The conventional mindset when it comes to where watches are made is that Swiss watches are the best, and you can certainly make that argument: Rolex, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Blancpain, and Omega. But even more affordable Swiss brands such as Oris, Longines, TAG Heuer, and Hamilton receive high praise in horological circles. To have a Swiss watch on your wrist isn’t dissimilar from driving an Italian sports car (and some cost just as much). Yet the Swiss aren’t the only ones making watches of high standard. While there aren’t as many German watch brands that get their due, you’d be remiss not to consider them for craftsmanship, technological innovation, materials brilliance, and quality.
Anyone with an eye for good watchmaking will give a nod of respect for your German watch choice. After all, any man with some money and zero watch knowledge can buy a popular Swiss watch, but you have to do your homework when it comes to German brands. These five are as good a place as any to start.
Junghans is based out of Schramberg in Baden-Württemberg, and has been around since 1861. Junghans reached fame by building clocks, and it didn’t start making watches until the 1930s. The watches have changed over the decades, and the brand’s most prominent styles are known for a minimalist but dressy style that’s born from the mind of Swiss designer Max Bill, who adheres to a Bauhaus style that’s unmistakable in horological circles. If your sense of style falls on the modern side, then Junghans Max Bill timepieces are the perfect fit. Not only are the watches straightforward and attractive, but they’re also quite reasonably priced.
Watch To Know: Max Bill Automatic Ref. 027/3500.04
For a pittance, you can have an iconic dress watch that carries forth the Max Bill design language that Junghans has been committed to since the 1950s. The 38mm diameter is just about perfect for this segment, along with a mechanical automatic movement, a dual AR-coated curved sapphire crystal, and some of the most elegant hands in horology against a crisp white dial.
Laco began in 1925 as Lacher & Co. It was one of the five brands that produced pilot watches for the German Luftwaffe, but don’t hold that against the modern version of the brand (you don’t automatically think of Nazis when you think of BMW after all). Its Flieger timepieces retain the classic WWII style and still utilize the same case design of that era, along with thermally blued hands, sandblasted treatment, and the easy-gripping onion crown. Laco isn’t afraid to use Japanese hand-wound and mechanical automatic movements for some entry-level models. It’s also come into the modern age with some handsome tactical timepieces in its Squad line.
Watch To Know: Pilot Watch Original Memmingen
The 42mm hand-wound Memmingen is a watch that looks equally handsome in the office as it does at casual outings thanks to its simple matte black Flieger A dial with crisp Arabic numerals and that iconic triangle with two dots at the 12 o’clock mark to orient the pilot. The riveted leather strap also nods to the past and matches the vintage-style timepiece perfectly.
Although Damasko hasn’t been around as long as some of the others here (it was founded in 1994), it has come a long way in a short period of time. Konrad Damasko’s goal was to build high-quality timepieces that were extremely durable and could withstand treatment and conditions that would embarrass high-end timepieces. Damasko uses submarine steel on its dive watches because it provides excellent corrosion resistance and non-magnetic properties. It’s harder to machine, but Damasko clearly thinks it’s worth it. The brand even ice-hardens the case to 800 Vickers hardness level throughout the entirety of the steel (carbon steel is between 55-120 Vickers, for comparison) and also bead-blast the surface. Damasko went so far as to create its own patented crown decoupling system that’s better engineered than most watches. The brand uses Swiss ETA movements and also now manufactures and assembles its own movements in-house.
Watch To Know: DA38
Just try to find a pilot-style watch that’s this crisp to view and as resilient as the DA38. It has a 40mm ice-hardened, bead-blasted case, a Swiss ETA movement, and its own inner anti-magnetic cage. The DA36 also has AR-coated sapphire glass, a day-date window with a black background, and blue stitching on the thick leather strap that matches the watch’s second hand. It’s one of the best-made tool watches around.
Sinn has a massive cult following in watch circles because of its remarkable engineering. The brand has one of the most expansive ranges of tool watches around, including pilot’s watches (what Sinn calls “instrument” watches), dive watches, chronographs, and dress watches. Similar to Damasko, Sinn employs technologies not used by far pricier brands. Features like submarine steel that’s been hardened via its proprietary “tegimented” process, Ar-Dehumidifying tech that prevents fogging, and DIAPAL lubricant-free anchor escapement that reduces friction and provides greater accuracy over time. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better set of tool watches, German or otherwise, anywhere on earth.
Watch To Know: U50
The U50 is the follow-up to the excellent U1 dive watch but in a smaller (41mm) and thinner (11.15mm) case that provides an impressive 500 meters of depth rating. The Swiss Sellita SW300-1 automatic movement is smooth and provides 42 hours of power reserve. The U50 received accolades from the horological community and sold out of its first batches quickly. I own one, and it might just be one of the most wearable everyday watches I’ve ever encountered.
If you want a truly obscure but much-loved German watch brand with near-peerless functionality, look no further than Glashütte-based Tutima, which started in 1927. Its understated but eminently practical timepieces are no better represented than by the famous 798 Military Chronograph, the official watch of NATO. It was rigorously tested by the German armed forces and approved for international pilot timekeeping duties. Tutima has expanded to more daring designs and colors recently, but it remains true to its reputation for building robust watches with in-house movements and sand-blasted titanium that are less for show and more for real-world use under hard conditions.
Watch to know: M2 Coastline
The M2 is a new line of watches that are less tool-ish and more everyday functional for the wearer. The titanium M2 Coastline is large (43mm) but remains wearable thanks to its smooth tonneau case, integrated bracelet, and the hidden lugs. The crisp hands and markers remain legible in all conditions, and there’s also Superluminova lume and AR-coated sapphire glass. The Tutima Cal. 300 movement is a modified ETA 2836-2 with a day/date complication and 38 hours of power reserve. The price for a watch like this is an absolute steal for you or for that special someone.