The Bauhaus School

The Bauhaus Century: A Design Movement Crucial to Watchmaking Turns 100 This Year


February 25, 2019 Watches By

“So let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavored to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists!” -The Bauhaus Manifesto by Walter Gropius, April 1919

Germany’s Bauhaus movement put forth such an influential design language that it’s easy to miss that it was actually a school. Indeed, there were Bauhaus buildings, classrooms, a star-studded faculty, and a host of ultra-smart graduates who went on to revolutionize industrial design, typography, and architecture. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus School opening its doors. Sadly, by 1933 the Nazis had managed to shut those doors and intimidate faculty into hiding, but the regime was powerless to suppress the ideas and ideals fostered at the Bauhaus.

The nutshell version of Bauhaus-think is that form should follow function. However, beneath that notion was a utopian vision of steering the Industrial Revolution away from Dickensian class disparity toward an era in which broad access to superior design at reasonable prices would allow everyone to enjoy the spoils of modernity. Given to the 20th Century’s often violent political struggles between Marxists, Socialists, and Capitalists, the Bauhaus agenda was refreshingly focused on design, art, and craftsmanship as the means to a better world.

A century later, it’s easy to argue that technological innovation and industrial design have shaped the world as much as — if not more than — any socio-political force. Bauhaus graduates gave birth to the Mid-Century Modern movement, which flourished during the Jet Age, dominated the Space Age, and continues to drive the design of today’s most cutting-edge cybernetic products. Nazis be damned, The Bauhaus School succeeded in becoming the ubiquitous life-improving force its founders intended it to be.

But what, exactly, makes a product Bauhaus-inspired? More specifically, what makes a watch a Bauhaus watch? Here are some traits that many have in common. (For a deeper dive into the history of The Bauhaus School and its relationship to watches, click here.):

Accessible: Rarely is a Bauhaus watch going to break the bank, nor does it show up (much) in the hallowed halls of Haute Horlogerie.

Minimalist: Any decoration that doesn’t serve a function will usually be minimized or eliminated.

Clean Fonts: When typography appears, it will employ clean sans-serif fonts derived, more or less, from Bauhaus graduate Herbert Bayer’s Universal typeface of 1925.

Legible: Minimalism doesn’t guarantee legibility (e.g. black hands on a black dial). A Bauhaus-inspired watch will typically offer at-a-glance time telling, often via contrasting colors.

Small Bezels & Big Dials: Small bezels leave the dial wide open. For this reason, many Bauhaus-inspired watches will appear larger than they actually are.

Sleek: Chunky they are not.

Splashproof: Rarely does a Bauhaus watch offer much in the way of water resistance or shock resistance. This is partly how they stay so sleek.

Below are ten currently available Bauhaus-inspired watches and watch lines. Some are historically accurate recreations from Bauhaus graduates, and others are modern concoctions that achieve pure Bauhaus retro-cool.

Braun Classic Line

From the minimalist radios they launched in the 1930s to the ubiquitous electric shavers that have been snipping stubble since the 1950s, Braun’s products have always been quintessentially Bauhaus in both design and intention. Under the stewardship of head designer Dieter Rams (born too late to attend the Bauhaus), it wasn’t until 1977 that Braun finally released a wristwatch.

By then Rams had set out his ethically-centered set of guiding principles for Good Design, a direct echo of the Bauhaus ethos with a sustainability angle built in. There have been, and still are, too many Braun watches to make a reasonable summary here, but you are guaranteed that a Braun on your wrist will emit pure Bauhaus style. Perhaps more than any other brand listed here, the outsourced mass production and low price points (starting at $145) embody the Bauhaus vision of excellent design for all.

Movements & Case Sizes: Quartz; sizes range from 32mm to 38mm with a variety of thicknesses
Available Materials: Stainless steel (also with various colored coatings); straps in leather, mesh and ceramic
Price Range: $145-$450

SWATCH Skinbrushed

Since it started in the 1980s, SWATCH has been issuing Bauhaus-inspired watches to great applause and massive sales. One of the sleekest watches on the market today, the Skinbrushed has a leather strap attached to a brushed steel case, while SuperLuminova-coated hands coast over a dial that would make the Bauhaus professors proud. As always, they’re priced to tempt you into owning a drawer full.

Movements & Case Sizes: Quartz by SWATCH: 38mm x 5.7mm
Available Materials: Stainless steel
Price Range: $150

Laco Classics Line

Like so many German watch houses, the 20th century saw Laco churning out military watches by the truckload, but their Classics line is 100% civilian-oriented. Bauhaus styling is hard to miss here, with clean dials, narrow bezels, and either applied stick markers or applied classic sans-serif numerals. Choose from among a number of stylish colors and a bevy of handsome strap options.

Movements & Case Sizes:
Laco 15 (Miyota 9015 automatic mechanical), 38mm x 10.5mm or 40mm x 10.5mm
Laco 04 (ETA 2804-2 hand-wound mechanical), 38mm x 10.5mm or 40mm x 10.5mm
Available Materials: Stainless steel; straps in various leathers
Price Range: Automatic: $540; hand-wound: $1,450

Junghans Max Bill Line

Max Bill graduated from The Bauhaus in the 1930s, and he designed his famous wall clocks for Junghans starting in 1957. By the early 1960s, his dial designs were making their way into Junghans wristwatches. He’s especially loved for the playful numeral 4, which may or may not have actually originated with him (debates rage). The current lineup of Max Bill models is expansive and varied. Movements range from automatic to hand-wound, quartz, and even a radio-controlled atomic movement in the Max Bill MEGA. If you’re into chronographs, check out the Chronoscope. Plenty of dial colors, straps, and case metals make for a plethora of choices.

Movements & Case Sizes:
Handwound: Cal. J805.1 (ETA 2801-2 base), 34mm x 9mm
MEGA: Radio-controlled Cal. J101.65), 38mm x 9mm
Automatic: Cal. J800.1 (ETA 2824-2 base), 38mm x 10mm
Chronoscope: Cal. J880.2 (ETA 7750 base), 40mm x 14.4mm
Quartz: Cal. J645.33 (ETA 955.112 base) 38mm x 7.9mm
Available Materials: Steel; PVD-coated steel; gold
Price Range: $595-$1,895

Stowa Antea Klassik Line

Another German brand carrying its Bauhaus watches into the 21st Century with pride, Stowa offers so many versions of the Antea (including special editions), that it’s probably best to leap over to the website and start browsing. For those who want a deep Bauhaus vibe, go for the Back to Bauhaus version, featuring a playful numerical layout and a rainbow of Constructivist hues.

Movements & Case Sizes:
Peseux 7001 hand-wound: 35.5mm x 6.9mm
ETA 2824-2 automatic: 36.5mm x 9.2mm & 39mm x 9.2.mm
Unitas 6498-1 hand-wound: 41mm x 9.2mm
Available Materials: Stainless steel; Black PVD; Rose-colored PVD
Price Range: ~$629-$1,316

Defakto Vektor

Many consider the German craft and design collective called Deutscher Werkbund to have planted the seeds of the Bauhuas. Today, Germany’s Defakto belongs to the Deutscher Werkbund, and their watches are stellar examples of Bauhaus style and functionality. With 25 individual models spread across 8 series, Defakto has been dropping Bauhaus-influenced hits since 2007. The Vektor is among their most strikingly simple watches, with stick hands and markers, and, well, that’s about it — minimalism at its best.

Movements & Case Sizes: Miyota 9015 automatic mechanical movement, 39mm x 6.8mm
Available Materials: Stainless steel case on leather bracelet
Price Range: ~$828

Mondaine Classic Automatic Day Date

When Swiss designer Hans Hilfiker redesigned the clocks for the Swiss Federal Railways in 1944, he had no idea that Mondaine would license that design in 1986 and turn it into a massively popular watch line. One of the most recognizable and legible watches on the market, all Mondains basically look the same because all hold true to that singular, minimalist clock design. The Classic Automatic is the most expensive model, featuring a mechanical automatic movement and a day-date complication. If you must have text, the Helvetica series introduces the world’s most popular font to the dial.

Movements & Case Size: Sellita SW220-1 HH4, 40mm
Available Materials: Stainless steel case on leather bracelet
Price: MSRP: $850

MeisterSinger No.1 & No.2

Any number of the Meistersinger models incorporate classic Bauhaus design, but the No.1 and No.2 stand out as the most straightforward. With just an hour hand, these watches are minimalist in the extreme. Once you adjust to one-handed time telling, the elegance and relative calm are hard to beat. The No.1 40mm gets you closer to a classic size, while the larger dials of the No.1 & No.2 at 43mm are billboard-esque.

Movements & Case Sizes:
No.1 43mm: Sellita SW210 hand-wound, 43mm x 11.5mm
No.1 40mm: Sellita SW210 hand-wound, 40mm (height unlisted)
No.2: Unitas 6498-1 hand-wound, 43mm x 12.6mm
Available Materials: Stainless steel; a wide selection of straps
Price Range: Starting at ~$,1595

Nomos Tangente Line

Just about any Nomos will meet Bauhaus criteria, but the Tangente was the one that put this brand on the map in the 1990s. Go small with the 33mm, keep it mellow at 38mm, or announce the time to the world with a 41mm Neomatic, which features a clever aperture-based date indicator around the dial. All Nomos watches house an in-house mechanical movement, and when you consider the price point, this is pretty incredible. Keep an eye open for special editions, too.

Movements & Case Sizes:
Ref. 180: Cal. DUW6101 automatic w/ date: 41mm x 7.9mm
Ref. 101: Alpha manual-wound: 35mm x 6.2mm
Ref 172: Cal. DUW4301 manual-wound w/ power reserve: 35mm x 6.6mm
Ref 131: Cal. DUW4401 manual-wound w/ power reserve & Date: 35mm x 6.6mm
Ref 175, 176, 177: Cal. DUW3001 automatic: 35mm x 6.9mm
Available Materials: Stainless steel cases; straps in leather, with a new bracelet on the way
Price Range: $1,760-$4,100

Ressence Type 1, 12, 2, 3, 5

Ressence watches are so innovative that it’s easy to overlook that this new star of the horological stage speaks fluent Bauhaus. The patented ROCS 1.3 Orbital Convex System tells the time and date with rotating discs within a larger rotating dial. (Check out this video to see how it works).

If that’s not innovative enough for you, check out the solar-powered E-crown of the Type 2, which jumps time zones automatically as you travel, stops the escapement mechanism to conserve power when not in use, and ueses an atomic reference to reset the hands when you tap the crystal — all while using a bona fide mechanical movement. The oil-filled Type 3 is possibly the most legible watch on the market, and the Type 5 introduces significant water resistance for the first time to a Ressence.

Movements & Case Sizes:
Type 1: module driven by the minute axle of a customised ETA 2892 base calibre, 42mm x 11mm
Type 12: same as above with cushion style case, 41mm x 11mm
Type 3: same movement with dial immersed in oil, 44mm x 15mm
Type 2: same movement with processor-driven E-Crown module, 45mm x 12mm
Type 5: same movement with innovative crown-less set and lock mechanism, 46mm x 15.5mm
Available Materials: Stainless steel, titanium
Price Range: Starting around $20,000