Over the next few days I will be in Berlin – the dynamic German creative and political capital – to speak to the people behind the design conscious brand that is Nomos Glashütte. Throughout its relatively short history, the company has built a reputation for combining a playful and democratic aesthetic identity with the technical excellence of fine German watchmaking traditions. This combination may well be thanks to the dual-locality of the brand: Nomos’ Berlinerblau creative studio is located in the heart of Berlin and its production facility is nestled into hills of the iconic watchmaking town Glashütte.
All sorts of creatives flock to Berlin. From architects and graphic designers to artists and writers – those determined to improve the world around them through design are pulled by the city’s vibrancy, diversity and abundance of cultural inspiration and so the aptly named Berlinerblau could have no other home. The best way to describe Berlinerblau is as the creative heart of the Nomos: where new dials are designed, where colour schemes are tested, where typography is played with and where the aesthetic image of the brand flourishes. Inside the canal-side Kreuzberg loft which employees are lucky enough to call their office, there is a palpable air of optimism and innovation.
Bookshelves lining the double-height walls are filled with magazines which feature Nomos on their pages, couches and pillows from Danish and Italian designers provide quiet spaces to enjoy a coffee, and enormous industrial windows look out onto a view of verdant greenery – the space is bright, considered and undeniably uplifting. Berlinerblau is evidence that watches are about a lot more than the simply telling the time: watches are a mechanical canvas for the broader pursuit of design.
In a meeting room at the back of the building filled with sun-dappled, gentle natural light I met with product designer Thomas Höhnel. Spread out across the table are watch models, inspiration boards, typography sheets and blueprints. I asked him where the creative process tends to start at Nomos:
Thomas: “When there is an idea for a new watch we start first with the development of the movement –we make our movements with all the parts coming from Glashütte. Producing in-house is very important for us so this is what we build on from a design perspective. Once the measurements are set and our construction department has finished their analysis, we then start with design concepts for the case, dial and graphics.
The overall process here is not very linear or marketing driven… it criss-crosses! Although we usually know where we want to go from the beginning, that can change and we always keep searching until we are happy with the result we have. The work which we put in is full of depth, ideas and stories which cannot come if you rush things.”
There undoubtedly prevails a distinctly form follows function approach to design – but there is a lot more to Nomos than merely designing to complement a beautiful in-house movement. I asked what Nomos considers its main design influences:
Thomas: “A big part of the way we think and the way we understand design is due to the heritage of German design traditions. We are part of the Deutscher Werkbund, which was the predecessor to the Bauhaus movement. It was founded in 1907 as a collaboration between economy, industry, art and design and it put them together to make the German economy more competitive. Even if we don’t always think about it, these aspects are in our DNA. The reduced design language and the intellectual approach that every part has a purpose is quite German thinking. Quality, craftsmanship and honesty is what ‘Made in Germany’ stands for.
Of course we include more modern aspects too – we play with colour and add humour which is so important for the story we want to tell. We are located here in Berlin so as to be in a vibrant city and to have all the influences which surround us.”
We spent the next little while examining the latest releases and pulling open draws full of limited edition dials – but there was one thing I could not stop looking at. A great section of wall of the meeting room was painted black and covered in chalk markings. Indicating what exactly? Quite simply, the remarkable number of awards Nomos has won in its relatively short time producing fine German mechanical timepieces.
One mark next to GPHG, eight marks next to iF Design Award, eleven marks next to Red Dot Design Award, thirty-nine next to Goldene Unruh. These prestigious awards within the watch world are not easily won and needless to say, they deserves every single one. Being in Berlinerblau confirmed that good design is far from merely a marketing strategy for Nomos – attention to detail and a commitment to even the smallest aesthetic considerations filters into every part of the company from their publications and pens to their dials and desks.
We left the meeting room and I had the chance to have a bit of a wander around the office and speak to some more of the faces behind the brand. Whether social media manager, product designer or brand officer, every person I spoke to would talk so passionately and with such enthusiasm about what they did. All throughout the office there is a sense of purpose and infectious optimism – one which undoubtedly comes through in their watches. Having spent all morning talking, I hardly needed to look down at my watch to know that it was time for lunch.