Hanhart Heads West

Hanhart Pioneer Stealth CUIn this feature from our current issue, we profile Hanhart, a Swiss-German company known mostly in Europe — and mostly for its stopwatches — and its plans to bring its wristwatches to the United States. Ever hear of Hanhart? If not, you have company. Hanhart, a watch brand based in Switzerland, with a manufacturing branch in Germany, has until now marketed its products chiefly in German-speaking countries. It has never made a serious effort to woo U.S. consumers. There’s another reason you might not know Hanhart: The vast majority of its output is stopwatches, of which it makes 150,000 per year, both mechanical and quartz, not wristwatches. Of those it makes just 2,500 per year, fewer than any but the tiniest boutique brands. But you should be seeing more of Hanhart soon. Under CEO Thomas Morf, who took the reins in 2010, the brand is expanding internationally. It recently signed up a distributor in the U.S., ABS Distributors in Yorba Linda, Calif. And, if all goes according to plan, there will one day be many more Hanhart wristwatches to sell here and everywhere: Morf says he wants to increase wristwatch production to 25,000 by 2015.

Hanhart's Thomas Morf
Hanhart CEO Thomas Morf

The brand began in 1882, when 26-year-old Johann Hanhart opened a watch shop in his home town of Diessenhofen, Switzerland, near the border with Germany. Twenty years later he moved his business, which by that time included assembling watches as well as selling them, to the town of Schwenningen, over the border in Germany. Schwenningen was the center of Germany’s clock industry. Hanhart’s son Wilhelm took over the business and in the 1920s set it in a new direction: making stopwatches. Wilhelm “Willy” Adolph Hanhart was an athlete – his sport was track and field – and he knew how few affordable stopwatches were on the market. He decided to fill that niche and in 1924, with the help of a watchmaker, designed a stopwatch with a pin-lever escapement, the company’s first stopwatch. The business grew, and in 1934 Wilhelm Hanhart opened a second factory in nearby Gütenbach, Germany, for making stopwatches and wrist chronographs. (Johann Hanhart had died two years earlier.) By then, the firm was making its own movements, including inexpensive, pin-lever ones and higher-priced jeweled movements with Swiss lever escapements. The company kept its factory in Schwenningen, where it made non-chronograph wristwatches. In 1935, it launched a split-second stopwatch.

Hanhart Pocketwatches
Hanhart’s mechanical stopwatches (above) contain the brand’s own movements (below).

Hanhart watchmaker with movement In the meantime, the aviation industry was developing rapidly and with it the need for pilots’ watches. As war loomed in Europe, Germany turned to its watch industry (and to Switzerland’s) to supply its military pilots with chronographs. The first one the Hanhart company introduced, in 1938, was a monopusher model containing caliber 40, a column-wheel movement. By then, two-pusher chronographs had already appeared on the market, and Hanhart’s next chronograph models, caliber 41 and the Tachy Tele, were two-pusher watches. Both came out in 1939. Both also had a feature that would become a signature for Hanhart: a return-to-zero button that was painted red so that pilots would be less likely to push it inadvertently during a flight. Some of Hanhart’s pilots’ chronographs also had a red dot on the bezel at 12 o’clock. This way the wearer could use the bezel, which was rotatable, to time an interval longer than the 30 minutes on the chronograph counter.

Hanhart Monopusher Caliber 40
A monopusher with Caliber 40 from 1938
Hanhart Flyback Chrono w/caliber 42
A 1930s flyback chronograph containing Caliber 42
Hanhart pilots watch w/caliber 42
A 1930s pilots’ watch (above) fitted with Caliber 41 (below).

Hanhart Caliber 41 After the war, the French dismantled the company, which lay in the French zone of occupation, and took most of its machines and design drawings. Willy Hanhart was sent to an internment camp for 10 months. When he got out, he began re-equipping the factory in Gütenbach but then realized, in 1947, that he was about to be arrested again and fled to Switzerland. He returned to Germany two years later. While he was gone, his employees continued to restore the Gütenbach factory, and by 1948 it was once again making chronographs, which included an inexpensive version of the pilots’ chronograph, reference 417 ES. A catalog from 1950 boasts that – with the first quartz wristwatch still nearly two decades in the future – the Hanhart technicians who regulated this watch did so using “astronomically accurate quartz-controlled timing machines.” By 1952, the company headquarters in Schwenningen were also rebuilt and the company was working at full capacity. It was concentrating on making stopwatches and other timing devices, but continued to make some wristwatches. In 1955, it received an order for pilots’ chronographs from the German armed forces. Hanhart also made chronographs for the French military. Continue to page 2…

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  1. Martin Dawson

    My mother bought me a Hanhart Pioneer Tachy Tele last year, its excellent and causes comment when I wear it. It compliments my Omega Speedmaster Snoopy and Hamilton Khaki Field Auto. I like my collection to have a theme and would certainly consider buying another Hanhart in the future. Keep up the good work and best wishes to all at Hanhart.

  2. L.E.Hanhart Bergqvist

    Interesting reading about my family. We sold the factory long before it went into problem. I said that we should restart to make higher quality for the upper segment. But the son Harry Hanhart (my father) wasnt interested of to take ower from his place in Canada where he lived during the rest of his life where he had forrests industri, Interantional timber mills and timber export industries. Harry Hanhart had also shipping industries, ships and some outdoor-companies. Harry Hanhart died 1993 in B.C.Canada.

    Sorry to say that our whole collection of goldwatches and the number 1 of the chronograph watch was stolen for some years ago. The Goldwatch with wakeup function was seen as short ago as for almost a year ago, Sold at Tradera/Sweden to a German collector. BUT THAT IS STOLEN FROM OUR FAMILY ! WE WANT IT BACK ! Yes it was stolen in Sweden and sold from Sweden. My family just have some stopuhren of no value left, the whole collection was stolen. So we are very sorry to say that it can never be replaced and my Goldwatch from 1940 s is gone !

    But we have the old documents still from Schteckborn. The Hanhart camed to Suisse as early as 1521 from Germany and there is some “New” Hanhart now these days.

    However we are still alive but without any original watches. There is still Hanharts living in Canada and in Sweden.

    • Jason Francisco

      Thank you for sharing more about the Hanhart family!
      Very sorry to hear those watches are gone.

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