Crown & Caliber interviewed Uwe Ahrendt, CEO of the independent watch brand, NOMOS. Read what he had to say about what sets NOMOS apart from other watch brands and what his goal is for NOMOS.
In what ways is the ethos of NOMOS Glashütte similar to that of the Bauhaus movement?
NOMOS Glashütte and the Bauhaus movement share a joint heritage—specifically in the Deutscher Werkbund movement. This association of artists, architects, industry, and artisans predates Bauhaus and is still in existence today; it aims for the refinement of commercial work in collaboration with art, industry and craft, by advocating the combination of craftsmanship and high-tech production methods to make beautiful and functional products with the best techniques. This is an ethos that underpins NOMOS Glashütte’s approach to production, and that also influenced the Bauhaus movement.
What distinguishes the NOMOS customer from the typical Swiss watch buyer? What draws these buyers to the NOMOS brand?
Of course, Swiss watches are renowned around the world, with numerous brands at a range of qualities producing timepieces there. By contrast, Glashütte is a town with a handful of companies committed to producing a relatively small number of high-quality, fine mechanical timepieces. We might be smaller, but Glashütte is also famous around the world.
This means that the typical customer purchasing a Glashütte timepiece is a connoisseur—they are looking for mechanical beauty, not a status symbol. After all, Glashütte is the birthplace of fine watchmaking in Germany. What draws customers to NOMOS Glashütte specifically is our restraint in design, functionality according to the principle “form follows function,” and excellent value for money. The highest quality without compromise—that is the essence of a timepiece from NOMOS Glashütte.
How do you, as a leader, strive to be entrepreneurial in an industry that is steeped in tradition and history?
Yes, mechanical wristwatches are items with history, and not renowned for being on the cutting edge. NOMOS Glashütte has never been a company to follow trends in the watchmaking industry—quite the reverse, in fact! We take inspiration from other areas, such as furniture design and art, and the automobile industry when it comes to technological advances. Of course, the most significant way in which we differ from our competitors is the fact that we make everything ourselves; this means that we can determine the quality—from our watch calibers to packaging and marketing.
Our latest caliber, DUW 3001, is an excellent example of this approach; the tenth in-house caliber from NOMOS Glashütte, it is incredibly slender and features our proprietary escapement, the NOMOS swing system. Both of these technical innovations took years in R&D to realize—and combine modern high-tech and traditional craftsmanship in the finest way.
As a young company, what are you doing to document the history that you are creating at NOMOS Glashütte?
We may be relatively young, founded shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, but we have been around for a quarter century now, and draw on the finest Glashütte watchmaking traditions. And many of our watchmakers are the 5th, or even 6th generation in their family to practice the trade—so we have a wealth of heritage to draw upon.
We have an in-house creative agency responsible for branding, design, and communications—and of course, it also archives what happens at NOMOS Glashütte. But we also have rather creative ways of celebrating milestones—special edition watches. Most recently, for example, we released a special edition to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall: Orion 1989
What differences, if any, exist between Glashütte and Swiss watchmaking regions like La Chaux de Fonds or Geneva?
Well, they are all rather dull small towns in the mountains! So perhaps it makes more sense to underline their parallels. That said, there are a number of Glashütte specialties that can only be found here—such as the Glashütte three-quarter plate and the Glashütte sunburst polishing, for example.
Are there any contrasts between company culture, attitude or approach to craftsmanship between German and Swiss watchmaking?
Of course we can only speak for ourselves, not for other brands. The approach to craftsmanship at NOMOS Glashütte is to carry out as much as possible in-house—right down to the tiniest part of the movement. We produce up to 95 percent in-house, in fact. And we have just presented our tenth in-house developed and produced caliber; this is rare in the world of fine watchmaking, particularly in our price range—as far as I know, we are the only ones to do so.
As a leader, what do you want your legacy at NOMOS Glashütte to be?
That I secured independence for the company, and robustness for the future. We are aiming for healthy, steady growth, but not growth at any price—it has to be sustainable and last for the long-term; just like our watches. Furthermore, NOMOS Glashütte stands for just distribution. I want our company to be successful, and our employees as well. They should be able to enjoy and take pride in their work.
Who has had the greatest impact on you, either personally or in the watch industry specifically?
That would be Roland Schwertner, NOMOS Glashütte’s founder. He came to Glashütte in 1990, only a few days after the Berlin Wall fell, with a vision: reviving the heritage of fine mechanical watchmaking in a modern form. And that’s exactly what he did, and what we are still doing today—the company has grown and grown over the past quarter-century, thanks to its unique combination of high-quality mechanical watchmaking and modern design. This was his original aim, and I still find it inspiring twenty-five years later. Our combination of Glashütte watchmaking craftsmanship and prize-winning design from Berlin is a unique combination, and very different to what all the other watch brands are doing.
NOMOS has evolved from a watch brand to a true manufacture with an impressive range of in-house movements. How do you motivate your team to keep innovating in terms of design and mechanical capability?
With in-house teams dedicated to R&D and product design, I’m glad to say that NOMOS Glashütte has an incredible amount of talent to draw on. Taking good care of our employees is a key priority at NOMOS Glashütte—and we find that they are highly motivated by the fact that we produce excellent, prize-winning watches. We also like to collaborate with selected outstanding designers and technical institutes, which continue to inspire us. So innovation comes from both sources, and it has proved to be very fruitful so far. Among other things, it has produced our tenth in-house caliber, DUW 3001—an extremely flat movement of the next generation. And the collaboration between Glashütte and Berlin, where our in-house design studio is based, is also very productive.