The Laco Story
Our recent visit to the Laco Factory in Germany's stunning Black Forest has inspired us to recant the brand's fortuitous story - a tale which buckles and twists its way 91 years into the past.
Let’s wind the clock back to 1925, the year Frieda Lacher and Ludwig Hummel founded Lacher & Co, Laco's earliest incarnation, in Pforzheim, Germany. For 200 years, the town's watch and jewellery making industry had blossomed beyond belief, to the extent that it was regarded as ‘Goldstadt’ or 'Gold town'.
Lacher & Co fitted Swiss-made watch mechanisms into their own hand-crafted casings - which satisfied clients and customers, but neither founder. Within years of launching, they went their separate ways. Lacher established the Erich Lacher Uhrenfabrik factory with her son, remember that name, which designed precision watch parts - wheels, pinions and such like.
Meanwhile, Hummel maintained Lacher & Co. while collaborating on new lines with Pforzheim's renowned watchmaking community. 1933 saw him launch the Durowe-Deutsche Uhren-Rohwerke company, to supply Lacher with pallet anchor mechanisms with clutch winds. For the very first time, the young Laco brand no longer relied on Swiss technology to function. Their timepieces were now, albeit temporarily, German through-and-through.
Laco came into its own during the Second World War, as one of only five companies who engineered Laco Aviator Watches for the German military. Few rivalled their precise Durowe 22 line pallet bridge movement.
But the devastating Allied bombings of Pforzheim in 1945 put paid to that. The conflict reduced 80% of the town to rubble in 1945, including factories, and killed over 17,600 people. It took both Lacher & Co and Erich Lacher Uhrenfabrik four years to recover.
It was thanks to the economic Marshall Plan, that Hummel returned to his feet. With help, he built a new five-story property to house both his businesses under one roof. During the 50s, Laco-Durowe watches, as they became known, were the height of German fashion. In these early days, Laco spearheaded the latest developments in wristwatch technology.
By 1952, its 1,400 strong workforce was producing 80,000 reliable and quality movements a month – including one of the first German automatic watches, a prototype electric watch, and the slimmest German automatic ever. The 'Planomat' was a microscopic 4.6mm. In 1957, the Laco-Chronometer was developed with a manual wind, in an attempt to repeat the previous success of Laco Aviator Watches.
It was Laco's advances in electronic timepieces that caught the eye of the US Time Corporation (Timex), who bought Laco-Durowe in 1959. But after launching Germany's first electric watch, the 'Laco-Electric' in 1961, Timex split the Laco-Durowe brand once and for all. Durowe was passed on to Swiss Firm Ebauches S. A, while Laco was left to barely tread water during the Japanese Quartz revolution.
Help, and ultimately survival, came from a dear old friend. Remember the aforementioned Erich Lacher Uhrenfabrik company? Laco’s sister brand acquired the rights to Laco's name and logo in the 1980s, which poetically united two halves of the original whole for the first time in over 55 years.
Ever since, Laco have reverted to their original roots and traditional values – to produce German watches by hand, powered by the Swiss movements at their heart. For example, in 2010, Laco stripped their workforce to an eight strong core of experts, who refocused on craftsmanship and professionalism over quantity.
To celebrate their milestone 75thanniversary in 2000, Laco released 75 limited edition pilots watches with 55mm case diameter. Designed to mimic the Laco Aviation watches of the 1940s, using the original Durowe D5 movement which contained 80% original parts, they appeared carbon copies of the originals.
Collectors were treated to 85 exclusive pieces of precision German engineering again, in 2010. The same year, Laco refined past triumphs like the Flieger-Uhren, and launched over two dozen new models to market.
As diamonds form under immense pressure, so it seems that Laco overcame immense odds to survive, thrive, then lead the German watch industry. To this day, under stewardship of CEO Uwe Rücker, every single Laco watch is attentively crafted and inspected by hand.
Despite everything, the Laco brand is a hallmark for precision, clarity and character - which only survived because they returned to their traditional values. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a pilot to wear a piece of Germany’s iconic and enduring aviation history – classically designed Laco watches, powered with the latest technology.