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Redefining the Art of German
Watchmaking
-
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
stork nesting.

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:%20hartmut@timezone.com”>Hartmut Kraft





src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a01s.jpg” width=480 border=1> Master Watchmakers
Dieter and Dirk Dornblueth. In the background, a picture of their
Ref. Kal. 99.2 (1) Auf/Ab with bevel geared power reserve
indicator.



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
    found …

    … 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.
    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a09s.jpg” width=480
    border=1>



  • 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.





    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a04s.jpg” width=480 border=1> 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
    movements.



  • Creating your own wristwatch is one thing – difficult
    enough – but how did you come up with the unique overall design of the
    watch?

    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
    idea.





    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
    Dornblueth manufacture.
    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a24s.jpg” width=480
    border=1>



  • 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
    the 6497?

    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
    little bit.

    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?





    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a08s.jpg” width=480 border=1> 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
    specialized tools.




    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.
    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a11s.jpg” width=360
    border=1>




    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a12s.jpg” width=480 border=1> 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
    well.

    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
    engraved.

    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.
    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-11s.jpg” width=480
    border=1>



  • 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
    of?

    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!





    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a07s.jpg” width=480 border=1> 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
    indicator.




    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.
    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a06s.jpg” width=480
    border=1>




    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a10s.jpg” width=480 border=1> 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
    precision.



  • 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
    Lemania ebauche?

    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
    Tourbillon.
    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a02s.jpg” width=480
    border=1>



  • 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
    role models.

  • Finally, what are your plans with regard to
    distribution?

    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.





    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a05s.jpg” width=480 border=1> Producing almost all of
    the pieces of his watches himself, Dornblueth wants to keep monthly
    output capacity as low as 5 to maximum 10
    watches.



  • Is there anything you would like to convey to the readers
    of timezone.com and to those interested in D. Dornblueth &
    Sohn?

    [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.





    Dornblueth defines
    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.”
    src=”img/articles/comarticles631913056488125000/dornblueth-a03s.jpg” width=480
    border=1>



  • 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
    4,500.00



    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






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