that the slightest adjustment to a calibre will have drastic ramifications for a watch’s design and vice versa. This, in turn, has interesting implications for the design process. To ensure time-keeping precision, there is cross-departmental fluidity in the development process and designers collaborate with watchmakers to ensure functionality. Senior designer Thomas Höhnel talks of “an exchange with other colleagues” and “gaining other perspectives to help sharpen and hone my own”.
In keeping with the Deutscher Werkbund, NOMOS combines traditional craftsmanship with industrial mass production. When precision is needed, modern technology is used. But wherever possible, a craftsman’s touch is employed. For Prenzel, striking this balance is essential. He always asks, “How can the quality of the product be retained while using other production and assembling processes – or even improved?” Accordingly, at NOMOS Glashütte, there is a fusion of old and new. Milling machines churn away and hot ratchet springs emerge fresh from laser erosion. Simultaneously brass blanks are hand-polished, edges painstakingly bevelled and entire calibres assembled by hand. At every juncture, craftsmanship intersects with cutting-edge technology to create objects of the past, present and future.
It’s with this future in mind, that the brand has also developed its holistic approach to sustainability. By using high-quality and durable materials and ensuring all watch parts can be repaired or replaced, NOMOS timepieces are designed to last a lifetime. Moreover, most of the waste materials created in the manufacturing process, such as cooling oil and metal filings, are sent back to the supplier to be converted back into raw materials. And since so many of the watchmaking parts are produced in-house, NOMOS’ supply chain is shorter than most and its transport emissions greatly reduced. Prenzel sees a link between this sustainable approach to watch production and the pandemic. “COVID-19 led to a slowing down of society. In a short amount of time, many aspects of life fell away, allowing us to focus on its essential aspects. I think that this slowed-down society will lead to a greater focus on sustainability and precise, hand-crafted objects. Like the watches we make at NOMOS Glashütte.”
By Herbie Russell