Sunday, August 9, 2020

Bauhaus Watch Design


Bauhaus Signet adopted in 1921 (Do you see the profile?)

Bauhaus (full name, Staatliches Bauhaus)

Bauhaus was a German art school founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar and operated from 1919-1933, when the newly formed Nazi government shut it down. In 1925, Gropius moved the school to Dessau, its most famous location, where it remained open until 1932.
Bauhaus Dessau - photo by Spyrosdrakopoulos - own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Gropius fled Germany to Britain in 1934, eventually emigrating to the US in 1937. There he created the International style of architecture for government, industrial and commercial buildings. Mies van der Rohe, another founder, who set up a school in Berlin, also fled Germany when Bauhaus was closed, and moved to Chicago, heading the School of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Second Chicago School of architectural style. He and Gropius had the same minimalist concept of plain functional design with simple form following pure function without any ornamental adornment. The buildings they designed have strong visual similarities.

Watch Design

Bauhaus influence on watch graphic design continues a century later. During its period of German popularity from 1918-1933 in Weimar Era Germany, a number of watch makers incorporated the Bauhaus style into the graphic designs of their watches. These carried into the Nazi era until WWII began in September 1939 when watch production shifted to supporting the war effort.
Aristo Bauhaus Dessau 1; caliber ETA 2824-2 Automatic
The style is still seen today in its functional simplicity, with plain hour indices and thin pencil hands. Among German watch companies continuing to make Bauhaus designs from their past is Aristo in Pforzheim, one of the major watchmaking regions in Germany before WWII.
Aristo 7001H8; caliber ETA (Peseux) 7001 Hand Wind
Stowa is in Engelsbrand a few kilometers south of Pforzheim. Both have a long history in the region.
Stowa Antea Hand Wind
Stowa's classic is a recreation of their Weimar Era Antea, but it isn't the only Bauhaus style they offer.

The most widely known Bauhaus dial and hands graphic design came much later, after WWII in 1962, by Max Bill in Switzerland, having studied Bauhaus at the Dessau school from 1924-1927.
Max Bill Handaufzug; caliber J805.1 (ETA 2801-2) Hand Wind
Max Bill's designs came at the behest of Junghans, who asked him to design a series of clocks and watches for them. The original vintage clocks, if they're in excellent condition, go for a princely sum. New ones don't come cheap either.

NOMOS Glashütte, is a latecomer. Located in Glashütte, Saxony, formerly in East Germany (aka DDR), the company was founded in the traditional Glashütte watchmaking region two months after the Berlin wall was toppled.
NOMOS Tangente Hand Wind
The entire watchmaking industry there had been nationalized by the East German Soviet puppet Communists into the state owned VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe. With the fall of East Germany, NOMOS could employ watchmaking expertise now freed from their oppresive Communist dictatorship shackles.

Another newcomer is Laco, which has its roots in Pforzheim, established there in 1925.
Laco Vintage Automatic
Following WWII, Laco, which also founded the Durowe movement company, wasn't very successful in reestablishing itself and was sold to Timex in 1959, which was interested in its Durowe movements. In the mid-1960's, Timex sold the company to a Swiss watchmaking firm who wanted their Durowe movements. The Quartz Revolution took its toll and the company folded with its Swiss parent. During the 1980's they were resurrected and continued for a while with spurts of success, but collapsed again in 2009. After a brief period under Kienzle ownership, they they went under again with Kienzle's bankruptcy. Laco restarted again in 2010 with less than a dozen employees. Since then they've put together a modest watch line, including the Vintage and Wittenberg in traditional Bauhaus style.

Frederique Constant, a Swiss company founded in 1988 by a Dutch couple with the brand now owned by Citizen since 2016, entered the Bauhaus market within their Slimline collection.
Slimline FC-306G4S6; caliber FC-306 Automatic
They're one of the few more affordable Swiss Made mechanical with their own in-house movements, versus relying on ETA or Sellita for them. In addition, there are quartz models at extremely affordable prices.

Other watchmaking companies outside Europe, such as Orient, Japan's #2 watch company in prestige just behind Seiko, have adopted the style in their pieces. Some are in the version three of their second generation Bambino line.
Orient 2nd Gen v3 Bambino; caliber F6722 Automatic
Most recently, their new Maestro line is a Bauhaus style with very narrow hour and minute obelisk hands, a plain needle seconds hand, and no lume on hands or dial.
Orient Maestro on aftermarket Milanese; caliber F6722 Automatic
How do you know if a watch is "Bauhaus"? There's no absolute rigid definition, or they would all look completely identical. After seeing a number of prime exemplars, and the style of their hour indices, the style of their hands, and the style of arabic number font used (those with them) with how they're laid out on the dial, you will know one when you see it. These aren't the only brands and models, there are others.

Form follows function, Bauhaus' basic tenet.

Walter Gropius, 1919; photo by Louis Held
Bauhaus' founder, Walter Gropius, probably had little idea his concepts would be so widely used in wrist watch graphic design a century after he created his school in Germany.

I have no connection with Aristo, Stowa, Junghans, NOMOS Glashütte, Laco, Frederique Constant, or Orient, and have not received anything from them, or from any distributors, dealers or sellers of them in compensation or consideration for my remarks here.

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