In his New Yorker piece “Confessions of a Watch Geek,” writer Gary Shteyngart details a panic attack on a stalled N train, soothed by a mechanical Junghans with looks based off a design by Bauhaus student Max Bill. “Its no-frills, form-follows-function shape evoked civility in a time of chaos, a ticking intelligence in the face of a new inhumanity,” he wrote. Shteyngart, new to watch nerdery, would later spend over $4,000 on a Nomos Minimatik, another clearly Bauhaus-inspired watch.
“Bauhaus” has become something of a catch-all term to describe minimalist watches, especially German ones, but Bauhaus was a school rather than a specific style. Formed in 1919 and shut down by the Nazi regime in 1933, Staatliches Bauhaus had a short run but a profound effect on modern art, architecture and industrial design. Its guiding principles were influenced by design ethe like Russian-born constructionism and English novelist and designer William Morris’s view that form and function should be viewed as the same thing.
In a world that seems to grow increasingly chaotic by the hour, order and simplicity in the form of a simple watch feel like a small and unlikely source of tranquility.
In a time when consumer and industrial design was characterized by ornate flourishes (think Art Deco), it was a revolutionary concept. Of course, today our idea of “good design” is almost entirely derived from that. Our omnipresent Apple products are the result of Steve Jobs’ budding fascination with the Bauhaus maxim in the early ’80s; architect Barbara Bestor considers the next wave of great interior decor to be “neo-Bauhaus.”
You could say the same for watches, too. At least when you consider the sheer amount of young micro brands today that attempt to embody the same aesthetic. Bauhaus-inspired timepieces are nothing new, dating back to the same timeframe in which Staatliches Bauhaus operated. But given Bauhaus’s continuing influence on our surroundings, they feel especially zeitgeist-y — even when watch enthusiasts are (for better and worse) obsessed with complications and tool watches from the mid-20th century that attempt to be more than a time-telling apparatus.
And that’s fine. But Bauhaus’s allure is probably best summed up in Shteyngart’s subway freakout. When the world seems to grow increasingly chaotic by the hour, order and simplicity can come together in the form of a simple watch, a small and unlikely source of tranquility. And finding it is easy. There is the aforementioned abundance of young brands — but executing a Bauhaus-influenced watch design is deceptively tricky, so the classics are undoubtedly the timepieces to pursue. These three from Braun, Junghans and Nomos are emblematic of the style and have strong ties to the school that so greatly influenced the aesthetic of our modern world.
Once an innovator in functionalist design, Braun was most recognized for its hand in creating beautifully simple audio equipment and home appliances. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the brand, under the direction of designers Dieter Rams and Dietrich Lubs, dabbled in clocks, though it took until 1989 for the brand to release its first analog timepiece, the AW10.
The BN0211 is something of a modern evolution of early Braun timepieces. The watch boasts a clean white dial and a yellow seconds hand that pops out for added legibility — hallmarks of early Braun wall clocks and the AW10. Gone is Braun’s signature typeface, in favor of discrete dashes, a feature carried over from the company’s second analog watch, the AW50.
Junghans Max Bill
Swiss designer Max Bill is one of Bauhaus’s most notable students (he was also the founder of the Ulm School of Design, Bauhaus’s successor), and the timepieces he created for Junghans, a longtime client, might be his most instantly recognizable work. The Max Bill–Junghans relationship goes back to 1956 when Bill designed a robin’s egg blue, teardrop-shaped kitchen wall clock with a built-in egg timer.
The clock’s face — a field of white with long, black minute markers and clean typography — became the template for later wall clocks and, in the early ‘60s, wristwatches. More than 50 years later, Junghans’s current Max Bill collection is a proper continuation. The domed dial, the crystal and the thin bezel might as well have been ripped straight from early Max Bill watches, and the dial design — though the designer took such liberties as adding lume — remains mostly the same.
After the reunification of Germany in 1990, watchmaking returned to Glashütte, a small town in Saxony once renowned for its watches. With that glut of revitalized watchmaking came a newcomer: Nomos, debuting a handful of minimal watches powered by ETA ébauches. One such watch was the Tangente, decidedly one of the brand’s most iconic watches.
Interestingly, the Tangente is an homage of sorts to some Bauhaus-influenced watches made by prewar German watchmakers Stowa and Lange (which have since returned). The watches were remarkably similar, a result of both watchmakers purchasing dials from Pforzham-based dial maker Weber & Baral (according to Stowa’s website). So while the Tangente isn’t a fully original design, it did help revive interest in a lost era of watchmaking, and considering that Nomos now makes its own in-house movements there’s a lot more to love than just the classic Bauhaus-inspired silhouette.