Several watch manufacturers adorn themselves with a reference to the Bauhaus, especially due to the recent centennial anniversary. But how much Bauhaus is actually to be found in watches today?
The end of World War I marked a new beginning in German history and therefore a new, custom-made style needed to be created, which reflects this new modern era. However, the avant-garde Bauhaus was born into a world, which wasn't ready and simply not open minded enough for so much modernity. It existed for only 14 years in form of the “State Bauhaus” in Weimar (1919-25), as a “school of design” in Dessau (1925-32) and as a "private education institute" in Berlin (1932-33). A more detailed page about the history of the Bauhaus will come soon!
Following the end of World War I and the fall of the German monarchy, Germanys new and liberal Weimar Republic created growing awareness of the importance of industrialization and the desire of modernization among its people. The search for the modern age was drafted in many places and of course one of the most famous place was the Bauhaus school.
The extremely modern and controversial designs and architecture, drafted too early for the politically divided country. The conservative world was not ready for the Bauhaus modernism and was put to an early end by right-wing extremists. Now 100 years later, architecture and product design are still influenced by it.
Bauhaus Dessau, Germany main building
Check out this cool and only 2 minutes long video, if you want to know more about the history of design at the BAUHAUS
Today, 100 years later, the term "Bauhaus" is being associated with everything possible; Companies name themselves after it, shrewd marketers and -architects connect the term "Bauhaus style" to every minimalistic product or cubic architecture you can think of. But what is the "Bauhaus style"?
On the one hand, the principles of the Bauhaus are exactly defined, but on the other hand, they let space for interpretation. Let us have a look at them, by putting together the 7 most important Bauhaus principles in summary:
7 principles of the Bauhaus style:
Decisive for the Bauhaus design is the that aesthetics and artistic expression should be determined by the function of the product. All things must be built out of the simplest forms, using logic and focussing on functionality alone. As Mies van der Rohe, the final director of the last Bauhaus School, said: “honesty of construction, death to decoration”.
"The artist works with the highest level of feeling. The technician works with the highest level of logic." - Marcel Breuer, architect, and furniture designer at the Bauhaus
"So let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavoured to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting, and which will one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of craftsmen as a clear symbol of a new belief to come." - Walter Gropius in the "Manifesto of the Staatliches Bauhaus", Weimar, Germany, 1919. (Link to the full Manifesto at the end of this page)
The Bauhaus has been a revolutionary movement, changing art, design and architecture forever, but where the watchmaking industry has been so far? Among the many items and buildings that were shaped and redesigned by teachers and students at the Bauhaus, there were neither a wristwatch, nor a pocket watch or wall clock. Even though a new watch design would have suited so well into the principles of the Bauhaus, to combine art and craftmanship and reduce it to a minimum for the sake of its function and design, obviously, the inventors of the new Zeitgeist were not interested in the "Zeitmesser" (time measurement instruments) itself.
Bauhaus Exhibition in Weimar 1923, Poster: Joost Schmidt, Source: Wikimedia Commons
As we already know, neither a watch-design, nor an actual watch left the class rooms of the Bauhaus during its time of existence. Furthermore there is no known evidence for a connection between the Bauhaus school and the then existing watch- or dial manufacturers and yet we are talking about "Bauhaus Watches" a hundred years later.
The burning question now is, if the dials of the 1930s were inspired by the Bauhaus or not?
Many German watch- and watch-parts manufacturers were active at the time of the Bauhaus and created watches in the new modern design, leaving behind the heavy art-deco style of the 1920s. The fashion of the new modern era of the 1930s was dedicated to simplicity and rational thought in design and production. Perhaps the dial designs of the 1930s were nevertheless influenced by the shocking waves of modernism, sent into Germany and the world from the Bauhaus School in Weimar.
The German company Weber & Baral from Pforzheim was the largest dial manufacturer in Germany during this time and delivered many watch manufacturers with their dials. The design inspirations came from none other than the founder Arthur Weber himself. For example the design of the famous Lange watch from 1937. Besides Lange & Söhne Weber & Baral also supplied STOWA, whose watches from 1937 show a very similar design language.
These dial designs from 1937 may have been one of the first watches influenced by the design principles of the Bauhaus and have been carried almost a century into the present, where it's still appreciated as modern design. It proves, that simpler and modern watch dial designs were already used during the operative time of the Bauhaus. If Arthur Weber was directly inspired by the Bauhaus remains an open question, but you can be sure, that he didn't miss the new approach of design of this new movement from Weimar.
No watches from Weimar, Dessau or Berlin; Consequently, the term "Bauhaus watch" is questionable, but sure has its "reason for being". During the 1920/30s a new language of modern design was shaped and especially influenced by the spirit and principles of the Bauhaus school.
Let us try to analyze and interpret some brands, which refer their watches to the Bauhaus and the "Bauhaus Stil" in the following .
German watch dials from the 1930's, Picture: ©STOWA
The bestseller of NOMOS is the Tangente and it is often described as the “Bauhaus watch” by its fans, but why is that so and does it deserve to be adorned with this honorable reference?
In 1990 Roland Schwertner, the founder of NOMOS Glashütte SA, was looking for sources of inspiration for slender and functional designs in history books of German watchmaking. The goal was to combine the old and the new streams of watch design from Glashütte. During his research, he discovered images in old books and magazines of some Lange models from the 1930s with a clear Bauhaus influence (as shown before in this article).
Mr. Schwertner recognized the typography’s potential: Inspired by it, he and the graphic designer Susanne Günther modernized the numerals and created the watch to go with it — which was a long process. Even the smallest changes of a design can either better, or ruin it. The first hand-wound model was ready for the market in 1992 and went on to become the best-selling NOMOS model. The relatively young company can be seen as the real mastermind of the trend for clean and minimalistic watch designs in accordance with the principles of the Bauhaus.
In the interview with NOMOS Watch Club Thomas Höhnel, NOMOS product designer at Berlinerblau (the Berlin-based subsidiary of the Glashütte manufactory, responsible for design and marketing of the brand), said:
"We believe that the watches that we make are what members of the Bauhaus movement would create and wear today. Just like back then, we are concentrating on the essentials in our work — from the design of our watches to R&D and caliber production — leaving aside everything unnecessary and refining the elements that remain. So Bauhaus principles can still be found with us today. NOMOS Glashütte is a member of the Werkbund, a precursor to the Bauhaus movement. This association was already focusing on making good design affordable for many."
To celebrate the 100. birthday of the Bauhaus movement in 2019, NOMOS Glashütte created a limited edition Tangente model: three different colors, each available in three sizes (33, 35, or 38 millimeters), each limited to 100 pieces. Inspired by the primary color theory of Wassily Kadinsky, the dials feature a ring of blue, yellow, or red on a dial with the color of vintage sketch paper.
Looking back on the now acquired comprehensible knowledge about the history of the traditional Bauhaus and its style, we can come to the following conclusion and hypothesis: Even though the design wasn't completely newly invented by NOMOS, the NOMOS Tangente can be with no doubt considered as a "Bauhaus watch"; It carries the heritage of the design of the 1930's and combines art and craftsmanship, in form of useful, minimalist aesthetic, which offers a good readability and is free of ornamentation. It features modern watch technology with its in-house movements, high quality and craftmanship standards and it is genuinely "Made in Germany". - Price of the Tangente series (excl. Tangente Sport): 1.460€ - 3.200€ incl. VAT
The German manufacturer Junghans has the closest relation to the original Bauhaus, because of the design of an alumnus of the Bauhaus: Max Bill. He is one of the most famous former student of the Bauhaus in Dessau, where he studied during the years 1927-28. After the closing of the Bauhaus Dessau in 1932 he moved back to his home country Switzerland and continued his work with the Bauhaus ideals as architect, painter, typeface-, industrial- and graphic designer. With the end of the second World War he became rector of the well-known Academy of Design in Ulm. In 1997 the company rediscovered the value of design itself and reissued it under the name of its creator "Max Bill".
The case design of the Junghans watch by Max Bill aims for flatness and absolute minimalism. It can be considered even more minimalistic than the NOMOS Tangente, and crucially pointing out the differences in design of the two most known Bauhaus inspired watches of our time; The NOMOS Tangente picks up on the cubic design language of the Bauhaus, while the Junghans Max Bill has a rather organic- and reduced design. Here Max Bill was respected for having the perfect sense of proportion.
The name printed on the dial of Max Bill watches "Junghans Design" can undoubtedly attributed to its designer, as no Junghans pieces that were designed by the Swiss artist bear that insignia. Original Max Bill watches from the 1960's had the following words printed on the face: "Junghans", "Junghans design", "Junghans Automatic" or "Junghans Meister". The watch company keeps this tradition with its current collection of the "Max Bill" with the original typography he created for Junghans.
"The design of Max Bill distinguishes itself through its clarity and reduction. Concerning the wristwatches, which Bill designed for Junghans in the early 1960s, it is the good clearness of display. Especially outstanding is the typography of the watches with numbered dials, clearly rounded and without embellishment that displays the typical handwriting of the Bauhaus trained artist - this is even more evident, when you take a close look at the number 4" says Matthias Stotz, director of Uhrenfabrik Junghans GmbH & Co. KG.
The Junghans Max Bill collection can be with no doubt referred to the Bauhaus and it might be the one and only "Bauhaus watch", due its undeniable connection to the Bauhaus school. Straightforward design, reduced to a minimum with keeping a good readability and last but not least it was created by a designer, who once learned at the Bauhaus from the famous founding fathers.
The Bauhaus designer has put his signature in a very special place, that most people wouldn't even notice: The number 4 on the dial of watches was always been special, especially when roman numerals were used. It was written as "IIII" instead of "IV" to create a balance between the "IIII" and the "IIIV", the so called watchmakers 4. Max Bill designed a 4 with an unique softly drawn sweep, which reflects the straightforward clarity and the tribute to the importance of typography at the Bauhaus doctrine. - Price of the Max Bill (mechanical): 620€ - 1.745€ incl. VAT
Junghans Max Bill and 027/3500 Bauhaus watch
The German watch manufacturer STOWA was founded by Walter Storz in Hornberg/Kinzigtal, Germany, in 1927. The name derives from "STO" for Storz and "WA" for Walter and it was active at the time of the Bauhaus and also produced watches in the largely so-called "Bauhaus style". In recent years the manufacturer has repeatedly tried to gather more information about the heritage of their design and I couldn't have been happier, when STOWA sent me pictures and materials about it: It is now clear that the watches, which are today called "Bauhaus style watches", all have their origin date from about 1937.
STOWA bought many different dials at Weber&Baral in the 1930's. The Antea from 1937 (first two pictures in the gallery below) has been the inspiration for the models of today’s Antea series. In the STOWA Museum, some of the classics from that era can be seen.
In 2004 STOWA reissued the original Antea watch from 1937 with the "Antea Classic", which you can see on the right. It is produced almost unchanged and in different watch case sizes since then to go with the ravages of time. Manual wind or automatic movement, polished stainless steel watch case, silver-plated dial and blued steel-watch-hands.
STOWA owner and veteran watchmaker Jörg Schauer wanted to modernize the classic Antea watch in 2015; Together with world-famous designer Hartmut Esslinger, who has his origins in the Schwarzwald as well, the new Antea series was developed; Hartmut Esslinger used a font, which has its origins at the era of the Bauhaus. As a result, the watch appears fresher and more modern, but overall more playful.
Due its company history and its early watches from the 1930's STOWA is irrevocably linked with the era of the Bauhaus and their watches can, with no doubt, be considered as "Bauhaus watches". The reissue of the Antea takes that heritage into the present and especially the cream dial version pays great tribute to the original of the 1930s.
The modernized Antea model uses a rather playful font from the era of the Bauhaus and might not be everyone's cup of tea, if you're a fan of the clean and straight German dial design, but it's a successful reinterpretation of the "Bauhaus watch" and it's typical dials. The smoother, curvier numbers and the dot indices reflect the importance of basic geometric shapes at the Bauhaus school. - Price of the Antea series: 690€ - 1.380€ incl. VAT
STOWA Antea Klassik KS and Antea back to bauhaus white Bauhaus watch
The brand STERNGLAS was founded in 2016 and is the youngest brand analyzed in this article, that tries to catch up on the Bauhaus style. It was yet another watch crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, which met with greater interest than expected; More than 100 supporters contributed to the crowdfunding of STERNGLAS to make the project a reality.
"Good design and high-quality timepieces should be affordable and accessible to everyone, according to the traditional Bauhaus concept. [...] These principles are the be-all and end-all for us at Sternglas.” - STERNGLAS
The founder had the mission to create an "affordable watch". That mission is clearly accomplished, but is it an affordable Bauhaus watch with all its Bauhaus principles? I own a STERNGLAS Zirkel automatic myself, so I allow myself to write down my critical opinion about it; Taking a first look to the watches it is noticeable very clearly, that the case designs are extremely close to the benchmarks of NOMOS and Junghans, except the lugs (see second picture in the gallery). The Case of the model "Zirkel" resembles the case of the NOMOS Tangente, and the case of the "Naos" resembles the case of the Junghans Max Bill.
I believe that the dial designs of the STERNGLAS watches seem unimaginative and the typography (which was one of the main principles of the Bauhaus) is very similar to the most standard font in the world "Arial". Neither the case designs, with their similarities to existing brands, nor the cost-effective Japanese automatic movements reflects the combination of art and engineering. Furthermore they describe the movement as a piece of "Uhrmacherkunst" which means "watchmaking art"; At all honors, a Japanese Miyota automatic movement is a good movement, but clearly not "a piece of watchmaking art".
My watch is one of the first models that uses a Japanese Miyota 8217 caliber, which is a rather thick movement (Pic.4: Height comparison of my NOMOS Ahoi and STERNGLAS Zirkel). Luckily they've switched to a Miyota 9015, which makes the new model much slimmer now. The overall built quality of the watches is good, no doubt.
Trying to write a conclusion on STERNGLAS watches turns out to be a quandary and I can just try to reflect my personal opinion; Of course I'm influenced by the “Haute Horlogerie”, the "fine art of watchmaking", that comes with a high price tag and in addition to that, being an alumnus of the Bauhaus-University myself, I look very critically at any new product, which refers itself to the Bauhaus. In my opinion their marketing is misleading, if you're not aware of traditional German watchmaking and the principles of the Bauhaus doctrine. Maybe I would be more modest in this conclusion about STERNGLAS, if I wouldn't have been targeted by STERNGLAS Ads screaming "Bauhaus watch" on every social media feed possible.
Having said the above, I'd also like to say something positive about STERNGLAS watches: They are very affordable time pieces. It was a goal of the founder to make them "affordable-", "mass producible" like one of the Bauhaus principles. In addition, I pay tribute to the honesty of STERNGLAS, considering that they don't use "Made in Germany" on their dials, even though it is not controlled by a central regulatory body. Even the packaging in Germany alone can be reason enough for some brands to call their products "Made in Germany".
The ambitions of the founder with all due respect, in my opinion the reference to the Bauhaus reflects solely in the price tag and the minimalistic design. It uses too much of existing designs and presents too less of originality and no profound aesthetics. Still, they are more than affordable automatic- and minimalistic watches for the buck, that try to catch up with the established Bauhaus style. A STERNGLAS watch can be the start of a long journey in the world of minimalistic designed watches. - Price of the Zirkel- and Naos automatic series: 369€ - 499€ incl. VAT
STERNGLAS Zirkel (top) and Naos (bottom), Picture: ©STERNGLAS
The above mentioned quote from the novelist George Orwell summarizes this investigation and comment on the topic quite well. The term "Bauhaus style", "Bauhaus watch" or German "Bauhaus Uhr" is omnipresent these days and many want to jump on the bandwagon since long time. As an architecture alumnus of the Bauhaus University Weimar myself, I feel obligated to explore, investigate and comment on this topic.
Even though we have learned the bitter truth, that neither a wristwatch, nor a pocket watch or wall clock, have left the famous classrooms and workshops of the Bauhaus between the years 1929-33, the term and the myth "Bauhaus watch" has a reason and "reason for being". The revolutionary design language of the Bauhaus has influenced many manufacturers in Germany and the world. Until this day, we try to create a new and great design, following the principles that the Bauhaus school has shaped more than 100 years ago, to improve the world and the products we create.
Thank you for reading!
Special thanks to all the brands that have provided all the necessary informations and pictures: NOMOS Glashütte, Tecnolumen, Junghans, Stowa, Sternglas, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin and 100 Jahre Bauhaus.
Prices were taken from the brands German online shop on 01.02.2020 incl. VAT
NOMOS Tangente 38 Date on Neufert "Bauentwurfslehre" construction book, Picture: ©NOMOS Watch Club
This interesting essay by Katarzyna Martinovic tries to assess, which of the Bauhaus principles prevailed in turning it into one of the most influential art movements of the 19th century.
Trademark conflicts over the "Bauhaus" have been around for 40 years. What are the consequences for the legacy of the most famous architecture and design school? (German Article in Süddeutsche Zeitung)
In the "Manifesto of the Staatliches Bauhaus", Walter Gropius wrote down the school’s mission in April 1919; Architecture, sculpture and painting were to lead back to the crafts, the original source of creative design.