Time to Move: Glashutte Original Raises the BarBy Wei Koh
The one brand whose manufacture we did not visit was Glashutte Original as that would have entailed a 956.2 kilometer coach journey, though I’m sure at some point during the planning stage the event organizers for Time to Move were sorely tempted to slot this into the schedule. Instead, Glashutte Original decamped to the Hyperion Hotel in Geneva where they set up an interactive presentation to showcase their expertise in in-house dial making, quality control and unveiled several new models including a modern diving watch, the Sea Q. Before getting into these watches and one particularly impressive technical achievement this is what you need to know about Glashutte Original.
Throughout the ’70s the Swiss watch industry suffered terribly from the onslaught brought on by inexpensive quartz watches from Asia, so much so that manufactures began closing, key tooling and machinery was discarded and mechanical movements were sold by weight. As the Swiss industry reeled from the effects of the Quartz Crisis, East Germany watchmaking remained largely unaffected. That’s because by this time East Germany was part of the Soviet bloc and the watchmaking competences found in the horological hotbed of Glashutte had been nationalized and placed under a single factory known as the GUB which produced mechanical watches for the Soviet occupied countries.
It was extraordinary to see that following the post-1990 reunification how rapidly Glashutte was able to re-organize itself to once again produce beautifully decorated high watchmaking movements. One of the very first complicated timepieces I purchased was an unconventional yet highly intriguing in-house chronograph called the Glashutte Original Panograph. This watch was particularly interesting to me because it utilized the off center time and grande date mechanism that would become a hallmark of Saxon watchmaking and is also clearly used in the design iconography of Glashutte Original’s friendly rival A. Lange & Sohne’s Lange 1. What was so captivating about the Panograph however was that in the sector of the dial from 1 to 3 o’clock was a half-moon shaped window that revealed a rotating disc that was the chronograph minutes counter. This was read off a fixed hand and was configured with three stack tracks, the first representing 0-20 minutes, the second 20-40 minutes and the third 40-60 minutes. Instead of being found in the sundial at 5 o clock, the continuous seconds hand was integrated into the hour and minute indicator which also contained the centrally mounted chronograph seconds. This left the window at 5 o’clock for the grande date.
The result was a highly intuitive way to read elapsed time. At the same time the dial was characterized by a subtlety and elegant restraint that was typically Saxon. The Caliber 61 movement even featured a flyback function and that Glashutte Original was able to create such a spectacular movement just over a decade after the fall of the Berlin wall was a testament to extraordinary watch making ingenuity. You could feel the ambitiousness of the East German watchmakers in this timepiece as if they wanted to show the world what they were truly capable of, now that they were unfettered by the shackles of communism. The movement was a spectacle of high finish and engineering acumen. The chronograph functions were operated by a column wheel. The German silver bridges and plates were charmingly decorated with Glashutte Stripes, jewels were retained by signature Saxon gold chatons and the balance wheel featured a beautifully engraved cock as well as a swan neck regulator.
It was around the time that I purchased the Panograph that you could sense Glashutte Original’s momentum and technical ambition, something that in the ensuing years was not as much of the focus for the brand but something I’m pleased to say has returned in a very clear and demonstrative way.
Because amid the non-stop, speed of light schedule around Switzerland visiting the mighty SWATCH Group’s high watchmaking manufactures, it would be easy to miss out on the absolutely amazing technical achievement that is the world’s first flying tourbillon with a zero reset cage/seconds indicator that is precisely synchronized to the minute indicator. I give you the Glashutte Original Senator Chronometer Tourbillon, a watch that has to be a shoe-in for the technical achievement prize for the 2019 watch year.
Senator Chronometer Tourbillon
OK the first thing I like about this watch is its sensible 42 mm size and relatively slim height considering its technical fire power, at 12mm. It’s important to understand that the major push into in-house manufacturing happened during the first decade of the new millennium, a time where oversized watches were in vogue and as such many brands are stuck with very large in-house complicated movements. To me it doesn’t matter how many oscillators of what kind of signature note for the quarters your carillon plays if the resulting watch is so ursine in its heft that you risk developing carpal tunnel syndrome each time you strap it on. The iconography of the Chronometer Tourbillon is essentially that of a movement turned back-to-front, started by the brand with its Inverse model. And it’s a particularly spectacular view characterized by some beautifully decorated bridges. The design of the flying tourbillon is a tribute to the original design created by Alfred Helwig a Glashutte watchmaker responsible for the creation of this complication. The arm of the tourbillon cage also serves as the seconds indicator and is read off a minute track crafted from sapphire crystal. The watch features a 70 hour power reserve read of a discreet indication at 9 o clock.
Ok so this is what happens when you pull the crown of the watch out. A vertical clutch activates a lever to stop the balance wheel and as a result the tourbillon cage stops rotating. Pull the crown out and hold it there in its second position and incredibly the entire tourbillon cage rotates clockwise until the seconds hand is at zero. While this is happening the disc to the left of the cage starts spinning very quickly, this is the flying regulator that regulates the speed at which the cage rotates back to zero. Without this the resetting of the cage proved too violent. At the same time, the minute hand jumps forward to the next minute and is fully synchronized to the seconds. Moving the minute hand forward, it will only jump to full one minute positions hence Glashutte Original describes this with their typical understatement as “second stop zero reset with minute detent.” I call it mind-blowingly epic.
With the existence of a seconds hand on this tourbillon it can also be tested to chronometer accuracy by the German Calibration Service, entailing a 15-day trial in five positions and three temperature variations. The caliber 58-05’s silicon hairspring created at the group-owned Nivarox certainly aids in concentric breathing. Note to Time to Move organizers: a trip to Nivarox would be most welcome in the future. It’s too bad they are no longer holding the Concours International de Chronometrie won by a Jaeger-LeCoultre tourbillon the first time and a Greubel Forsey the second time as I’d love to see how this 150k Euro German watch would perform.
Says Roland von Keith, Glashutte Original’s CEO, “In the past Glashutte Original was known to push the story of high watchmaking forward with real technical ambition. This is something we really wanted to bring back to the brand and you can see with the Chronometer Tourbillon that our focus is on true functional innovation in a beautiful, wearable and discreet timepiece that is a real representative of Saxon watchmaking and its values.” I am in total agreement.
So it’s no mystery that one of my favorite numbers is “69.” This is of course for two reasons. First, my year of birth is 1969 – the same year of both the Moon landing and Woodstock – and because 1969 gave rise to the automatic chronograph, one of my favorite horological achievements. What were you thinking? Clearly 1969 was also a significant year for Glashutte Original as this was when it debuted the Spezimatic Type RP TS 200, a handsome functional and very cool diving watch. OK, let’s return to the context of Cold War Soviet Bloc East Germany which as part of the German Democratic Republic was tasked with producing large quantities of functional, reliable and accessible work horse timepieces which included the tool watch Type RP TS 200 with its rotating bezel and its unique combination of sword hour and broad arrow minute hands.
Says von Keith, “One of the greatest resources for our brand is the Glashutte Original museum which shows you the incredible diversity and range of watches we created throughout the 20 century. On a visit there, Marc Hayek (a man with a clear penchant for vintage-themed diving watches) saw the Spezimatic TS 200 and he immediately thought this could be the first in a new range of highly functional, well-engineered and attractive vintage-themed sports watches for us.” Using this watch as his genetic antecedent Hayek applied his typical design flair in collaboration with Glashutte Original’s team to create the SeaQ. Now, the thing with diving watches is it’s genuinely quite difficult to come up with an all-new design that is at once functional and genuinely and uniquely attractive. The world already has the 50 Fathoms, the Seamaster 300 and the Submariner. What is charming about the SeaQ is it achieves just that – the creation of an atypical, authentically charming dive watch that is a good value proposition (8.5k euro on the strap), resonates with some very cool design elements and hosts many of the SWATCH Group’s innovations such as the ceramic rotating bezel.
Ok first of all, the shape of the case is somewhere between a barrel and a round form that receives an appealing circular brushed finish. At 39.5 mm it is the perfect size for a modern sports watch. The dial is laid out with a large easy-to-read combination of Arabic and stick indexes and the hands as mentioned are a unique combination of sword and broad arrow-shaped. Flip the watch over and the solid case back’s decoration of 20 waves, representing its 20 bar water resistance, is always perfectly aligned. Says von Keith, “I hate it when engraved casebacks are not aligned and so we designed a two-part caseback which has the added benefit of placing more even pressure on the gasket sealing the caseback so that it doesn’t deform by being twisted.”
The SeaQ is launched in both a regular production version with matching vintage cream colored lume (Super-Luminova) for both the hands and the indexes and in a limited edition run of 69 watches with intentionally mismatching hands and indexes inspired by the mismatching lume on the original timepiece found in the museum. Who is the SeaQ (the Q is for quality and will eventually be extrapolated into AirQ and LandQ watches) for? Someone that is looking for a high quality, cool designed diving watch that sets him or her apart from the crowd. The watch in particular on the textile strap (there was a conversation about a NATO strap but Hayek and von Keith eventually settled on the textile unit) which is far thicker and robust-feeling than pictures will communicate is a genuinely appealing watch, so why not head down to your local retailer and try one on for yourself next time if you’re about to invest in a dive watch this summer?