Seven years later, the company stopped making wristwatches entirely and devoted itself to making stopwatches. It would become the world’s biggest manufacturer of timing devices, according to Lucien Trueb, author of “The World of Watches.” In 1963, it opened an additional factory in Neukirch, Germany.
During the industry’s shift to quartz technology in the 1970s, Hanhart tried to keep pace. It developed a quartz movement in the early 1970s, then, as low-priced quartz movements began pouring out of Asia, came up with its own inexpensive movement, Caliber 3305, to compete with them. Hanhart sold 40 million units of this caliber, which it introduced in 1982. But, like most of the watch industry in Europe, Hanhart was ultimately defeated by competition from cheap quartz watches made in Asia, and the company nearly went bankrupt, Trueb writes.
In 1992, a group of investors acquired control of the company and closed the Schwenningen factory, consolidating production in Gütenbach. (Willy Hanhart died in 1986; his son-in-law, Klaus Eble, took over as manager in 1983.) The mechanical-watch renaissance was under way, and Hanhart responded to consumers’ growing interest in vintage mechanical models by bringing out military-styled pilots’ chronographs like those it had made during WW II and the following years.
These included a limited-edition reproduction of the well-known caliber 41 watch from 1939. The watch, made in a series of 2,500 pieces and introduced in 1997, had a case and dial identical to the original and a movement made by ETA. The watches sold out quickly, the company says, so it soon followed up with a reproduction of the Tachy Tele. In 2003, Hanhart launched the Primus, a monopusher chronograph inspired by the caliber 40 monopusher from 1938. Eventually Hanhart issued reproductions of all its well-known pilots’ watches. To mark its 125th anniversary in 2007, it brought out a limited edition (39 pieces) watch called the Opus 41. It had a platinum case and contained an original caliber 41 movement.
In 2008, the company established an affiliated company, Hanhart AG, in Diessenhofen, very near where Johann Hanhart had opened his store 126 years earlier. Hanhart AG handles management of the brand, along with marketing and distribution of the company’s wristwatches and its ClassicTimer mechanical stopwatches. The ClassicTimer collection is aimed at drivers in vintage-car-rallies. The Gütenbach branch of Hanhart, named A. Hanhart GmbH & Co. KG, handles the engineering and manufacturing of professional stopwatches and some wristwatches. Morf, former head of Carl F. Bucherer, oversees both Hanhart AG and A. Hanhart GmbH & Co. A Swiss private-equity company called the Gaydoul Group AG has a majority interest in Hanhart. Morf also has an ownership stake in the company.
There are two principal Hanhart wristwatch collections: Pioneer and Primus. The Pioneer collection contains vintage-inspired models that borrow heavily from Hanhart pilots’ watches of the mid-20th century. The Primus collection is more modern-looking. Many Hanhart models have the red chrono pushers and grooved bezels found on the old pilots’ watches. Most of the current models are true to the original pieces in that they are bicompax styles. There are monopusher models that hark back to the caliber 40 watch of 1938. Nearly all are chronographs, containing modified ETA or Sellita movements. Prices range from about $2,500 to $8,000, with limited editions priced at about $10,000.
Starting this year, the company will be using a special type of steel for its wristwatch cases: HDS, which, the company says, is 100 times more scratch-resistant than normal steel.
WatchTime’s September-October issue is still on newsstands. To get a glimpse of the other stories you’ll find there — including tests of the Rolex Explorer and Breitling Transocean — click here.
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