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A brief history of watchmaking in Ruhla

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Ruhla is a rural town of around 6,000 people in the centre of Germany and just 185 miles west of its Glashütte, the country’s most famous watchmaking centre.

Like Glashütte, it has a long history of watchmaking and and endured the turbulence of life in Eastern Germany on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain after World War II.

Ruhla’s watchmaking story began in the 1870s, when brothers Christian and George Thiel started making music boxes and later clocks. By the late 1880s the company had developed a movement with a 12 hour power reserve that was mainly exported to America.

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The company, Gebrüder Thiel, was the first in Germany to produce a usable and cheap pocket watch and by 1897, 4000 pieces per day were being produced mainly for export to America.

Mass production was helped by the company developing and manufacturing its own watchmaking machinery, some of which can still be seen today at the Ruhla Watch and Clock museum, located today on the ground floor of Pointtec’s headquarters, the owner of watch brands Zeppelin, Iron Annie and Bauhaus.

Thiel continued to expand through to the beginning of the World War I, when the company turned its production to national defence, and returned to successfully make civilian timekeepers between the wars and into World War II.

When the Soviet Union took over Eastern Europe, Thiel became an instrument of the communist state and renamed VEB Clock and Engine works Ruhla. Later the works became the Uhren und Maschinenfabrik Ruhla – hence UMF seen on earlier watch dials.

Watchmaking equipment is now on show at the Ruhla Clock and Watchmaking Museum.

Ruhla continued to develop and manufacture a range of timekeeping instruments including wristwatches, electrical clocks, automatic controllers, chess clocks as well as heavier machinery such as milling machines.

It later moved into electro-mechanical watches, precursors for quartz pieces that started to be made in the 1970s.

During its lifetime, the Ruhla clock works manufactured many hundreds of millions of clock movements of different calibres but the town has seen its output dwindle to almost nothing until Pointtec decided to buy a listed building from the heyday of UMF and move its assembly line there.

 

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder