Something we all share is a passion for watches. Their mechanics are what fascinate me the most. A little while back, I wrote about the most mass-produced item in the entire watch world, the ETA 2824-2, and its history. It got me thinking about which movement impresses me the most. Making a decision was going to be no easy task, considering how many fascinating calibers there are out there. That’s when I decided to write not just about a single movement but about the development of a few that have been on my radar since I got into mechanical watches: the calibers made by NOMOS Glashütte
From the NOMOS Tangomat to the neomatik Caliber
My first serious mechanical watch was a NOMOS Tangomat, the timepiece that marked my entrance into the world (some would say “rabbit hole”) of mechanical watches. Like so many others that get into watches, its fantastic-looking design, depth of finishing, and great price quickly put NOMOS Glashütte at the top of my wish list.
A few years later, another NOMOS found a home in my collection next to my Tangomat. This one had the newly-developed neomatik caliber that I had had an eye on since its market entry. In the initial years, as I got deeper and deeper into this hobby, NOMOS was hard at work on its first generation of proprietary calibers. This step would see them turning away from the movements available for sourcing out on the market and, instead, creating in-house movements that would make their mark on the watch world.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the developments and milestones in this period of watchmaking history that I’ve enjoyed following since getting into watches. Early on, NOMOS used ETA calibers and eventually began modifying them. From there, they would go on to create high-end limited editions and develop their neomatik calibers. Now, this relatively new German brand has more than a few impressive watchmaking achievements and intelligent mechanical creations to its name.
NOMOS Tangente: Humble Beginnings
The successful NOMOS Tangente started its career with what’s become a rare sight in the world of calibers, the Peseux 7001. Manufactured by ETA, the original version of the 7001 was never really something people would associate with a “classic” NOMOS watch. Instead of the signature three-quarter plate, this caliber is basically split down the middle by the edges of its bridges. From the release of the Tangente in 1992 to 2005, NOMOS would go on to make several modifications to the 7001, including the addition of a stop-seconds mechanism; the Glashütte stopwork with its long, curved jumper spring; and, of course, the Glashütte three-quarter plate. Starting in 2005, NOMOS began manufacturing its timepieces with its “own” Alpha calibers, which were essentially replicas of the 7001 with these NOMOS modifications.
Even before its switch to in-house movements, NOMOS was busy behind the scenes with its technological developments. One example was the patented power reserve indicator on the NOMOS Delta, a version of the Alpha with a date complication. A creation by NOMOS’ long-time director of research and development, Thierry Albert, its innovative design allowed it to keep the same thickness as the original caliber.
Nomos Tangomat: The In-House Automatic Epsilon Caliber
NOMOS set out into new territory with the Epsilon caliber for its automatic Tangomat model. The Epsilon expanded on the time-tested 7001 design to include an automatic, bi-directional winding rotor that you can admire in action, provided the watch has a display case back. This mechanism gets help from a component that NOMOS affectionately refers to as a “Wippbewegungsgleichrichter” or “teeter motion rectifier.” As opposed to the gears commonly found in the omnipresent ETA 2824-2 or Rolex calibers that quietly go about their work unnoticed, you’ll see this NOMOS component hectically fidgeting back and forth. It’s a charming, unique solution that’s so, well, NOMOS.
On the other hand, the caliber’s modified barrel is a component you, unfortunately, won’t see in action. As the rotor continues to spin while the watch is worn throughout the day, a clutch mechanism disengages the mainspring once fully wound, protecting it against damage that could occur from overwinding. And while typical timepieces commonly have only a tungsten coating on the outer ring of their rotor, this caliber delivers top efficiency thanks to the mass of its solid-tungsten rotor construction, something NOMOS continues to this day.
The Epsilon is also available in more complex iterations, such as the Xi caliber found in the Tangomat GMT or Zürich world time.
Swing System and the neomatik Series
The next milestone in NOMOS’ history was the introduction of a proprietary escapement mechanism with a balance wheel, coil spring, escapement wheel, and lever. Such an achievement is no small feat, even for the big names in haute horlogerie. And the real sensation: NOMOS did it without significantly raising their prices.
With the launch of the in-house escapement known at NOMOS as the “swing system,” the company began assigning a new nomenclature to its updated calibers. They moved away from Greek letters to the DUW designation, followed by a code number for the respective movement. DUW, short for “deutsche Uhrenwerke” (German movements), proudly put NOMOS on the map among the “real” watchmakers of the world who are known for their top-quality manufacturing. NOMOS states that this achievement required seven years of research, undertaken together with the Dresden University of Technology and Fraunhofer Society. This process entailed the exchange of both knowledge and personnel: Lutz Reichel, one of the key developers of the swing system and who completed his doctoral work on the topic at the Dresden University of Technology, started work at NOMOS immediately upon earning his degree.
The Three-Handed Revolution: The NOMOS DUW 3001
Even while NOMOS was integrating the swing system into ever more watches, the next big hit was already on the way in the form of a revolutionary generation of movements. It started with the three-hand automatic variant, the DUW 3001, while premiered alongside the new Minimatik model in 2015. Thanks to its mere 3.2 millimeters in thickness, thin-cased models like the Orion, which had previously only had room for hand-wound calibers, could now boast automatic winding. The key figures in developing the neomatik series were head of R&D Mirko Heyne, who also played a central role in creating the Epsilon caliber, and the head of design, Theodor Prenzel.
At 3.2 mm, the DUW 3001 is 1.1 mm thinner than the Epsilon – a reduction of nearly 26%. Now, this comparison might be a bit unfair, considering that the Epsilon is a caliber based upon the Peseux 7001 (or NOMOS Alpha). In contrast, NOMOS’ watchmakers started from scratch with the DUW 3001. This enabled them to integrate an automatic mechanism into its three-quarter plate construction, fitting it into a case with the thickness of conventional hand-winding watches. Manufacturing tolerances had to be nearly halved to achieve this, while a thinner mainspring was made possible by a higher caliber efficiency, which NOMOS states as being at 92.4%
As for how NOMOS names its calibers: The DUW 4000 series is home to Alpha movements featuring the NOMOS swing system, the 5000 series contains the long-established automatic calibers and the swing system, and the 3000 series references the first neomatik generation.
So just where are the 1000 and 2000 series? Let’s take a quick detour to answer this question.
The NOMOS Haute Horlogerie Calibers
While you’ll find the NOMOS Tangente gracing the wrists of many watch enthusiasts, two high-end NOMOS models are a rare sight out in the watch world: the Lambda and Lux, the former of which has a round case, twin mainspring barrels, and up to 84 hours of power reserve; the latter of which has a barrel-shaped case and a caliber designed specifically for it. With screwed chatons, finely-polished edges, and hand-engraving, NOMOS is at the forefront of the watch world. Finally, these timepieces only come in precious metals (with a few rare exceptions, though more on that in a minute).
Strictly speaking, these calibers, which debuted in 2013, were actually NOMOS’ first proprietary movements, years ahead of the neomatik series. However, the watches powered by these calibers sell in the five-figure range, perhaps helping to clarify why they are the lesser-known calibers among their NOMOS brethren.
NOMOS also released three stainless steel Lambda models, each limited to a production run of 175 pieces, at much more affordable prices. There’s no doubt that the NOMOS Lambda and Lux offer exquisite quality. But NOMOS’ strength is generally found in selling outstanding timepieces at a price point of around $3,500 or below.
Maybe you already knew about the affordable NOMOS models and are reading about the Lambda and Lux series for the first time (or perhaps not). Something most people don’t know is that in 2006, NOMOS constructed two very high-end movements (including one with a tourbillon) as part of a limited series of watches for Wempe Jewelers in Germany. These were the Theta and Iota calibers. The Theta was the result of work by Mirko Heyne, while the Iota, which featured the tourbillon, was the product of Thierry Albert, who invested years into completing the movement.
What’s next for NOMOS?
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a watch on the NOMOS website that doesn’t feature the swing system. There’s also the question of whether the watch manufacturer will continue making the “old” calibers alongside its neomatik movements, or if, at some point, all of NOMOS’ watches will contain the super-flat neomatik construction. This would require upgrades of existing calibers or even new movements, which would be very time-intensive. And at the end of the day, any changes made need to generate sufficient revenue for the company.
For me, the exciting question is whether we’ll ever see a NOMOS chronograph. This would be the next logical progression in terms of technology, but does it fit the NOMOS DNA? On the one hand, the complexity of a chronograph dial stands in relatively stark contrast to the NOMOS trademark, minimalistic dial designs. On the other hand, some brands have shown that a chronograph dial doesn’t necessarily have to be that much busier than a standard three-handed one (see the Louis Erard monopusher chronograph). So NOMOS, if you’re reading this, please make a chronograph caliber. You’ve got at least one buyer already waiting in the wings.