An interview with Dirk Dornblüth

The origins of Dornblüth watches go back several decades, and start with a dream born of a special kinship with a pocket watch. In 1959, Dieter Dornblüth became rather attached to a sterling silver pocket watch that he’d been repairing. So attached, in fact, that when its owner picked it up, he decided to design a watch movement based on that of the pocket watch.

The design had just been finished, the movement itself barely started, when fate took a turn and he ended up in Kalbe, Saxony-Anhalt, to take over an abandoned watchmaker business, and the movement disappeared into the mists of time (no pun intended).

It wasn’t until his 60th birthday in 1999, when his son Dirk presented him with a self-made watch that the dream of 1959 was revived, and thus, Dornblüth & Sohn was born.

Recently, Dirk Dornblüth kindly found the time to answer a few questions.

1. D. Dornblüth & Sohn have been making watches since 1999. It is still very much a family business, with a limited number of watches made per year. How many are you now producing annually, and are you planning to increase these numbers?
The only change we have made during this time is the location. We are still a family business and will soon have 6 employees. Our oldest colleague Roswitha will retire in about 2 years, so we have been very lucky to find a young watchmaker to take over her tasks. He will start within the next weeks and learn from her until Roswitha leaves our team. The annual production has not increased, it is still 120 pieces. Output is limited by the traditional way of watchmaking which we utilise in our Manufacture every day.
2. Your focus has been on men’s watches, but the design of your watches has meant that they are appealing aesthetically to both men and women (who are in fact increasingly wearing men’s watches). Have your clients been included both men and women?
We are aware that women are as interested in watches as men are. We have had several female clients, including some who have even ordered pieces for their husbands or sons. Some years ago, before the production of Jasmin 09, which is our current smallest model with a 34.5mm case diameter, we had a 38mm watch, Cal. 04.0. This limited series was highly sought after by female clients to as a matching “partner watch” according to their husbands.
3. Your 09 Jasmin model was designed in honour of your daughter. Are you thinking of introducing more women’s watches into your collection?
Of course we have many ideas in mind, and several projects which we are currently developing. Seeing as we are a small team of currently 5, and soon 6 people, we need to find the time for development outside of our daily work. This is difficult, and it is the reason that it makes it difficult for us to give timeframes.
4. One of the things that I like most about your watches is the box. Nowadays, so many watches come in huge unwieldy boxes; yours is not only beautifully made and compact, but allows the watch to be used as a desk clock as well. When the watch is in the box, it has always seemed reminiscent of a vintage shipboard marine chronometer to me. What was your inspiration for this watch/ desk clock combination?
We are located in an agricultural region with many woods surrounding our towns and villages, so it was not difficult to decide on a wood box. I was lucky enough to have my friend Uwe, a Master Woodmaker, with me when I was thinking about the box design. We thought for quite a long time, and had many different options, but the final one that we ended up choosing, we believe was the best. From that time when we were designing the box to this day, whenever we discuss who it was who came up with the idea of the hole to show the watch, neither of us can remember!
5. The aesthetics of your watches have a sense of design and proportion which are quite timeless. I sometimes think that an understated look, in terms of watch design, is one of the hardest things to achieve. Do you have any thoughts on this?
We work according to old watchmaking traditions. We get often inspired from old watches, which we combine with our own ideas and design. Several clients have told us that even when we have different dial designs i.e. the different sub-dials like date, indicator or power reserve, it is easy to recognize a “Dornbüth”.
6. Your watches are often customised. How much personalisation is possible for customers, and what proportion of those who buy your watches ask for customisation, as opposed to being happy to buy a model ‘as is’?
Our clients like to be part of the manufacturing process. Many of them decide for a “Dornbüth” as their personal gift for special events, like their wedding, wedding anniversary or birthday or even as an heirloom to pass to their children and generations to come. The possibility of personal messages in the movement or case back is a highly requested option. We always discuss with our clients the best option, either on movement or case back, according to the message or text.

The percentage of people who customise is currently 60/ 40. The percentage of clients who personalise their timepieces has been growing during the few last years, and I expect that it will grow further.
7. Why do you choose to have your watches run at a relatively slow 18000bpm, which is considered perhaps rather old fashioned nowadays?
We decided on the 18.000bpm out of historical respect for watchmakers of earlier times, who built their watches this way for a long time. I think they had had their good reasons for doing this. Further, the movement seems to keep for longer; the individual watch parts are affected by a lower power, which keeps them staying longer. It is the same with a racing car: the higher the speed range, the more the individual parts of the car are affected.
8. Typically, a date complication is done more via a window at 3 o’clock. Why did you decide to incorporate a date on a circular indication on the dial instead?
I think that a “hand date” is a nice complication for our watches. The technical solution we created and developed is “Dornblüth”-like, and easily identified as belonging to our watches.
9. You are known for building your watches in a very traditional manner without the use of CNC machines, and you use a UNITAS 6497 as a base, but replace and rework much of this movement. How important is it to you to maintain this hands-on workshop approach, and do you plan to develop any in-house movements?
In the beginning our in-house work was more or less 50%, which we increased with every new calibre we presented during the time. Now, we have the Regulator, which is 75% an in-house, including the engraved dial as well. As I said before, we are always creating new things and ideas and I’m curious what the future will bring…
10. Do you believe that there is something which differentiates German watch making from others and if so, what would you say these differences are?
I think that watchmaking, as any other part of life, is highly influenced by the regional or at least national habits. In the Swiss watchmaking you can find filigree, elegant and thin watches. German watchmaking is known for thorough and robust movements.
11. There are a lot of watch choices on the market, and new brands appearing every year. What is it that to you, distinguishes a Dornblüth from the rest?
The way of creating each of our timepieces in the old watchmaking tradition without CNC-machines is one of the significant differences in my opinion. Seeing our collection you can follow our development over the years. We are a family manufacture with a 50 years tradition and owner-lead, so we can follow our own way without having the report at the end of the quarter in mind…

With its emphasis on traditional watchmaking methods, there is a very clear brand DNA that can be seen throughout the range of Dornblüth watches. These are not pieces that are subject to yearly fashion changes, but watches with a simple yet classic aesthetic, elegant, functional and timeless.

Small production numbers, the option of personalisation – with a more accessible price point entry into the world of independent watchmakers (prices start at 2.500 Euros for the 99.0), whether you are looking for an “Indie” or simply an example of quality traditional German watchmaking, Dornblüth is a brand well worth considering.

Many thanks to Dirk for generously giving us his time in-between a hectic travelling schedule to answer these questions.

This interview was first published at Watchmatchmaker.com



Categories: Dornblüth, German watches, Independent brands, Interviews

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