Nomos: The Art of UnderstatementBy Israel Ortega
Nomos has ceased to be a curiosity or cult brand and has become an admirable force, based on its principles of aesthetics and purity that reflect an ideology that prioritizes functionality and quality. There is no one better than its three most elegant exponents to drive this point.
German watchmaking is characterized by an essential principle that gives signature to a very special and differentiated style, reflecting the culture that shaped it. We all associate German creations —everything that comes from its fascinating industries, whether it’s a car, a medical device, a power tool or a train— with certain features that are impossible to ignore. German products are functional, reliable, precise, immaculate, and impeccably designed and built.
And yet, I summarize all these characteristics in one adjective: meticulous. Yes, it is that meticulous search for perfection in every detail that defines mostly every Germanic product. And of course, German watchmaking, born and firmly anchored in Glashütte, is just another perfect example of this.
The German Watchmaking Capital
The town of Glashütte is located just south of Dresden, about 40 minutes by car. Originally an agricultural and mining town, Glashütte was forced to change directions in 1800 when the mines were exhausted. Ferdinand-Adolph Lange, with his foundational efforts to create original watchmaking —and pretty much save the region too— was the architect of the legendary 180-degree turn that turned Glashütte into a small watchmaking capital.
The main inhabitants of that town are well known: A. Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original, but around them there are many small watchmakers who value and extol the same principles of maximum quality in their creations. By far, the most representative of these is beloved Nomos.
In 1990, Nomos started operating a small building on Altenberger Street, right next to the Glashütte train station. Only a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Roland Schwertner launched Nomos, and the first four Nomos designs, by Susanne Günther, came to light in 1992. From the outset, the brand favored purity in design, based on the Bauhaus principle of minimalism where function is preferred to form and monochromatism was prevalent. This is exactly what the first Nomos watches were, spearheaded by the now classic Tangente.
The Three Cornerstones
Tangente has been, since its creation, discreet, elegant, even stealthy. It may well be considered as a formal or dress watch, but that is only a consequence of its form. Since the first Tangente by Schwertner and Günther, the formula has remained unchanged: a round steel case, with slender, straight, slightly downward lugs; a slim bezel supporting a sapphire crystal, under which extends a silvery-white dial with minimized graphics —printed on the registered Nomos font— with a few numerals, all even and interspersed with baton indexes at the odd hours. At 6 o’clock lies a small recessed seconds sub-dial. A set of three blued-steel hands were the touch of distinction and dedicated workmanship. On the rear, the basic caseback of the first watches was solid steel, with barely an engraving or two of a name and a number. Like a grey suit for a gentleman or a black dress for a lady, the Tangente was a watch that went well with everything at any time. That particularity has earned the watch the admiration and praise of the whole world for almost 30 years.
The sister collections Ludwig and Orion —as well as the brilliant Tetra— have accompanied Tangente as the cornerstones of the brand. As American designer Paul Rand said, “Simplicity is never the goal; it is a consequence of a good idea and modest expectations.” Tangente, Ludwig and Orion are eloquent examples of what is required to be achieved when simple and restrained objectives are approached meticulously and with full knowledge and understanding of what is to be achieved.
The most oversimplified way to describe the Nomos Ludwig is this: it is like a Tangente, but with Roman numerals and a peripheral chemin de fer track. It is not inaccurate, but, well, it is unfair: Ludwig’s origin was simultaneous to that of the Tangente, so its proposal of watchmaking art is original and unique, where its Roman numerals and fine indexes are subtle and the play between bezel and handles is elegant. Ludwig is available in seven different models, with either the Alpha (hand-wound) or Neomatik (self-winding) calibres, with or without a date and in various case sizes. Its particular sobriety can be defined by a single word: poise.
On the other hand, Orion is the ultimate expression of minimalism, since it only has applied baton-like indexes on its dial. However, this elementary definition of style has allowed Orion to find many followers, thanks to that particular simplification of style that translates into a beauty without beginning or end. Refined, sober and elegant, it is the epitome of functional elegance within the Nomos collections. Whether in white, pink, or olive gold, or in midnight blue, it exudes a masterful elegance. Even with a Neomatik calibre, Orion is as slim as the classic hand-wound model and, like all Nomos watches, it is also a very dressy watch. Orion is available in 17 different varieties, with and without a date.
Nowadays, Tangente, Ludwig, and Orion cannot be dissociated, as they all share general characteristics. All of them in their essential versions carry the manual-wind Alpha caliber; they are all available in assorted case sizes, where we must highlight the permanence —since its introduction — of the 35 mm watches, still today the most popular option (I am a fan of the Tangente Ref. 164 in 38 mm with sapphire caseback), although the variety has been greatly expanded with the addition of numerous sizes (38 to 42 mm), calibers and finishes, as well as some very coveted special editions.
Although we all think of a small and white wristwatch when we hear “Tangente,” Nomos has long since ventured into new possibilities to appeal to many different tastes but keeping the essence of the timepiece undisturbed. Tangente has been a great canvas to expand the flavor of Glashütte, in the way of new editions that show how the offerings of the house have been enriched. Tangente Midnight Blue is a glorious example.
Tangente Midnight Blue takes its essence to a new color level. Available in two versions, both build on the legacy of Tangente with the Alpha manual wind caliber and case sizes of 35 and 38 mm. For the first time, an elegant midnight blue dial enhances their faces. The golden accents provided by the hands and the typography not only harmonize beautifully with the beige velvet leather strap, but also give the smaller version a nice warmth. The Tangente 38 also features exclusive silver hands and lettering, which are coordinated with the stainless steel case and the anthracite velvet leather strap. The metallic details of both watches are framed by the deep blue of their dials.
Another attractive contemporary alternative is the Orion Neomatik 41 Date Olive Gold that proudly boasts its Neomatik DUW 6101 caliber with a date function that puts this Orion as an extension of the Nomos Update sub-collection. The classic lines of the Orion Neomatik 41 Date Olive Gold are acidified by its olive-green dial with a subtle touch of gold that gives it great depth and warmth. The golden hands — and also the Neomatik wording — elevate the luxurious and distinguished appearance of the piece. The date window, created specifically for this model, completes the elegant curved design of the case, cover and sapphire glass.
In these 30 years of Nomos, the evolution of this Uhrenwerk has been measured but precise. The style remains undisturbed, and the constant rubrics of the old original collections have only found new facets as the manufacture has evolved its mechanics and added them to its forms. Maybe the greatest example of this growth has been the development of its in-house calibers, featuring their proprietary Swing Escapement with its own, locally made balance spring.
This story of overall success of the brand is obviously told by each Tangente, Ludwig, and Orion, but also by modern classics such as Metro, Tetra and Ahoi, or by the “youngsters” Club and Autobahn. In all cases, the Nomos formula is sought after and respected, just as Roland Schwertner envisioned it in 1990. Today the brand is proudly watched over by Uwe Ahrendt, current CEO of Nomos. Confirmation and testimonials to these achievements are the numerous design awards and accolades the company has earned over the last decade, the most recent being this year’s iF Design Award for the super cool Tangente Sport, the first diving, bracelet-equipped Tangente.
By virtue of its successes and high visibility, Nomos is no longer “the best-kept secret in watchmaking” or a “cult brand.” It is a rich, proud company that has managed to earned the admiration and respect of the watchmaking community at thirty years young. The best way to confirm this is to see how the most casual of watchmaking fans can identify a Nomos just a few meters away. This is proof of a universal design that is accompanied by a credibility anchored in quality, which is appreciated by the clientele that searches for and acquires the few tens of thousands of watches that Nomos produces every year. Nomos appreciates this affection and gives it back to its clients in its wide range of products and possibilities, now unified by the cool and welcome chance that the Nomos e-shop offers clients to purchase, directly from the company, watches in partial payments (available in some regions only). This is yet another proof of small and simple actions that lead to great results.
The DUW 1001 and 2002 calibres made by Nomos (used in the Lambda and Lux collections, respectively) beautifully express the philosophy and conviction that Nomos delivers in each of its watches through the hand engraving on the balance wheel cock: “Mit Liebe in Glashütte gefertigt” (“made with love in Glashütte”). It is the perfect summary of what Nomos is all about.