Kathryn Bishop finds out about the ethics behind the German brand.
The road to Glashütte is a winding one that takes your from the sights of Dresden, past its famous Blue Bridge, and on through vineyards that pepper the hillsides of valleys surrounding the Elbe.
You move through sleepy villages, one surrounding a grand castle that stands perilously on a hunk of rock with windows that look like eyes. The journey follows a river that carves it way into the East Ore mountain region, climbing ever so slightly with every mile, until you take a final corner and emerge into Glashütte stadt, as it is known, a town of around 4,500 people and one main cause – The Watch.
That the locals call it The Watch says how much the watchmaking industry rules this area, home to Nomos Glashütte, A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original and others. The reason I am here, though, is for the first of these – Nomos – a brand that drew me in with its bright dials and unfussy styling when I first spotted it at Basel earlier this year.
Nomos prides itself on being part of the Deutscher Werkbund, a group that operates to promote and combine traditional crafts and industrial mass-production techniques to create objects – whether watches, furniture or buildings – that are design-led, of quality but also affordable and accessible to the average person. And these ethics are evident in everything that Nomos does. In its early years, Nomos established itself as a brand for creatives, worn by architects and those who appreciated design. Today, though, it has grown to be something more.
We arrive at the Nomos factory, a former train station in the town, and are welcomed into a building decorated to be both warm and functional, with floor-to-ceiling windows, quirky furniture and an air of quiet which, upon closer inspection, is the sound of people hard at work.
In the workshops skilled craftsmen and women switch between benches where they work with their hands and machines that use air pressure, oils and computer programs to function. Nomos is about combining tradition with the most advanced watchmaking technology to ensure that while there is precision there is also that human touch to everything it produces.
The route from gear cutting and the creation of tiny screws, through to the adding of the balance wheel and testing of the movements takes place in this small factory space, in rooms of no more than five people, working side-by-side, each a master of their task.
The men and women who work at Nomos explain each of their roles and the processes they oversee. They tell me how the brand has developed, how its bespoke machines can, effectively, run 24/7 and how it all comes together to produce around 18,000 watches a year.
When lunchtime comes around everyone gathers in the downstairs canteen of the smaller, second Nomos manufactory on a hillside further up the town. The walk up to the canteen is a steep one to brave in the chillier East German weather but the delicious home-made style of food makes it worth it. We sit beside the Nomos team eating pumpkin soup, fresh salads and dense rye breads topped with a moreish coleslaws and cream cheeses.
After a cup of coffee we are offered a closer look at the brand’s collections. Seeing the final timepieces you become aware of the enthusiasm and pride that the company, and the rest of Glashütte, have for The Watch. Skills have been handed down, passed on through the family and will continue to do so. They, the real people of Glashütte who are creating timepieces, are what make this region so intriguing for enthusiasts as much as the watches themselves.
Nomos is different to the fellow companies working in the town, however, as its watches mostly retail for under £1,500. And this, teamed with its Deutscher Werkbund ethics, have ensured Nomos has become one of the most popular brands in German-speaking countries.
I think back to my flight out to Dresden and the man sat in front of me, reading the business news and wearing a Nomos as he studied the pages. It caught my eye and I smiled at the thought of him flying home to region where his watch was made. He could have been wearing a TAG, he could have been wearing a Rolex. But he had chosen Nomos and I’m sure it was a talisman for everything he believed in as well.