If La Chaux de Fonds is the cradle of Swiss watchmaking, then its German counterpart is Glashütte. This idyllic 37-square-mile spot with a population of just 7,000 is home to seven different watch brands running the gamut from the high-end technicalities of A Lange & Sohne to the democratic delights of Nomos.
The brand’s recent history starts (or rather restarts) like so many German brands with the fall of the Berlin Wall; a historic event that brought about, among a great many other things, a renaissance in German design. Taking advantage of this renewed hope was Roland Schwertner, an engineer and computer specialist who bought the name of a now-moribund watch brand, Nomos, and decided to resurrect for a new Germany.
The original Nomos was a mail-order business set up in 1906 by a Swiss businessman called Guido Müller, working alongside his brother-in-law and a watchmaker. It was a success until a rather convoluted series of lawsuits led to bankruptcy. First Lange & Sohne accused Muller of running a marketing con by selling imported Swiss watches under the Glashutte name. Muller subsequently retaliated, via a series of adverts, by exposing all the other Glashutte brands for also using Swiss parts. A judge ruled that although this was true, Muller wasn’t allowed to publicise it and Nomos went under. Eighty years later, is defunct brand was ripe for relaunch.
From the start, Nomos 2.0 adhered to the strict rules of Glashutte that state only companies that make at least 50% of the watch’s movement in the town are allowed to call themselves Glashutte watchmakers. It also tapped into the aesthetics of Bauhaus and the principles of the Deutscher Werkbund. Founded in 1907 and inspired by William Morris’s Arts and Crafts ideology – the anti-industrialist movement to return to traditional craftsmanship backed by economic and social reform – it was still about promoting beautiful, affordable products from small independent designers but without the aversion to technology or machinery. Its main rules were that form followed function and all ornamentation should be excluded.
All of this was evident in Nomos’s first watch, the Tangente. It was plain almost to the point of perversion but there was delight in the detail. The delicate blued elongated hands mirrored in the stretched forms of the Arabic numerals; the movement made in the converted train station it (and still does) call home and that, at the time, all this could have been yours for under £1,000. When the Tangente first came out, watches made to that level of precision and with that level of in-house expertise were the likes of Patek Philippe or neighbours Lange & Sohne and had the price tag to match. This was a truly democratic watch.
The attention to detail and competitive pricing hasn’t changed. Now Nomos keeps its design team in Berlin in a space called the Berlinerblau in uber-hip Kreutzberg, because it believes you’re not going to get much creative stimulation in sleepy Glashütte. The walls there are adorned with experimentations in numeral design, each a millimetre different in places to the last, and incrementally different colour palettes so the staff can make decisions while walking between Vitra-furnished areas. The watchmaking still happens in Glashütte, but has been amped up a notch – now 95% of the parts are produced in-house including making its own escapement; the pulsating heart of the watch that few of even the high-end brands bother to make themselves. The prices may be a little higher than they were in 1990s, but the Deutscher Werkbund spirit lives on in some pretty original, beautifully designed watches.
It has to be the Tetra. It’s square for starters, which is unusual for any watch let alone one for women (by the way, Nomos don’t gender per se, but the Tetra is the only female-oriented collection). It also comes in “almost good enough to eat” colours – from a perky peppermint to a very opulent plum; there’s even a colour range called Petit Four in fondant-fancy-esque shades. But if one had to pick a colour it would be the instant elixir that is the Azure.