We’ve looked at various watch brands that hail from outside of Switzerland in past articles. This time, we’re focusing on watches that come from a region of Germany with a long watchmaking history. No, it’s not Saxony. Today, we’re traveling to accross the country to the Black Forest. This region covers more than 2,300 mi² (6,000 km²) in the southwest of Germany and is the original home of German watchmaking.
The Black Forest
The Black Forest region, and the city of Pforzheim in particular, has a rich history when it comes to jewelry and watchmaking. In the past, the city was known as the “Golden City” and “Gateway to the Black Forest.” Nowadays, however, other German cities have taken the lead. Nonetheless, there are still several watch brands located in the Black Forest, many of which have stood the test of time with histories dating back to the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Some of the most well-known brands from the Black Forest are Hanhart, Junghans, Laco, and Stowa, most of whom have been around for quite some time now. However, there is also a smaller brand that has more recently been brought back to life. Eza Watches was acquired by a Dutch watchmaker and reintroduced in Pforzheim in 2016, 37 years after their doors shuttered. They’ve since launched some watches with contemporary designs alongside their first heritage model. It’s an interesting brand to keep an eye on. But let’s take a closer look at some of the longer-standing brands from the region.
Hanhart and PIONEER TwinDicator
Hanhart dates back to 1882. It was initially founded in Switzerland, but relocated to the city of Schwenningen some 20 years later. While they still remained close to their Swiss roots, manufacturing was moved to the Black Forest. The company was successful, especially after the founder’s son, Wilhelm Hanhart, joined the company in 1920. Wilhelm was a keen sportsman and sought to create affordable and reliable stopwatches. In 1938, they relocated again; this time to Gütenbach, where they remain to this day.
Around 1938, Hanhart released their first single push-piece chronograph. This marked the beginning of a new era. The brand would slowly become known for their asymmetrical chronographs. Another characteristic feature is the push-piece’s red hue. Many chronographs at the time had a flyback function, and the red button served as a reminder to think twice before pushing it. As the story goes, a pilot set off from home and noticed a push-piece on his watch had been painted red. His wife had used nail polish to mark the watch as a reminder to return home to her safe and sound. Hanhart still uses the asymmetrical and red push-piece on select models.
The PIONEER TwinDicator is the modern version of their original pilot’s chronograph with a flyback function and asymmetrical push-piece. The biggest difference is that the modern version is slightly larger and has an automatic movement. Apart from that, it closely resembles the vintage watch in terms of its dial layout, cathedral hands, and fluted bezel with a red marker. The red marker allows the wearer to quickly determine how much time has elapsed. Another version – also historically accurate – has a smooth bezel. The PIONEER TwinDicator retails for 2,840 EUR (approx. 3,150 USD) on a leather strap and 3,040 EUR (approx. 3,350 USD) on a metal bracelet.
Junghans and Max Bill
Of the three Black Forest brands we’re looking at today, Junghans has been around the longest. Erhard Junghans founded the company in 1861. The company proved very successful and in the beginning of the 1900s, Junghans was the world’s largest clock manufacturer. To get a sense of the scale of their production: Around the time of their 100th anniversary, their 6,000 employees were producing 20,000 clocks and watches every day – quite impressive, to say the least.
The brand sought to improve their designs with the help of Swiss product designer Max Bill. He was a well-known architect, painter, sculptor, publicist, and industrial designer with a vast portfolio. Born in 1908, he studied at the Bauhaus and is one of the founders of Ulm School of Design. Bill is known for using Bauhaus-inspired designs in all of his products. He began by designing kitchen wall clocks for Junghans before turning to wristwatches in 1961.
Today’s Max Bill Automatic is as pure as the designer’s very first watches. This 38-mm timepiece embodies Bauhaus motto of “form follows function.” You can choose between a truly minimalistic version with a long, thin hour indices and short minute markers or a version with only hour indices. Every model resembles Max Bill’s original designs, especially those without a date display. All the watches house the same movement with a 38-hour power reserve. Depending on the configuration, these watches come with a price tag of around 750 EUR (approx. 830 USD).
Stowa and Flieger Classic
Stowa is the youngest brand on this list. The brand name is a portmanteau of the founder’s name, Storz Walter. Initially founded in 1927, Stowa didn’t move to Pforzheim until 1935. Due to bomb raids in 1945, production relocated to Rheinfelden. Today, Stowa’s headquarters are located in Engelsbrand, which is right next to Pforzheim.
In their early years, Stowa produced Bauhaus-inspired watches. Today, these are known as the Antea models. The company also began producing Marine observation watches and large Pilot’s B-watches in 1939. At the time, it wasn’t common practice to put a brand’s logo on a watch’s dial. The designs were truly functional with nothing but the essentials. These early dials featured a triangle with two dots at 12 o’clock and numerals from one to eleven. It wasn’t until 1941 that Stowa designed dials with a seconds scale. The hour numerals then moved centrally and minute numerals were added in 5-minute increments.
The Stowa Flieger Classic without a logo bears the strongest resemblence to the brand’s original pilot’s watch. Of course, they’ve adjusted the size down from the whopping 55-mm original. At 40 mm, the modern watch is now the perfect size. The Flieger Classic is powered by the hand-wound ETA 2804-2 movement and has a 42-hour power reserve. This is truly one of the closest modern interpretations of an original pilot’s watch you can find today, and you can buy it for less than 1,100 EUR (approx. 1,250 USD).
Although German watchmaking has roots in the Black Forest region, other areas have since taken the lead. That said, this region is still home to several brands with rich and impressive histories, and some newer revitalized brands as well. It’s great to see that each of these brands values their heritage. The Black Forest is definitely a region to keep in mind when you’re looking for a new addition to your watch collection.