In late September, while Oktoberfest was in full swing, Watchuseek team drove from Berlin to Kalbe to visit D.Dornblüth & Sohn. Kalbe is about 250km, which took us 2 1/2 hrs in Friday morning traffic from Berlin. The last 70km takes you through the farm country and picturesque landscape of Saxony-Anhalt.Kalbe is in no way comparable to other German centers of watch making, such as Glashütte or Pforzheim. On the contrary, it is a small, secluded village with sparse population in the Saxon-Anhalt region of Altmark. Unlike watch manufacturers in Glashütte and Pforzheim, there are no large impressive buildings, or for that matter event a restaurant in Kalbe.Dirk Dornblüth’s manufactory is housed in a small two-story house with a pointed gable. In the garden are apple and plum trees, and a small creek passes through the property. The front of house has a large Dornblüth clock which appears to be modern yet traditional. It is powered by an old clock mechanism of weights and pulleys, and it is maintained by Dirk himself. Later in the tour it becomes apparent that Dirk not only makes watches, he restores vintage and modern watches as well as clocks. His watch makers have learned to survive with making machinery and watch parts where none are available.You enter the house and you immediately realize that craftsmanship in Kalbe has a very different meaning than craftsmanship in Glashütte. Manufacturing a watch at D.Dornblüth & Sohn with only nine employees is very different than manufacturing in other big German watch towns, where everything is done in separate divisions, with five to ten or even more employees per division. In Glashütte there is no breakfast table in middle of the house where the employees gather with the boss every morning to discuss everyone’s responsibilities for that day. But there is such a table in Kalbe. Co-operation in D.Dornblüth workshop is the key to success but it is also a necessity.
Ground floor and first floor of the building are filled with vintage machines that are used to create tools and other machines for watch parts like dials, hands, plates, gear trains, engravings, and many machines and parts no longer available. The whole place looked like a workshop of the 19th century with all old and precious machines, some even going back a hundred years. There was not a single CNC machine. The most modern object we could find was an early 2000’s computer system used for construction purposes.
We have been told that the vertical range of D.Dornblüth & Sohn. is about +80%, which is quite impressive. They make all their dials, hands, and movement parts in this workshop. Jewels and springs are not made in Kalbe. Cases are made by a metal-working company which is in now a supplier to the watchmaking industry. It is not a secret that movements of the 99 series are based on an Unitas base caliber, but all the heavy modifications done in Kalbe justify saying that it is an in-house movement. The only thing that remained almost untouched is the base plate.
On the first floor the space is compact and cozy. This is where the dials are made, where hands are finished, polished and thermally blued. In a different room, they also polish the case, assemble (they call it the assembly room), including repairs and revisions. We noticed a few vintage watches and modern haute horology watches (by different brands) sent to Dirk for repair.
Below you see pics of a pantograph. A pantograph is a machine that can “translate” an engraving from a much larger size template to a very small size piece of metal. In this case, you see templates for the swan neck and a balance cock. Next template is showing the Regulator dial.
We believe that watches made by D.Dornblüth & Sohn deserve special recognition. A Dornblüth is truly unique if you factor in the amount of manual labor, the skills and patience required for traditional machining methods, the spirit behind them, and the dedication that goes into every watch. Our special thanks go to Ute, who enthusiastically showing us how those tiny ratchet levers are polished and ceramic dials are made using the traditional methods.
A visit to Kalbe gives you a completely new perspective of what it takes to make Dornblüth watches. For more information on watch and technical specification, please feel free to visit their Dornblüth website.A special thank you to Jana for being an excellent host and giving us the afternoon boost with delicious pastries at the end of tour.Editior’s note: After noticing the black enamel dial with Superluminova numbers and hands, it was an intriguing proposition to leave my silver dial 99.1 Dorny at the workshop for a redial. Thanks to Ute and Jana for arranging the redial. I will be writing about the process with before, during, and after pictures and my impressions in early 2019.
Editorial: Bhanu Chopra and Mike Stuffler
Photography: Mike Stuffler, Bhanu Chopra, Dirk Dornblueth