Glashütte Original had a reputation of being a subdued brand, known only to a few informed insiders. One of the factors that contributed to the increased awareness of the brand was the purchase and integration of the German Dial Manufactory Th. Müller based in Pforzheim, Germany.Proof of this change is in the eye-catching dials of PanoMaticLunar released last year, or the electrifying dials of the “Sixties Iconic” Boutique Edition.
Glashütte Original is not only pushing the technical boundaries of manufacturing movements; it is pushing the stylistic limits of dial manufacturing.
The Watchuseek team was invited recently to Pforzheim for a tour through the Glashütte Original Dial Manufactory.
Pforzheim and the Dial Manufactory
Pforzheim is town based in Southwestern Germany, about 40-minute drive from Stuttgart, and famous for its’ jewelry and watchmaking industry, which has earned it the nickname of “Goldstadt” or Golden City. However, more than 80% of the buildings were destroyed during the Allied bombing in WWII. Pforzheim was rebuilt gradually and now accounts for nearly 70% of the total sales of the German jewelry and silverware industry.
Th. Müller dial factory has been manufacturing dials in Pforzheim since the early 1920’s. Müller factory has been supplying dials to various German and Swiss brands. In fact, it partnered with Glashütte Original (at the time known as GUB) since the 1950’s. The classic Pilot dial and the Spezimatic dials from the 1960’s were manufactured in this factory.Swatch Group (parent company of Glashütte Original) purchased the Th. Müller dial factory in 2006. In 2012, Th. Müller dial factory was merged and integrated with Glashütte Original. The dial factory was relocated within Pforzheim in 2013 and renovated extensively to become a specialized dial manufacturer.Mr. Michael Baumann, manager of the factory, guided us through the complex process of manufacturing the dials. He explained that depending on the complications of a watch model, it takes over 70 to 80 steps to manufacture a perfect dial.The manufacturing is divided into four major departments – The Raw Dial Department, Surfacing, Electroplating & Galvanization or Painting, Printing, and finally Setting Index & Lume.
Raw Dial Department
This is where the entire process begins with externally sourced raw sheets of metal made of brass, bronze, and nickel silver undergoing extensive machining process.First, there is stamping of the dial from the sheet. This process is done by a punching machine which cuts out the blank dial.
This process is repeated a few times to have the precise date or other complication window cut out on the blank.The stamping machines had pre-defined mold of the dial which not only did cut-outs, but also complex patterns on blanks. Chronograph complications have the sub-dials meticulously machined with a diamond cutter.Finally, tiny feet are welded to the back of the dial to ensure that it is connected firmly and securely over the movement. While there is lot of heavy lifting in this department by machines, each step requires human intervention.
This department is what gives the dial that polished shine which reflect different color under different lighting. This is a labor intensive work of sandblasting, sunbrushing, and lacquer painting.
First the prepared blank is hand-machined with an abrasive material to give it the desired finish – which could be a perfect polished-mirror finish or a brushed finish.
Example: Adding the sunburst decoration (Sixties/Seventies)
Electroplating & Galvanization
Glashütte Original invested in modern technology for electroplating process which resulted in a high quality galvanized dial surface.Electroplating begins with the dial being polished and cleaned as thoroughly as possible before the process starts. Dial will appear uneven and smudged if the surface is dirty, oily, scratched or otherwise damaged.
Modern electroplating begins with the creation of a metal salt using the plating metal, typically gold or silver. These salts are formed when an acid and a base combine and create a neutralization reaction. Metal salts are formed when positively charged ions of a metal are combined with an acid or with a nonmetal. This salt is then placed in water and mixed together to form the “bath” for the dial.
The dial is then immersed in this bath and an electric current is applied to it. The current is directed to the component and dissolves the metal salts as it moves through the bath. Gold/Silver molecules ride the current and are deposited onto the dial.
The thickness of the plating is determined by how long the dial is left in the bath.
With the use of this modern electroplating process, Glashütte Original has endless possibilities to produce colorful and exotic dials. But this is not to say that traditional methods are abandoned for modern machines. Glashütte Original also employs the traditional hand painted techniques on certain elaborate dials (e.g.: Senator Chronograph Panorama Date in Platinum – Silver plating by friction:
Working on the Surface after the Galvanization: The hour markers of the Sixties Dial
Process of printing indexes and numbers was the most intriguing as this is the most often seen component on the dial.
Glashütte Original uses the Pad printing method, where a large rubber balloon filled with dye stamps the dial with a precise imprint. Each dial has to be checked for accuracy before it can move to next process.
The same process is used for printing date discs and inner bezels.
Setting Index and Lume
Setting Index and lume is a labor intensive and tedious process. Each tiny index is set exactly on top of the printed index marker.
Glashütte Original takes great pride in its quality control. When a new trainee joins the factory for an apprenticeship, the first duty is to spend many months in the quality control department to observe the quality of the finished dials.
The perfect dials are loaded on the delivery van and driven 600 kilometers away to Glashütte for assembling.The growth of the Glashütte Original dial factory is clearly visible and it is good for the city of Pforzheim as well as the Glashütte Original customers. Currently there are 55 employees, and this number is expected to grow further in the next few years.