Historic watchmaking town of Glashütte ravaged by floods

Glashütte, the historic German watchmaking town and the facilities of several prestigious watch brands there have been ravaged by the torrential rains and floods that devastated Germany and Austria between Aug. 11 and 14. Deutsche Welle, the German government news service, on Tuesday called devastation to the nation from the heavy rains and floods “the biggest natural disaster in [Germany’s] modern history.”

Glashütte is located in the Erz Mountains south of Dresden in the German state of Saxony. Some of the companies with upscale and luxury watch brands that have headquarters there include Lange & Co., which makes A. Lange & Söhne (owned by the Richemont Group), Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb, which makes Glashütte Original (owned by the Swatch Group), Nomos Glashütte, and Mühle Glashütte GmbH.

On Monday, about noon, employees in some watch companies were evacuated because of the rising Müglitz und Priesniz rivers nearby because of fears that a dam holding the river waters would break.

On Monday evening, according to German news reports, the dam broke, sending torrents of muddy floodwaters cascading through Glashütte, uprooting trees, washing away bridges, pulling cars with it, knocking over street lights. By the end of the half-hour cascade, virtually all streets in the town were impassable; the phone, drinking water and electrical systems were out of order, and there was no access to the town. Police blocked all roads into the city, allowing entry only to emergency workers. “The watchmaker city of Glashütte is cut off from the outside world,” reported an onsite journalist for the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuericher Zeitung. The torrential rains have created a “catastrophic situation” in the town, reported the German publication, Uhren Magazin.

A spokesperson for the Swatch Group told JCK, “the cellar and first floor of the premises [Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb] are under water. We don’t know yet what the damages are to the machines. Essential electronic equipment was upstairs and not touched. The important thing is that no personnel were hurt.”

The director of SUG-Gehäuse-Fabrik, which makes high quality watch movement, told Uhren Magazin on Tuesday that “Everything is under water. All machines, all computers, simply everything.”

Lange Co., which produces the luxury brand A. Lange & Söhne, and is located next to Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb, also reported high water in its facilities. It just reopened its original, historic headquarters in Glashütte in December 2001, after 18 months of remodeling and renovation costing $4 million. The restored facility, one of three production sites for Lange & Söhne, also contains after-sales service, finishing and engraving departments and the company’s watch making school.

Uhren-Magazin also expressed concern about Nomos, whose plant is located by the Müglitz, one of the rivers that flooded.

At press time, there was yet no estimate of damages to Glashütte or the several watch companies based there, nor how soon the companies will again be able to produce their watches.

Watchmaking in Glashütte was started in 1845 by master watchmaker Ferdinand A. Lange. By the late 1800s, the town was a world-renowned watchmaking center. It remained so until the end of World War II, when Allied Forces’ bombs destroyed most of its watch factories. What was left was taken over by the former Communist East German state in the late 1940s. After Germany’s reunification in 1990, watchmakers returned and the town began reviving its former role as a producer of fine watches.