Nomos: The Little Brand That Could
From modified ETA movements to in-house calibers within thirty years, Nomos is one of the most impressive manufactures in the watching industry today
In 1990 Roland Schwertner moved into a rented apartment in Glashutte and started laying the groundwork for what would become Nomos Glashutte as for months Roland had been purchasing the rights to several defunct German watch brands with one in particular catching his eye. Aside from the name, there is no connection or lineage between the now defunct Nomos Watch Company and Nomos Glashutte. Nomos' marketing has always been a breath of fresh air so it's nice to see that they don't try and pretend that they are older than they are. They are young and proud of it with no decades old baggage holding them down. I'm sure many of you reading this will have never heard of the original Nomos Watch Company, I too was ignorant before writing this!
Glashutte is a sleepy town that has been the Germany's hub of watchmaking for centuries, today around 15% of the population working in the industry and the brands nestled there are protective of the use of their town's name. Unlike products that are deemed 'Protected Designation of Origin' (Think Champagne from Champagne, Cognac from Cognac and Plymouth Gin from Plymouth) which have to be from that particular location or region, the regulations when it comes to watchmaking are less strict. This is in part to the the very nature of the business as it is exceptionally rare for one manufacturer to be able to produce the entirety of a watch by themselves. There were dial makers and hand crafters, escapement manufacturers and base plate producers that all sold their wares to companies. This multitude of suppliers is necessary for the vast majority of companies to manufacture watches so a little slack must be given when stating the origin of a product.
The term Made in Germany and any region within the country is not controlled or protected by the German government. In comparison the words Swiss Made or any similar phrasing are protected trademarks that are strictly enforced by the Swiss Government and recently we've seen the new influx of scrutiny from the American FTC when companies use the term Made in America. The term Made in Germany was actually first used by the British in the 1800s to protect consumers from counterfeiting and eventually was slowly adopted by German businesses but never officially controlled. It is enforced by German manufacturers who strived to maintain the prestige associated with a German made product, if one manufacturer's product is of a low standard than it is everyone's best interests to reprimand them so the name remains powerful.
By the time Roland Schwertner moved to Glashutte there was an agreement between all the watchmakers nestled in the sleepy German town that at least 50% of the watch caliber must be made in Glashutte to allow use of the town's name. For the first fifteen years, Nomos' imported Swiss made ETA movements that were then modified enough in their Glashutte workshop to qualify for that 50% limit. It might seem strange to think that a Swiss Made Movement can have a German name on the dial and I'm sure some of you have strong feelings about companies using ETA bases in their watches but what Nomos did was perfectly acceptable and within established rules. Nomos' weren't content to rest on their laurels however and they were working on something big.
In 2005 Nomos moved into the former Glashutte train station and released their first in-house movement, Epsilon. This automatic caliber might be only 31mm in diameter and 4.3mm high but it represents a mountain of work that had taken the brand fifteen years to climb. The design of the movement is a twist on the traditional Glashutte 3/4 plate with what Nomos call "Nomos perlage" and much like the watches themselves, the Epsilon is a simple design but it's executed flawlessly to great effect. Nomos continued to push forward with the help of government grants to develop their win proprietary escapement in 2014. The Swing System is perhaps even more of an achievement than the Epsilon as an escapement is easily the hardest part of a mechanical caliber to produce and most companies still purchase theirs from specialized manufacturers like Nivarox.
Despite investing $12,000,000 into the research and development of the Swing System there was not a single price increase when it was introduced into several Nomos calibers. If you're browsing for Nomos watches, any caliber with DUW in the title is fitted with the Swing System and Nomos plans to put it in every caliber. I'll be going into more detail about the Swing System in my upcoming review of the Nomos Metro Datum but let me just say that never has a watch costing $4000 seemed like such good value.
Last year Nomos released the DUW 3001, an entirely new ultra-thin automatic caliber. The concept for an in-house, ultra thin, near-chronometer grade automatic movement was first thought of ten years ago when Nomos started developing the Swing system but only started production in 2012.
Nomos certainly had advantages over other brands who might be trying to become a manufacturer. They are Germany's largest manufacture of mechanical watches but have a relatively small production compared to most Swiss brands so achieving 95% in house production (the springs, rubies, straps and hands are outsourced) was relatively easier. That small production is part of the appeal and charm of the brand as well; you're able to purchase Nomos directly online but there are only a handful of retailers across the US. Nomo' specialization in minimal designs allows them to tweak and perfect their current line without having to worry about a bloated back catalogue. They don't have a dedicated dive watch or a chronograph in their collection, (The Zurich Worldtimer still remains their most complicated watch) but don't think for a moment that there isn't a file somewhere in Glashutte labeled 'Chronograph'.
Nomos have managed to successfully ride the crest of the mechanical watchmaking resurgence in Germany and so far are bucking the gloomy financial trend that grips Switzerland. Last year they saw 30% growth and expect to see more of the same this year. Nomos' small size and focused collection make them the David to Switzerland's Goliath; their strength is their small focused collection of eighty watches that is more nimble than the hulking mass of hundreds of references that some Swiss brands have. The Swing System and the DUW3001 were two piercing stones targeted right at Switzerland, and it's only a matter of time before the third.
- Der Standard (English translation): Uhrenfakrik Muhle-Glashutte insolvent
- DW: 125 years of 'Made in Germany'
- Europa Star: Letter from Germany: Time to Tango
- Europa Star: The German brand that can't stop growing
- Europa Star: Nomos Glashutte, best brand in luxury
- Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry: Swiss and Swiss Made are protected trademarks
- Hodinkee: Introducing the Nomos Metro, With Nomos's New In-House Swing System Escapement
- Hodinkee: Inside Nomos Glashutte
- Watchtime Wednesday: How Watchmaking came to Glashutte
- Monochrome Watches: Nomos Ahoi
- Nomos: Press Release - Facts and figures
- Nomos: The Nomos Swing System
- Quill & Pad: Bravo, Nomos Glashutte! How the Metro Will Change the Watch Game
- Watch Insider: Baseworld 2014: Nomos presents the Nomos Metro, the Nomos escapement called Swing System
- Watchuseek: New Nomos Watches introduced at Baselworld 2010