Rome wasn’t built in a day — and neither was Rolex, Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre and other watch manufacturers praised for their vertical integration and lauded for their array of in-house calibers. While we all applaud the handful of brands that bring new and increasingly complicated calibers to market virtually every year, we also should take note of other brands, many of them smaller, independently owned, or known throughout their history more for outsourcing their movements, that are taking a more incremental approach. In this series of articles, we take a look at five brands — three Swiss, two German — that are taking it slow and steady. This week, we take a look at the second of the two German brands on our roster, Glashütte-based Nomos.
While Tutima — the watchmaker we covered last week — has only recently returned to the Saxon watchmaking hub of Glashütte, its roots there stretch back to 1927. Nomos, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer, founded in 1990, just two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Known for its youth-oriented marketing and minimalist Bauhaus designs — not to mention its multiple Red Dot Design Awards — Nomos began its program of in-house movement making in 2005, introducing both the manual-winding Alpha caliber and the self-winding Epsilon. The ambitious brand began following both up with increasingly complicated variants over the ensuing years. On the manual-wound side, there was Caliber DUW 4101 (the initials stand for Deutsche Uhrenwerke), which introduced both a patented date mechanism and the now-ubiquitous Nomos Swing System, an innovative, in-house-devised escapement recognizable for its tempered blue balance spring.
A flurry of other manual-wound movements equipped with this system followed in quick succession — DUW 4301, with a patented power reserve indicator inspired by a car’s fuel gauge; DUW 4401, combining this indicator with the date mechanism; DUW 1001, produced exclusively for Nomos’s most luxurious model, the gold-cased Lambda, and boasting an 84-hour power reserve in two barrels; and DUW 2002, which features the same long power reserve as the DUW 1001 and is tonneau-shaped to fit snugly in the brand’s Lux model.
The Epsilon movement begat the Zeta, which added a date function to the hours, minutes, and small seconds. Following these came the first self-winding movements equipped with the Nomos swing system, which included the DUW 5001 (small seconds), DUW 5101 (small seconds and patented date), and DUW 5201, with an added world-time function, used in the Zurich World Time and Tangomat GMT models.
By 2015, the swing system was beating at the heart of the ultra-thin, automatic Caliber DUW 3001, which made its debut in the neomatik 1st edition models (notable for their Champagne-colored dials). At just 3.2 mm thick, this next-generation movement also boasts a proprietary gear train, optimized by changing the order, angle, and number of teeth, thus raising its efficiency to 94.2 percent. Almost all the watchmaking parts, including an extra-flat ratchet wheel, are made of a special low-friction alloy and inserted between the base plate and the traditional Glashütte three-quarter plate, where the construction space is only a millimeter in height.
Caliber DUW 3001 has gradually been extended to nearly all of Nomos’s watch families, including the elegant, round-cased Tangente, the square-cased Tetra, the smaller-sized Minimatik, and the diving-inspired Ahoi. A slight adjustment of Caliber DUW 3001 — separation of the seconds display from the central hands and relocating it to a subdial — birthed the offshoot Caliber DUW 6101, which powers the Autobahn models launched at Baselworld 2018.
To read last week’s feature on the in-house movements of Tutima, click here. And tune in next week when we return to Switzerland and explore the growth of Manufacture Tudor.