Cultural Perspectives • 21 Sep 2018

Kandinsky, Max Bill & Junghans

by Gemma Kaczerepa


German watch and clock manufacturer Junghans has a rich and deep history that spans over 150 years. Founded in 1861 by Erhard Junghans and his brother-in-law, the company was first a manufacturer of clock parts before becoming the clock and watchmaker it’s known as today. It wasn’t until 1866 that Junghans produced its first complete timepiece, from there growing into an horological powerhouse.

Villa Junghans in Schramberg

At one point, it was the largest clock and watch factory in the world: in 1903, it had over 3,000 employees who produced over 3 million watches a year. Junghans has since produced timepieces for use by civilians and the German air force, utilising near immaculate craftsmanship to create clocks and watches that are as reliable as they are polished. In fact, a significant milestone for the brand was the invention of the first radio-controlled, series production table clock in 1985. Thanks to the precision of radio control, the deviation was an incredible one second every million years. In 1990, the technology was implemented in Junghans’ wrist watches, and in 1993, the company harnessed solar energy to power the watches’ radio-controlled mechanics.

Junghans’s Terrassenbau Building

One of the most famous and popular aspects of Junghans’ long history is the company’s relationship with Swiss designer Max Bill, whose creations embodied the design philosophy known as Bauhaus. Bauhaus design, which was first conceived in 1919 at the influential German art school Staatliches Bauhaus, is distinct in its restraint. The idea that form should follow function and that design be applied for its purpose over its looks form the crux of Bauhaus thinking. Minimalism is a key feature, with linear and geometrical shapes the preferred aesthetic. Take a look at any of Junghans’ stunning Max Bill-designed watches and you’ll see they’re virtually synonymous with Bauhaus style. With interfaces that adopt function over unnecessary decoration, and balanced forms that favour simplicity over intricacy, Bill’s concepts for Junghans are perfect examples of the early 20th-century design approach.

Hochhaus im Hintergrund

A sculptor, painter, architect, typeface, industrial and graphic designer, teacher and theorist, Bill is known as one of the biggest contributors to Bauhaus’ continued legacy. Bill studied at the Staatliches Bauhaus in the late 1920s after a short stint at the Zurich School of Applied Arts. At the Bauhaus, he studied under luminaries including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer. He then became a renowned artist and designer and co-founded his own education centre, the Ulm School of Design, where he headed the Department of Architecture and Form. His publications and design lectures held such incredible clout that many believe it was here that the concept of the ‘designer’ was profoundly shaped.

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition X (1939)

Such was Max Bill’s influence that his creations are still celebrated pieces of design history. The “Ulm Stool”, designed in conjunction with Hans Gugelot in 1955, is a very clever piece of engineering. It can be a seat, occasional table, shelf or portable tray. The “Quadratrundtisch” is an elegant square table that seems just pleasing to the eye, but can in fact be extended in such a way that it transforms into a round table. He also created the “Sun Lamp”, the “Tripod Chair”, and many other practical items.

Max Bill, Untitled, 1973

But it’s Bill’s “Kitchen Clock with Timer”, which was designed for Junghans, that is one of his most famous contributions. In the 1950s, Junghans sought an artist to design its clocks and Bill was an ideal choice. Not only was he already an accomplished designer by this point, but he was also, by chance, fascinated by the concept of time. The “Kitchen Clock with Timer” is instantly recognisable with its teardrop shape and emphasis on functionality: the distinct form appears to be employed simply to house an impeccably crafted clock and timer and seems secondary to the clock’s purpose. It’s a beautiful piece best summarised by Bill’s own philosophy: “Functional design considers the visual aspect, that is, the beauty, of an object as a component of its function, but not one that overwhelms its other primary functions.” It also marked the start of his working relationship with the company.

Max Bill Kitchen Clock. MoMa on the Kitchen Clock: “This kitchen clock with timer embodies longstanding hallmarks of the modern kitchen: timekeeping and efficiency. Its distilled functionalism is characteristic of Bill, the architect-designer best known as the co-founder of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany, considered the most influential school of design after the Bauhaus (which Bill attended).”

Following the creation of “Kitchen Clock with Timer”, Bill continued to design wall clocks and wristwatches that emulated the restrained style he had become renowned for. His wristwatch designs first entered the market in 1961. Each of them bore similar features to the wall clocks Bill had designed earlier: clean lines, a simple interface, and a distinct typeface – with an instantly recognisable number ‘four’ – that were hallmarks of Bill’s designs. The watches quickly became essential parts of Junghans’ collection and were some of the brand’s most popular releases.

Junghans Max Bill Graphic 2018 Limited Edition

In 2010, Junghans issued a selection of watches and clocks derived from Bill’s original designs, each bearing the same quintessential Bauhaus details. The Junghans Max Bill collection includes wall clocks, table clocks and wristwatches. The watches are applauded for their discreet elegance and feature the same unique typeface, neat case with domed glass, and dial that exemplifies simplicity and modesty — much like the originals. Several variations of the Max Bill have been released, with models including the Hand-winding, the Ladies, the Chronoscope, the Automatic, the Quartz, and, as an homage to Junghans’ innovative past, the radio-controlled MEGA. All are available with multiple strap options such as leather, Milanese mesh, and felt.

150 years of Junghans – Celebrating with the Meister Chronoscope

Also drawing inspiration from the past, Junghans’ current Meister collection is based on an archive from the 1930s to 1960s. Released in 2011 to coincide with the company’s 150-year anniversary, the designs pay respect to Junghans’ history of technological innovation. The Meister Hand-winding and the self-winding Meister Classic, Meister Chronoscope, Meister Telemeter and Meister Chronometer are throwbacks to the 1930s, while the Meister Driver series recalls the ambience of the first years of modern motoring. The Meister Pilot harks back to a time when Junghans produced watches for the Bundeswehr (Germany’s unified armed forces) in 1955. The Meister MEGA uses the radio-controlled technology developed by Junghans in 1990.

One of the most special Junghans wrist watches currently on the market is the Meister Chronoscope Terrassenbau. In keeping with Junghans’ rich history, the limited edition collection of only two watches marks an important part of the company’s past. In 1916, Junghans enlisted Philipp Jakob Manz to design a new hub for the Junghans factory. He created an incredible architectural masterpiece that cascaded down a slope in the Black Forest, known as the Terrassenbau building.

The Junghans Terrassenbau, a masterpiece created by the important Stuttgart industrial architect Philipp Jakob Manz (1861-1936), offers the ideal setting for an excursion into the history of Black Forest clocks, the Junghans watch factory and the associated supply industry.

The factory was built in such a way that it allowed direct sunlight to enter each floor, with the light-flooded top floor used for intricate assembly. It is still recognised as one of the most impressive buildings constructed on a slope. The Meister Chronoscope Terrassenbau set comes in rose gold (limited to 100 pieces) and stainless steel (limited to 1,000 pieces), and is inspired by the original factory. From the dark green alligator strap that mimics some of the Terrassenbau’s tiles and the minute track modelled on its wall decorations, to the imprint of the terrace on the watch’s backside, the Meister Chronoscope Terrassenbau is a beautiful and clever reinterpretation of the building’s importance. And, much like every other watch from Junghans’ collections, is an impeccable marriage of heritage, function and style.

Now on at Watches of Switzerland

Receive a pair of complimentary GV Gold Class passes and dining vouchers* with every purchase of a pair of couple watches. Valid from now until the 19th of February 2019.

*terms and conditions apply. Please visit Watches of Switzerland for more details.


Gemma Kaczerepa

Gemma is a writer based in Melbourne who holds a strong interest in style, travel, lifestyle, and people. Her biggest passion lies in telling people’s stories and uncovering the personalities behind some of the biggest names in watchmaking.


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