Q&A: Nomos Glashutte MD Uwe Ahrendt

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Nomos boss talks in-house production, prices and keeping it simple.

Nomos Glashütte is the small-scale watch brand becoming big news in the UK with its smart and functional yet affordable timepieces. Kathryn Bishop catches up with managing director and head of the technical department Uwe Ahrendt to find out more about this industrious German brand.

Glashütte is a German town with a history of watchmaking that dates back more than 150 years, founded by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, but its march into watchmaking history was temporarily hobbled when World War II and the GDR dried up production.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, Lange’s great-grandson Walter Lange returned to the town with a handful of entrepreneurs who were ready to revive the old watchmaking trade of east Germany. One of those in Lange’s posse was Roland Schwertner, the founder and chief executive of Nomos Glashütte, who back in 1990 sketched out the first Nomos designs that led to the brand we know today.

Two decades later and Nomos has spread itself across the world, selling in Switzerland, Austria, the UK, France, Spain and China. And the brand now has its sights set on the US.

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In terms of product development, Nomos has kept its offer to a streamlined seven lines, with an entry price point of just £910 for a mechanical watch, and last year it began pushing into new realms with its Zürich Weltzeit and Tangomat GMT.

While the brand is pushing into new markets and products, it intends to remain firmly grounded in tradition, as MD and head of the technical department Uwe Ahrendt tells us.

WatchPro: How do you keep your watches so affordable when you use in-house movements?
Uwe Ahrendt: We calculate everything. To date, for example, we have made about 60,000 or 70,000 of our Tangente watches and hope to make more, but in order to do this we consider everything: it’s about the construction, tools, design. We have a small sales department, a small advertising department and they ensure we have enough money. We have the technology to produce watches 24 hours a day and all of these points mean Nomos can produce a watch for €1,000.

WP: Would you ever consider charging more for your watches?
UA: No. We price them based on every aspect of how they’re made – the people at Nomos, the mechanics, the office, the materials and they are priced based on this. We look at not what we can make for it but what we can make, and is it ok?

WP: Nomos appears to have close relationships with its customers – do you have Nomos collectors group or a club that allows you to get to know them better?
UA: We have a Nomos club and a forum on the internet that collectors use, and we get a lot of three- or four-page letters from people telling us how much they love the brand. We have had poems too. 10 years ago the Nomos customer was an architect or designer, all black clothes, but today its people of all professions. We say we produce watches for people who are literate, not for people with a big car, not like other brands do.

WP: Nomos operates at a particular price point, but will it get gradually more complicated and therefore more expensive?
UA: No, the main thing is the quality and the service and the good price range for Nomos. Producing good mechanical watches in this price range is important. No higher prices, no tourbillons.

WP: Are you planning to make variations on your existing watches or design new models?
UA: We do both already. We have produced watches for women in recent years and produced new watches like the Zurich two years ago and the Club that was launched three years ago.

WP: You also create limited-edition lines, for example the Tetra watches have has dials decorated with roses and the Tangomat has had colourful, checked dials that look like gingham blankets. When and why do you produce these?
UA: That’s to make interesting things for our customers. The Tangente is 20 years old, so is the Tetra. In my opinion it’s important to show what Nomos do with different colours and design.

WP: How is Nomos sold in Asia? Is it through department stores or standalone stores? We’re often told brands sell better in their own stores in Asia.
UA: In Hong Kong we have retailers who work much like Germany and the UK with displays in the window of stores. In China it’s the department stores and you need a space of 12sqm to 16sqm and your neighbours are Audemars Piguet, Glashütte Original and Longines. That’s how we sell there.

WP: Are there any Nomos shops or plans to open standalones?
UA: There are only two, one in Glashütte and one that we opened in Zurich in 2010. We don’t have plans to open more stores yet; two is enough.

WP: Have you ever considered creating a line of quartz watches to reach more customers?
UA: No. Nomos is Glashütte and Glashütte is mechanical movements, higher quality and for me it’s a forbidden combination to put a quartz movement into a Nomos case. You can’t take a mechanical movement away from the watch; it doesn’t have the same life. The movement is its heart.

WP: Is it correct that if a customer approaches you about a watch that might be held in your archive or is an older style and they want to buy it, that you will sell it to them for its original price, not at today’s price?
UA: Yes, when you find an old watch in our archive, it’s the old price, whether five or 10 years ago. When we make a price we freeze it.

WP: Do you ever have price increases then?
UA: The biggest price increase we have had was in 2005, when we changed over to our own in-house automatic and mechanical movements. That price change was immediate; we made a cut and went from there.

WP: And why did you decide to start making movements in-house?
UA: It was an idea from Roland, the founder, to produce more in Glashütte. It was his strategy from the beginning. Originally we got our movements from Switzerland but we began to replace the movements part by part. It was his plan from the beginning but it needed that 15 years so everything was complete in 2005, all ready to go.

WP: It is interesting how rooted watchmaking is in Glashütte. How does it fit into the community? .
UA: The employees come from Glashütte as a town. They are people who finish watchmaking school, and every year they enter the profession. People need tradition, Glashütte is an old tradition, it’s a place that tradition has come back to; when the Berlin wall came down there were people here who still knew the old trade who were able to re-train us.

 

This article has been taken from the February issue of WatchPro magazine. To view a digital version of the issue click here.

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