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Mühle-Glashütte: Precision Instruments

While a handful of long-extant watch companies can boast a history that includes making various types of precision instruments, very few can say they still manufacture anything other than their primary wristwatch-centric product line. And it’s quite admirable for any company to concentrate on the products that serve its core identity.

In the case of German-based Mühle-Glashütte, however, that identity was long-forged first as a maker of high-quality precision instruments such as measuring tools and marine chronometers, and only more recently as a manufacturer of its own line of wristwatches.

Indeed, for more than a century, this fifth-generation family business focused its quantitative and qualitative talents on creating, among other items, the very products watchmakers rely on for the very tight tolerances demanded at the watchmaker’s bench.

In fact, when Robert Mühle founded his company in 1869 in Glashutte after training with legendary watch manufacturer Moritz Grosmann, Muhle made his mark quickly among local watchmakers by making instruments that measured according to the metric system, which had just replaced the more traditional Paris line measurement system.

As a result, Robert Mühle is remembered even today for his contribution to Glashütte’s long-standing reputation as the center of the German watchmaking industry.

Early years

The Mühle family business expanded quickly in the early decades of the twentieth century. The company’s instrumentation reached the oceans as ship’s chronometers. On land the company added its expertise to the dashboards of top-flight touring cars and racecars. Mühle-Glashütte also made a wider and wider range of ship and automotive timers and navigation gear, as well as gears and drives for industry and clock mechanisms and counters for technical and scientific purposes.

Robert Mühle’s sons Paul, Alfred and Max continued to successfully manage the company until it was expropriated in 1945.

However, thanks to the third and fourth  generations of Mühles, the family name continued to be associated with precision measuring. When Hans Mühle died in 1970, his son Hans-Jürgen Mühle took over the business, which despite the political circumstances in East Germany was still privately owned. Hans-Jurgen then founded in 1994 the company that his son Thilo now operates.

Modern Era

Under Thilo Mühle’s leadership Mühle-Glashütte has expanded its renown well beyond its German borders among watch enthusiasts—including a watch retailer named Jeff Hess, who today distributes the brand in North America.

I first started my relationship with them back in the 1990s after a visit to Inhorgenta, the big German watch and jewelry show in Munich that is usually held a few months before Basel, recall Hess, who also distributes Ball Watch and operates Old Northeast Jewelers in St. Petersburg, Florida.

I fell in love with the clean dials and fine craftsmanship and started special ordering watches. One, a platinum-bezel watch, has since become kind of a cult hit I understand. I developed a relationship with Hans-Jürgen Mühle and admired his willingness to experiment but always with quality in mind.

Hess began distributing Mühle-Glashütte, and today offers the company’s watches via about twenty-two retail stores, including his own. We want to keep distribution exclusive, he explains. We are currently looking at adding about seven to nine more stores in the United States. Thilo Mühle runs a tight ship and the output is naturally low for now.

According to Hess, his success with the brand in the United States is due to its dedication to the long Mühle-Glashütte tradition of fine craftsmanship, but with the added benefit of appealing design.

Those who appreciate a Bauhaus simple clean design love these watches, he adds, noting that Mühle-Glashütte collectors tend to be exacting, realists and independent thinkers.

But there is much more to appeal to collectors beyond the clean dial and case design. Over the past decade, Mühle-Glashütte has greatly enhanced ETA, ETA Valjoux and Sellita automatic movements with an in-house, fully customized German-style swan neck regulation system and also with a strong ¾-plate bridge, preferred by many Germany manufacturers.

Many of the firm’s automatic models also feature an in-house designed and crafted Mühle-Glashütte oscillating weight, or rotor. The rotor is characterized by four gold-plated rivets that connect a heavier semicircular outer ring with the engraved middle segment, which itself features a low-friction ball bearing. Given the wholly new three-quarter plate, the in-house regulation system and the specially made rotor, this Mühle-Glashütte’s chronograph movement is named MU9408, a caliber mark stamped on every movement.

For those who enjoy winding their watches, the firm in 2011 added a distinctive manual-wind caliber, MU9411 (based on ETA 2804), which of course includes the same Mühle-Glashütte-designed regulation woodpecker-neck regulation system.

Newest models

In addition to the classically styled Teutonia II Chronograph that can be seen on the cover of this issue, many of the newest Mühle-Glashutte models feature sporty profilesand are made for rugged use.

The Marinus collection is, as its name suggests, styled for nautical use and in its most recent debut includes a three-hand date model and a GMT edition.

One model of the Marinus Chronograph was developed as a limited special edition for an Arctic decathlon, the Fulda Challenge.

Also for the sea-borne, the new S.A.R. Rescue-Timer celebrates ten years of Mühle-Glashütte watches accompanying the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service during its missions.

The newest edition of the S.A.R. Rescue-Timer, with its 4mm-thick sapphire crystal, is capable of withstanding extreme pressures to up to 100 meters, and its shock-proof automatic movement, fitted with the Mühle precision regulator, can handle sharp impacts.

Not all Mühle-Glashütte models are nautically centered however. Two other new chronographs include the earth-bound Terranaut I Trail and the aviation-inspired Terrasport I Chronograph, additions to the company’s range of Sporty Instrument Watches.

The latter piece combines the German Flieger cockpit instrument look with the qualities of Mühle chronographs. The design itself is reminiscent of the classic Glashütte pilot’s watches of the first half of the 20th century. (For details of additional Mühle-Glashütte watches, see the rest of this article and find the brand online at.muehle-glashuette.de.)

This year, expect more sporty pieces from the brand. iW will bring you all the details during live online BaselWorld coverage.

What Glashutte-area watchmaking characteristics can be seen in Mühle-Glashütte watches?

Thilo Mühle: We have been producing measurement instruments in Glashutte for more than 140 years. As is reminiscent of this traditional watchmaking heritage, we combine elements that stand traditionally for high-quality watches made in Glashutte with our own typical Mühle parts. Typical Mühle parts are, for example, the characteristic Mühle rotor and our patented woodpecker neck regulation. This regulation guarantees the accuracy of the mechanism even under the harshest conditions. With the Glashütte three-quarter plate and typical surface finishing, we are keeping Glashutte’s watchmaking tradition alive.

Do you continue to manufacture automobile instruments?

No, Muhle produced automobile instruments like car clocks, speedometers and rev counters for cars like Maybach and Horch just from the 1920s to the 1930s.

What other instruments do you make?

When my father re-founded the company in 1994 under the name Mühle-Glashütte GmbH Nautische Instrumente und Feinmechanik, he started to manufacture nautical instruments, maritime time systems, and marine chronometers in the Glashutte tradition with subsidiary second. Even if wristwatches are by now our main focus, the manufacture of maritime time systems is still an important part of our business.

How does that instruments side of your company influence how you make and design your wristwatches?

Above all, we see wristwatches as instruments for measuring time. For us, the most important function of a watch is to read the exact time at one glance. For this reason we concentrate on clarity of display and on the reliability and precision of our movements.

What makes a Mühle-Glashutte watch special for a buyer in the United States?

With a Mühle-Glashütte watch you are always buying a piece of German watchmaking heritage. And that’s what Mühle is about. As a family-run company with a long tradition of producing measurement instruments, we offer the quality Glashütte is famous for combined with our family philosophy.

t’s very important to us to develop watches that don’t just look good, but that fulfill their elementary function under all conditions: the precise measurement of time in the office or on board a maritime rescue vessel.

How large is the marine instrument portion of the company?

Even though we started with maritime instruments, today wristwatches have turned out to play the most important role for us. But the maritime instrument portion still is an important part of our heritage – and a portion that constantly grows. Besides the marine chronometers for sailing ships and yachts, we also equip cruise ships like the AIDA and others with maritime time systems. All our maritime instruments are available in the United States too.

How many retail stores carry your brand in the United States?

Our wristwatches can be purchased in ten states of the United States. Our wholesaler as a market insider building up the distributor network. He assesses whether possible retailers are suitable representatives for our brand. The United States is an important future market for us, but it’s part of our philosophy that quality is more important than quantity. That’s why we are extending our network of retailers step by step.

Are certain models more popular in the United States than in other markets?

One of the models that is very popular in the United States is the S.A.R. Flieger-Chronograph. Probably because of its fascinating story: We developed this flight chronograph in cooperation with the rescue pilots of the German Navy. So it’s not just a sporty watch - it’s designed for everyday real heavy-duty use.

Do you design your watches?

We design most of the watches ourselves. The maritime wristwatches like the S.A.R. Flieger-Chronograph or the S.A.R. Rescue-Timer, which are designed for duty, are inspired and influenced by the need of the people wearing the watch in their everyday working life. But even with these watches, you always recognize what inspires our design in general: purity, clarity and the readability of the time at one glance.

Do you have  company ambassadors ?

We don’t have a marketing or company ambassador since it’s our goal to let our watches speak for themselves and for the values they stand for.

Is there anything else you would like watch buyers in the United States to know about Mühle-Glashütte?

We plan to introduce a number of new and exciting innovations to our collection of high-quality time measuring instruments and our range of sporty instrument watches over the next year.

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