Posted on May 05 2020
What are the Best Affordable German Watch Brands?
Germany is world-famous as a manufacturer.
From luxury cars to high-end sound systems, the Germans are trusted to produce quality products. They’ve been at the forefront of the watch industry for over 150 years. They may not produce the volume of the Chinese and haven’t gained the public visibility of the big Swiss brands, but they’re one of the big players in watchmaking.
Like the Swiss, they have their own watchmaking area, with the small town of Glashütte being the heart of German watchmaking. Some of the most prestigious brands are based there, including A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original, Nomos and Tutima. The prices for some of these brands rival that of the Swiss luxury labels.
Like the Japanese, Russians and Swiss, there is also a healthy market for affordable German watches. These watches have a strong identity with Bauhaus inspired designs and pilots watches featuring heavily in a number of the brand’s catalogues.
I’ve outlined a few of my favourites below, trying to provide a good selection of styles.
I'm opening the list with a watch company that celebrates Germany, specifically the capital Berlin.
In keeping with a number of manufacturers that we’ve featured, Lilienthal Berlin produces their watches using as much local talent and resources as possible. They also use a portion of the company's profits to support local charities. As with the Anglo/Scandinavian brand Larsson and Jennings, there is an effort to create a green and sustainable business. The straps are plant-tanned and not chemically sealed and the dials are produced in the Black Forest.
So the Zeitgeist is designed in Berlin and sustainably produced in Germany, albeit powered by a Swiss automatic Caliber SW200 from Sellita. The 42mm case has a matte finish and a sapphire crystal exhibition case back. There’s more than a touch of Bauhaus influence in the design and the second hand, coloured ‘serenity blue’, represents the blue hour - that hour when day turns to night.
Lilienthal Berlin Zeitgeist Automatik
Swiss artist Max Bill was a student at the German Bauhaus school during the mid-1920s and went on to produce work as an architect, artist, painter, typeface designer and graphic designer.
The Max Bill range has been a mainstay of Junghans, indeed it's probably the series of watches that they're most famous for. Bills design for these watches is slightly less minimalist than the other German brands, Stowa and Nomos for example, but the appearance is no less impressive.
The line of watches that Max Bill created for Junghans is largely unchanged. They’ve retained the purist dial with the specially-created rounded numerals and the domed glass. This quartz model is therefore very much what you’d expect from a Bauhaus styled watch - it’s simple, elegant and recognisably German. At 38mm it’s a modestly sized, discrete piece without any unnecessary features to interfere with the clean lines.
Junghans Max Bill - 041/4562.00
German company Zeppelin produce quite a wide selection of watches with the majority having a vintage styling. At the core of the range are the German pilots and Bauhaus models - very much marking the brand out as a German manufacturer.
This classic bi-compax chronograph is from the brands Los Angeles collection. It’s a vintage-inspired piece with classic styling. The cream dial has subtle touches of red and blue similar to the Undone Vintage Killy I reviewed here.
At 43mm it’s not oversized and as expected, for the modest price, it has a quartz movement.
Zeppelin 7614-5 Los Angeles
Hugo Junkers was a German aircraft engineer and designer whose company was influential between the two world wars. Placed under house arrest by the Nazi government he died in 1935 before the outbreak of war - where his planes would go on to successfully perform for the Luftwaffe.
All the Junkers range are inspired either by the companies aviation background or by Hugo Junker’s personal passion for the Bauhaus art movement.
This is a German aviation watch - often referred to as a Flieger design. It’s bold, clear and legible with a large crown. This variation houses an automatic movement, a mineral crystal and a black leather strap with white contrast stitching. It’s not a uniquely styled watch - as I noted here - this classic German aviation is a staple of a number of brands. But it’s a great, affordable example.
Gigandet are a brand with some Swiss heritage, having been founded there around 100 years ago. It seems that the brand has been relaunched recently and is now German-owned and based.
Inspired by WW1’s German fighter pilot, the Red Baron, this is another aviation piece.
The date this time is at 6 o’clock and the strap is a plain, utilitarian black.
Gigandet Red Baron IV G19-005
German company Braun is probably best known as a manufacturer of household items and electric shavers after having initially begun as a producer of radios.
Although not known as a watch brand the BN0021 is a very well designed and very affordable alternative to the bigger names in Bauhaus watch design.
German watchmakers Laco were originally founded in 1925. As with a couple of other companies featured, classic aviation watches are central to their range. Here, however, I’ve chosen to feature a watch from their Navy range.
These Navy, or Marine watches, were originally produced by a small number of factories in the 1940s on behalf of the German Marine Observatory in Hamburg. A compelling reason for choosing a marine watch from Laco, rather than another German manufacturer, is that Laco was one of the original manufacturers of these watches.
The watches were first produced to the specification outlined by the Naval Observatory and the design, whilst still military it is softer and more subtle than the aviation style.
Again, legibility was an issue, but this was handled by having a fully luminous dial, something that the modern variation continues. Available in both 39mm and 42mm models, the Valencia sticks close to those original watches. It’s powered by Laco’s own calibre, based on a Japanese Miyota automatic movement, which can be viewed through the exhibition back.
It’s probably the most formal and understated watch on the list, but still with a functional, services based history.
Laco Valencia 861651.2
Botta is similar to Lilienthal Berlin in that they produce watches that are assembled in Germany with Swiis made movements.
The Tres 24 is their recent take on this, but with the standard 3 hands rather than the single one. Still, it’s a quirky watch with a 24hr dial rather than the typical 12hr. In addition, it also features the zero at the bottom of the dial, an uncommon feature that can take some getting used to.
At 45mm it’s a relatively large piece in terms of diameter, but the profile is slim and the crown very small. There is a 40mm version if the 45 does feel too big, but this isn’t an oversized, chunky watch like the next piece.
Botta Tres 24 780000
Rounding out this list is another watch proudly made in Germany.
Aside from some aviation models, Marc and Son’s are known for their range of divers watches. This newer German microbrand tends to focus on functional, tough divers with Japanese movements.
The MSD-028 is substantially bigger and heavier than my two other Marc and Sons - an MSD-037 and the Submariner styled MSD-024.