Mühle Glashütte, An Exclusive Factory Tour
Grabbing the early flight from London to Berlin is never the nicest way to start the day, but an almost new Mercedes rental and a clear Autobahn makes the journey a bit more exciting. The motorway from Berlin to Dresden may be monotonous, but at least you can make ‘progress’ on the unrestricted sections.
Just pass Dresden you reach the Glashütte exit. Within a few minutes of leaving the Autobahn, the road becomes twisty and more mountainous, and at this time of year the stunning autumn colours of the trees adds to a very pleasant drive.
A tiny single track railway follows the path of the road leading to Glashütte. Apparently it runs all the way from Dresden. If you’re not driving, this would make a very nice way to travel.
Passing through several small villages, you know you have arrived in the legendary town of Glashütte as you pass the ultra modern Union Glashütte factory. And so it continues past Glashütte Original, Tutima, Lange and Sohne, Wempe, the original watch makers school and we arrive at our destination, Mühle Glashütte. Now to give you an idea of scale, we could have walked past all of these in about ten minutes. This is certainly the centre of German watch making!!
I have been invited here by Thilo Mühle, the fifth generation of the Mühle family to run this prestigious business. Mühle Glashütte have been here since 1869.
We were warmly welcomed in the reception area by Thilo Mühle himself. He is affable, warm and full of information. He grew up less than a kilometre from the factory and undertook his training at the school next door. “Can we see everything?” I ask, “Of course” said Thilo. “We want to share what we do”.
We start with several display cases that hold treasures that tell the story of the Mühle family, and their long tradition in the horological business. The first cabinet holds measuring instruments designed and made by Thilo’s great-great-grandfather. The next cabinet shows an example of the famous S.A.R. Rescue Timer that had been worn for the past 10 years, on a daily basis, by the Captain of one of Germany’s Elite Search and Rescue Vessels. Despite its harsh environment, the SAR is still looking good.
Thilo is very keen to show us every part of Mühle Glashütte’s operation. We start on the ground floor where Mühle construct ship’s chronometers for many of the World’s ocean-going vessels. Thilo explains that every clock in a ship will be a bespoke order, a clock for each deck, captains clock, a clock for a restaurant, the swimming pool clock and so on, all controlled by a master clock on the bridge. In the next area is a delivery for a new cruise liner. There can be up to 60 clocks on a liner.
In the next room are the machines that create many original parts exclusive to Mühle. Baseplates, woodpecker necks, rotors and many bespoke pieces that Mühle need or may need in the future.
On the floor above, each of these pieces is finished and decorated by the hand of a master craftsman.
Next door is a wonderful lady ‘blueing’ screws by hand. Each of the minute screws is placed in a brass holder. The screws are subjected to fine cleaning and sanding by hand, this ensures a perfect finish and fit. The screws are then heated to just under 300 degrees to obtain the blue temper, no computer, no sophisticated oven. This entire procedure is done by hand and eye alone. Thilo explains that it’s important that as much of the work as possible is carried out in house.
On the next floor, you enter the immaculate service centre. In this laboratory, customers’ watches arrive for service. Firstly the watches are fully disassembled with each component receiving a multi stage cleaning process in a sealed room. Each component is then inspected for wear. After any necessary work, the movement is then re-assembled and modified if a customer requires. Mühle are more than happy to discuss any modifications a customer may need. Thilo tells me a common request is that a customer may ask for larger hands to be fitted, to accommodate a change in their eyesight. Mühle really do want a watch to be for life. Each watch is then fully wound and tested for accuracy and power reserve. Of course all Mühle Glashütte watches are regulated in six positions.
Adjoining the service area is the new watch assembly area. Mühle currently use Selita and ETA movements with extensive Mühle modifications. Each movement is fully dis-assembled on arrival, inspected, then re-assembled using Mühle’s own components. At every stage Mühle tests the movement.
The movement is then disassembled again and inspected and re-tested. Every Mühle watch, regardless of price, receives this level of detail.
Once the movements are complete, they are sent for final assembly. Thilo explains that the watchmakers tasked with final assemble have to be very highly skilled and diligent as all of the hard work done so far can be wasted by a stray hair, mark or dust.
Each and every watch is then moved to the testing station, pressure tested and regulated in six positions to ensure Mühle’s high standards.
Mühle are rightly proud of their heritage. Every watch maker at Mühle Glashütte has graduated from watch making school. Only when they have graduated, says Thilo, can they really begin learning.
You can see exclusive pictures from our tour around the Mühle Glashütte factory on our Facebook page by following this link: http://on.fb.me/P9UHvS