On the Origin of the Species: Made in Germany
Last week I wrote about the laws that American, British and Swiss watchmakers have to follow when putting a designation of origin on their watch. This time, let's talk about Germany
Just like 'Swiss Made', the term 'Made in Germany somehow increases the quality and reputation of a product by its sheer presence. Our brains automatically conjure up that German stereotype,obsessed with order, detail and precision and German manufacturers know this, Audi and VW (until recently) use 'Vorsprung durch Technik' und 'Das Auto' to drive home their Germanic origins. It wasn't always this way and the term 'Made in Germany' was manufactured in Great Britain.
In 1887, the same year that Edouard Heuer patented the oscillating pinion, the British Parliament passed the British Merchandise Marks Act, essentially a 'Buy British' scheme. The Government had been concerned that foreign companies were undermining British business by producing cheap knock-offs of quality English products so forced them to stamp the place of origin on their goods if they were to be sold in England. The act was particularly aimed at German producers of knives, cutlery and scissors whose apparent lower quality goods were threatening the higher quality produce made in Sheffield. (The only product of high quality coming out of Sheffield now is Sean Bean).
Unfortunately this designation of German origin would backfire when Britain stopped producing quality goods
The German economy and infrastructure was decimated after World War II and the subsequent cleaving of the country meant that West Germany could not compete with the mass-produced goods coming out of America; instead West Germany began to focus on low production, high quality goods and suddenly the black mark of 'Made in Germany' was a badge of honor that consumers would look for when searching out superior goods. (The only product of high quality coming out of Sheffield now is Sean Bean.)
Currently the term 'Made in Germany' is not controlled by any regulatory body which is quite a difference from their Swiss neighbours and even further from American legislation. In 1995, the Stuttgart High Court stated using 'Made in Germany' when the majority of materials were sourced from outside the country could be misleading; however no laws were passed so a German company could technically still have 90% of the product made in China, have the remaining 10% made in Germany and still use 'Made in Germany'.
In 2012, the EU released a statement suggesting tighter restrictions for a German designation of origin which would raise the requirements to having at least 65% of the components be of German origin and having at least 45% of the production value coming from German labor. Fortunately for German manufacturers, bureaucracy moves slowly so as of yet these suggestions have remained suggestions.
There are however rules that govern the use of one particular German town that nestles deep in the mountains of Saxony. Glashutte.
Ever since the rejuvenation of the town of Glashutte by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in the 1840s, the town and the brands that reside there take great pride in the name Glashutte and the quality associated with it. In the early 1900s, Lange sued the Nomos Watch Company (No direct association to the present Nomos) as they believed that Nomos' use of Swiss movements without proper embellishment or modification and use of the Glashutte name was undermining the town's name. Nomos lost and went out of business.
In 1992, after the reunification of Germany, the town of Saxony and the returning brands agreed that in order to use the name Glashutte, at least 50% of the value must come from within the town's borders. This means that the movement can be of German or Swiss origin but it must be exceptionally decorated or technically modified to where it is unrecognisable from before.
It hasn't been a smooth ride as in the 1990s Nomos were sued as their competitors who believed that the use of ETA and Peseux movements without significant modification didn't quality for the use of Glashutte. Almost twenty years later and Nomos produce several in-house in Glashutte and even took another manufacture to court themselves for not making sure 50% of the value came from the town. Given the history of litigation with the Nomos name, it's ironic that it's Greek for law.
So what next for Germany? Well if that EU suggestion becomes law then we might see a price increase in across German brands however seeing as they are typically of such great value to begin with, any increase in price will only puts them next to their Swiss competitors.