Redefining the Art of German
A visit to master watchmakers Dieter and Dirk
Dornblueth in Kalbe, Germany
Last week Timezone had the priviledge to
spend an entire day at the manufacture of master watchmakers Dieter and
Dirk Dornblueth in Kalbe, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Above picture gives you
an idea of the landscape that the small workshop of these two creative
minds is located in. Yes, on top of that century old barn ruin, that’s a
About a three hour drive away from German capital Berlin, two
watchmakers by passion are creating unique timepieces for true watch
enthusiasts. After a German watch magazine published an article about
their manufacture some months ago, the production went on back order due
to high demand. Now the production relocated to a new studio and Timezone
was granted an exclusive insight into the sanctum of a rising star on the
German sky of master watchmaking: D. Dornblueth & Sohn.
by href=”mailto:%firstname.lastname@example.org”>Hartmut Kraft
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Dieter and Dirk Dornblueth. In the background, a picture of their
Ref. Kal. 99.2 (1) Auf/Ab with bevel geared power reserve
Thanks so much to both of you
for taking the time to meet, specially in light of the fact that your time
is so limited – I just learned that your book of orders is more than
filled these days.
Given that your dad was a master watchmaker, you learned
the art of watchmaking from the cradle. Have you ever considered not
entering into the footsteps of your father?
Actually, yes. I was always fascinated with cars and my dream was to
own my own business restoring classic cars. Nothing fancy with plug in
electronic engine controls but just rugged first time oldtimers. It was
always the mechanics that fascinated me the most. Better, it’s the
fascination to understand and master the mechanics that was the driving
force in my career.
The tradition of watchmaking in the Dornblueth family was
… by myself, Dieter Dornblueth. Dirk’s sister is also a watchmaker
and still working as such. However, I was the first in our family to
become a watchmaker.Originally an electrician, I had to switch to a
profession that would enable me to work in a seated position for health
reasons. The first years of my watchmaking education, I had no fun at all
and even so I really didn’t like my work, I won a regional competition on
watchmaking and from thereon everything started to evolve.
|Dirk Dornblueth at one
of the workbenches in his manufacture. His older son Torsten is
watching closely while dad is applying gold chatons to the 3/4 plate
of the delicate movement.
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When did you start producing watches under the brand name
of D. Dornblueth & Sohn?
The brand D. Dornblueth & Sohn stands for our own handcrafted
watches only. In earlier years, we only assembled third party movements
and mainly did repairs on other watches. But the brand D. Dornblueth &
Sohn as the creation of our own manufactured wristwatches came into
existence only some four years ago. Although, the first drafts of an own
movement were done back in the fifties, it all started with that Caliber
99.2 on my dad’s birthday.
Your dad’s birthday?
That’s quite a story! It all began on a cloudy evening in November
1959. Germany was split in two – for the next thirty years. At that time,
the master watchmaker Dieter Dornblueth, born in Salzwedel, Altmark, spent
three years in the Erzgebirge to expand his knowledge in watchmaking. One
evening, when he was sitting in his scarcely furnished room, he started
creating his own movement from scratch. The idea was spoiled by a pocket
watch he got in for repair from his then boss. It was a massive sterling
silver watch that featured an extra large eccentric second hand and was
driven by a high quality yet very sturdy movement. My dad was supposed to
repair this piece that was thought of as being a hopeless case. However,
spending hours after hours, night after night, Dieter Dornblueth
completely disassembled and reassembled the watch, partly recreating bits
and pieces of the movement and after a long while, the watch was like new
again, in perfect working condition. It must have been a sad moment for my
dad back then on that cloudy November day, when he had to let go of his
beloved piece and hand it back to its owner. The very same evening he sat
down and started creating a wristwatch in the image of the watch that he
grew so very fond of.
The movement was half finished, when Dieter Dornblueth was offered to
take over the store of a watchmaker’s widow in Kalbe in Saxony-Anhalt. As
he followed this call, the first Dornblueth watch went into the drawer
only half finished and the dream of a truly self manufactured movement
seemed to vanish in the dust. The daily routine of the fast growing
business left now time to follow up on this dream.
I had no idea about all this until October 1st, 1999. That day, my dad
celebrated his 60th birthday. I had a special gift for him: Having become
a master watchmaker in the meantime myself, I created and assembled a
wristwatch for my father that was done all by myself in its entirety.
Based on the legendary caliber 60.3 from the Glashuette manufacturers, I
created my own movement and housed it into a stainless steel case.That
gift was dead-on and immediately reminded my dad of his long forgotten
plans to built his own movement. That very night on October 1st, 1999, the
two of us sat down and started to create what should become the D.
Dornblueth & Sohn caliber 99.2. I still hold on to the first sketches
of the base caliber that my dad and I were drawing on a paper napkin in
the very restaurant that he was celebrating his birthday.
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|The heart of the
Dornblueth manufacture: In this room of his recently relocated
workshop, Dirk Dornblueth assembled all the machinery to produce all
the bits and pieces he needs for his handcrafted
Creating your own wristwatch is one thing – difficult
enough – but how did you come up with the unique overall design of the
Well, the original design was clearly spoiled by the famous B-Uhr
[B-watch as in Beobachtungsuhr,
German for Observer watch used during WWII by the air force]. I had
the horological (otherwise questionable) honor to repair some of the
originals. As a watchmaker, you have to fall in love with that movement. I
wish I had one here that you could hold against your ear. It goes
‘dschiing, dschiing, dschiing’ – fascinating [ color=#4b8efe size=2>Dirk Dornblueth very realistically imitates the sound
of the oscil-lating and resounding balance spring of the B-Uhr]. I
wanted to create something like that.
Well, but we were done with the general design of the watch when we
realized that we are not all that happy with the second hand subdial at 9
o’clock. It didn’t take us a long time to realize that we need to balance
out that one-sided dial by filling the space with something at 3 o’clock.
That is where we entered into a lengthy process of drafting back and
forth. We had some designs done. You have to know that development cost
was crucial for us back then. Every single model had to be paid for and we
had plenty of energy but certainly not plenty funds.
We then wanted to include a power reserve indicator, since we though it
is a nice and very useful function. However, we weren’t quite happy with
the existing wheel trains for that module as they would heavily expand the
movement the way we created it. More importantly, though, we really
disliked the many wheels usually included in the power reserve module.
Each of these wheels has minimal clearance to its counterpart and thus
causes a little back lash that multiplies, even raises to higher power as
it passes on the back lash to the next wheel causing an additional back
lash itself. This way, you might fully wind a watch but not see the power
reserve indicator move for the first couple of hours as the energy is all
absorbed in the back lash of all those wheels. We definitely disliked that
|The uniquely designed
dial of the Ref. Kal. 99.2 (1) produced by Loerach firm Cador. Only
few parts of the movement are not produced ‘in-house’ at the
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And yet, you included it into your first design?!
Yes but only due to another coincidence. My dad was waiting for his car
to be repaired at a local body shop in Kalbe when he was browsing over
little engine models on display in the office of that garage. He
discovered the model of a central pivot rear axle with a differential
gearbox. That was how we came up with he solution for a almost
frictionless, very precise and small power reserve mechanism: A spiral
bevel gear transmission as it is found in the rear axle of a car!
One other thing about the design that bothered us. We felt the second
hand in the wheel train of the Unitas caliber to be placed to far on the
outside of the dial. We used the space created by the power reserve module
to add another wheel for the second hand, tying it closer to the center of
the watch. That is, how we could achieve the largest subdial second hand
that is available in this segment.
Speaking of the Unitas caliber. To my knowledge, literally
everything in your watch is handcrafted by you but for the wheel train of
Well, the balance wheel and components like the Incabloc shock
protection are not ours. The case and the dial are done by others as well
and so is the engraving. We are particularly glad about our cooperation
with Cador in Loerrach for our dials.
Will the Swatch groups announcement to cease selling
movement parts to third party manufacturers change any of your plans –
will you actually start to cut your wheels by yourself as well?
No. Nothing will change. First of all, I don’t think that the Swatch
Group will succeed with its plans. But whatever the result of the
confederate antitrust agency will be, it doesn’t affect us. We will just
buy the whole ebauche and toss out all but the wheels.
What about your other suppliers – I heard some funny
stories about your first supply contracts?
I guess you are referring to the cases?! Before I started working on
the Caliber 99.2, I was very much into refinery of Russian made
chronograph movements. I had a couple of customers that collected older
Russian watches that where fitted with very interesting but plainly
finished column-wheel and cam-lever chronograph modules. Over time, I
developed an extra fly-back mechanism for the cam-lever modules, won a
prize on that innovation and was granted a patent [ color=#4b8efe size=2>Dirk pulls out a yellowed certificate from the patent
office]. That patent went into the drawer like so many other things
and when I was in the market for my first cases for the 99.2, I offered
Walter Fricker in Pfortsheim to trade my patent for the first 40 cases.
Once those first 40 cases are gone, I guess I’d have to raise the prices a
But there’s many more that I did in a trade instead of for cash deals
in the beginning. One of my first watches made was traded in for a
measurement projector – a very useful device that is re-sponsible for a
lot of precision in the house of Dornblueth. And the device that I use to
cut and grade my own gear and wheels I bought from Joerg Schauer. Lastly,
I traded in for the hands that I currently use. I found a NOS lot with a
dealer in Scandinavia. Once I run out of those, I will have to raise the
prices again: Can you believe that I would have to pay almost Euro 100 for
one full set of four blued hands of this quality?
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|Some of the machinery,
Dirk Dornblueth uses to produce the parts of his movements still
stem from the former German Democratic Republic. Those machines,
marked with the illustrous VEB [Volkseigener Betrieb = public
national enterprise under the communist regime of the GDR] are now
modified by Dornblueth and integrated into a complex system of
|One of the first
watches produced went as a trade into this optomechanical precision
measuring projector. Dornblueth uses this device to ensure perfect
preciseness in all parts of his movements.
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|Dirk Dornblueth at his
modified teeth sawing machine. This device, traded in from
watchmaker colleague Joerg Schauer, is used to cut equal numbers of
teeth into the wheels used for the modified wheeltrain of the extra
large seond hand.
The blue of the hands look special indeed!
For some reason today’s blued hands are different – seems like they are
almost not as deep shining or radiant anymore. One thing that we are going
to change in the near future for many reasons, is the sapphire crystal. In
order to even better bring out the contrast and details of the dial and
the wonderful hands, we will have a very slightly curved crystal. A domed
crystal will also enhance the overall design as it would integrate better
into the case and the verve of the lugs.
Now if we flip over the watch and
have a look at the gorgeous movement, we find everything, a watch
enthu-siast expects from high end German watchmaking: ¾ plate, beveled
edges, screw balance wheel, swan neck fine adjustment, engraved balance
cock, screwed gold chatons and blued screws – but wait, looking closely
those screws look acid blued?!
You say so because of the silverish slot – that doesn’t mean that the
screws aren’t heat blued. In fact they are. It’s just that we do the flame
bluing ourselves and thus, we are still working on a technique that would
remove the nickel residue in the slots. We are currently talking to a
local pharmacist to have a special brew mixed up that would help us along
with this issue. Rest assured, the slots will be blue any time soon as
Btw, you missed something on the plate that is hardly recognizable as
special or distinctive with other movements of this kind. The name “D.
Dornblueth & Sohn, Kalbe i./S.A.” is hand engraved and not machine
engraved. It’s my understanding that only some very rare pieces like the
Breguet anniversary Tourbillon have the brand name hand and not machine
Also, we decided to add the Geneva stripes instead of the traditional
turn of the century plain gold plated because we either wanted to do it
the right way or not at all.
|All, the watch
enthusiast is asking for: rose gold plated 3/4 plate with Geneva
stripes and beveled edges, screwed 18kt gold chatons, screwed
balance wheel, sunray finish on crownwheel and ratchet, hand
engraved balance cock and brand name, prolonged Glashuette click
spring, swan neck fine adjustment and so forth – Cal. 99.2, the
first own creation by D. Dornblueth & Sohn.
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The right way?!
You have to know that the matte gold fine grain surface of the original
Glashuette movement is done in a very elaborate process. There’s only one
master watchmaker left in Glashuette who has the knowledge to do that job:
The cut and polished plate was first treated with a sterling silver finish
that was applied with a brush not a galvanic process that silver layer was
then gold plated and thus resulted in a very fine and grainy finish. It’s
all about the details.
Which detail of your creation you are particularly proud
I mean it’s the details but then the details don’t stand by themselves
alone. It’s the composition of all the details together that makes a –
coherent whole. If you ask me which detail stands out, I’d say the change
of the wheel train for the second hand, the hand cut swan neck and ratchet
latch. But most of all, it’s the little power reserve gearbox. That’s
really unique [a bright smile on
both faces]. You know, the epicyclic gears that are used by most
manufacturers these days use eight to ten wheels for the power reserve
indicator. We use three!
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|Some of the tools and
machines that Dornblueth uses to produce his technical innovations
first needed to be developed themselves. This lathe adaptor is used
to produce the particularly small counter rotating wheels of the
bevel gear for the power reserve
|Once the raw blank for
the wheels is cut, Dornblueth drills the miniature hole through the
entire component before it gets sliced up into several wheels. Since
the drilling is done at high revolution speed yet slow feed (to
ensure utter preciseness) the drill (diameter of 0.25mm has to be
constantly oiled and cooled.
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|Once sliced of the
blank, each single wheel is trimmed on the lathe to exact 0.2mm
thickness. One blank is large enough to be cut into ten single
wheels. Usually six or seven of those get tossed out because they
wouldn’t meet Dornblueth’s strict parameters of
As we talked about the development with outside supply, do
you see yourself to resort to more and more manufacturing each single part
of your movements?
Well in the long run maybe. At the moment, I wouldn’t have the time to
do even more myself. There’s not much left anyway. I really like the
process of natural development and growth. Now that the demand is so much
higher, I will employ another watchmaker soon – a prominent one I might
add [Dieter smiles
astuciously]. Then over time, I am sure we will add this and add
that and one comes to another. One day, we will certainly end up with
something that even more deserves to be called “in-house”.
I am interested in my watches. Of course I need to make a living from
it and feed a family but I certainly don’t put the economic development of
the brand D. Dornblueth & Sohn first. I could do so and streamline the
production, aiming for higher output. Outsource some of the parts, include
third party modules here and there and thus, have a capacity of 30 over
what is 5 per month at the moment. I’d rather end up cutting each part
myself and do only 3 watches a month. So far, I know all Dornblueth owners
more or less personally. I like the idea that whoever owns a Dornblueth
could know that he truly owns a piece of master workmanship. That sense
would need to get lost for the sake of a higher output.
Does the current high demand leave you some time to think
about expansions of your line of watches?
We are planning on bringing out a smaller watch soon. The fact that our
current models cater to the large case size hype that is going on these
days is rather accidental. The aforementioned philosophy includes not to
care about what seems to be currently phat. So next, we will create
something smaller. Since I have some experience there, I am also further
thinking into Chronographs. And a secret that I don’t want to tell yet …
Let’s dream for a second about the future [ face=Arial color=#4b8efe size=2>I can’t even finish my question when Dirk
very confidently inter-rupts me] …
Clear as daylight: The Dornblueth Tourbillon.
Are we talking about a Tourbillon based on a Progress or
No, I wouldn’t want to call that a Dornblueth Tourbillon. I am really
excited and looking forward to cut, drill, lathe and finish that cage
[bright smile again].
When would that be?
Oh, there’s so much to do in the meantime. You asked me to dream. So we
are talking about years. We are at the beginning right now. There’s so
much in between to look forward to.
|Compassionate for the
detail: Dornblueth assembling his manufacture movement. One day, he
says, he is looking forward to work on the cage of his own
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So by that time Dornblueth & Sohn might have become
Dornblueth and Soehne [ size=2>sons]?
You mean Dieter, Dirk and then Lukas also? Yes, maybe. my older one is
not that much into watches. he wants to become an artist or go into show
business. The younger one, though, is very interested. Indeed, the brand
might one day turn into D. Dornblueth & Soehne.
Speaking of “& Soehne” – would you want compare
yourself with the well known brand from Glashuette?
No, of course Lange is different, and certainly I am not quite yet
where Lange is with regard to quality or finish. But that’s not where I
want to go. Compared to what I am looking for, Lange is a mass produced
product. That’s not what I want. Rather let’s talk about people like Paul
Gerber or Beat Haldimann, that’s where I want to go and those are my real
Finally, what are your plans with regard to
I pretty much want to keep it the way it is and slowly expand the
number of authorized retailers. With regard to overseas sales, I might
also add an exclusive point of sale sometimes in the future. At the
moment, however, I will do direct sales off my workbench myself. With a
capacity of some five watches a month, I could easily handle the direct
sales myself. The fact that customers have to get in touch with me is part
of the fascination of owning a Dornblueth watch. Both parties benefit as I
like to know and choose who gets to wear my watches as well.
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|Producing almost all of
the pieces of his watches himself, Dornblueth wants to keep monthly
output capacity as low as 5 to maximum 10
Is there anything you would like to convey to the readers
of timezone.com and to those interested in D. Dornblueth &
[With a very humble voice]
I wish people would realize that my watches represent real German
watchmaking and as such, someone who buys a Dornblueth watch buys a piece
of German craftsmanship. More importantly, though, my watches embody the
dying mastership of mechanical watchmaking.
The tradition of watchmaking is dying? Sorry, but now I
have to broach the subject again, I though we experienced a hefty boom of
mechanical watchmaking in recent years?
Most of the timepieces that you see in the market today that are
considered ‘high end’ are certainly great pieces of horology. However, the
way they are produced has nothing to do anymore with what master
watchmaking used to be. You spend Euro 35000 on a watch that is claimed to
be manufactured and the plates have been computer designed and laser cut.
Of course, the bridges might be beveled by hand and the assembly might be
done manually. But these are no individual timepieces any more. The art of
watchmaking always encompassed the ability to work with unconventional
ideas and methods. Today’s watchmakers learn how to operate a CNC machine.
When I grew into this profession, I constantly had to come up with
alternatives and better ways to do things. I feel like there’s been a lot
more struggle and that is why I completely penetrate and interfuse the so
very complex phenomenon of manufacturing a watch. I still think to create
a great movement requires not only a lot of effort but also hours and
days, sometimes years of tears and sweat.
mastership in watchmaking as the finding of unconventional solutions
based on own creativity and ‘sweat and tears’ know-how gained over
the decades. “Skills need to be developed in years and can’t be
replaced by advanced machinery.”
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Will we see you at Basel next year?
Maybe?! [The smile on
Dieter’s face rather says ‘yes’ than ‘no’]
Again, thank you so much for
taking the time to meet and answer all my questions.
For further information on D. Dornblueth & Sohn, please check
their website at href=”http://www.dornblueth.com/” target=”_blank”>http://www.dornblueth.com/
border=1>Ref. Kal. 99.2 (1) ST./F. –
Small seconds and Power Reserve indicator, brushed and polished stainless
steel case with a diameter of 42mm, sapphire crystal, handcrafted movement
with a power reserve of more than 48h at 18.800 A/h. List price: Euro
border=1>Ref. Kal. 99.0 (1) ST./F. –
Small seconds, brushed and polished stainless steel case with a diameter of 42mm, sapphire crystal, handcrafted movement with a power reserve of more than 48h at 18.800 A/h. List price: Euro 2,500.00