We sat down with Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte Managing Director Thilo Mühle during a recent U.S. tour of several retailers in the United States that sell his company’s watches. Just prior to showing customers his watches at the Orlando Watch Company as part of the tour, Mühle told iW about Mühle-Glashütte’s 150th anniversary celebrations and its 25th year as a maker of wristwatches. In addition, he discussed his plans to launch an online collection.
How has Mühle-Glashütte been celebrating its 150th anniversary?
We have been celebrating all year. We introduced two new models at Baselworld and on June 24 we will celebrate with a special exhibition and events at the German Watch Museum in Glashütte, which will last for six months. There we will introduce a new model in our Robert Mühle Manufacturing line that uses our own movement. We are also celebrating with our employees.
Also, on each new model introduced in 2019 we have placed a special rotor with a 150th anniversary plate that also recognizes our twenty-fifth year as a watchmaker. The models with the rotor include the Teutonia Sport I, the Sea-Timer BlackMotion, the Panova Green and the Teutonia IV Moonphase watches. The décor is actually on an aluminum plate on top of the rotor.
The middle segment of the anniversary rotor also features a special semicircular ring made of heavy metal. It is connected to the outer edge of the middle segment by four or five gold-colored rivets, depending on the movement.
What are the primary characteristics of every Mühle-Glashütte watch?
Form follows function. We produced measuring instruments for the watch industry in the 19th-century. These were instruments that allowed measurements to 1/1000 of a meter. In the 1920s we made speedometers and car clocks for Audi. In fact, at the Audi museum you will find automotive clocks made by my grandfather. This is real history, not marketing.
For me, a watch is also an instrument. Remember, our full name is Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte. My father created the slogan “the first thing you should see on a watch is the time.” We keep this true on all of our watches. The second function on the watch is always in the second position.
Also, we have developed our own woodpecker neck regulation, a shock resistance technology. With this, our watches can be used for any activity. To use the name of Glashütte you have to produce more than 50% of the movement by yourself. That means we do not use standard movements, so we have developed special plates and modules, special rotors. People get a lot of watch for their money.
How does every Mühle-Glashütte manage online sales?
We approach this differently. At Mühle we see that buyers are looking primarily for price online, so we have created a separate online collection. This way we can carefully monitor the collection and adjust it depending on demand. In this way we also have a greater control over both types of markets in our online and in retail stores. Our online collection is something unexpected, and you’ll see it next year.
We are also planning to sell this online collection through a selected number of our regular retailers. This gives consumers the chance to go into a store to try it on. We are starting with three models. This is one step where we can partner with our retailers to sell online.
Since we manage our own production, we have to control our inventory. People who buy online want to have a watch the next day. You cannot have them wait for six weeks. Also, you need to be available 24 hours a day when you sell online. People tend to buy in the evenings when they buy online. Plus, you need to make the online experience quick and uncomplicated.
I do see that in five years there will be fewer brick-and-mortar retailers. Sales and margins are difficult, the big watch groups and bigger retailers have much more money and rents will continue to increase in good retail locations.
Does Mühle-Glashütte compete with the Apple watch?
Our biggest challenge is to find out what younger people want to wear. We have to make an emotional appeal. We need to tell them that with our brand they get a high-precision, handcrafted mechanical watch not requiring outside energy.
Has Mühle-Glashütte expanded in the United States?
Yes. When collectors are ready to expand their collections into German watches we offer them something special. We now have twenty locations that sell our watches in the United States.
How does the design process work at your company?
I have two people in our graphic design department who create the design, and at the end of the process we have five people who decide on the final version. And of course we have to be aware of the production possibilities or constraints. Sometimes we use outside designers for a fresh view into our collection. But you must find a designer that loves your brand.
Does Mühle-Glashütte plan to make complicated watches?
Nobody who collects our watches has asked us to do a complicated watch. For me it is more interesting to develop new modules for our watches, using other movements inside. With a new module, we get the opportunity to create an entirely new design to present that function. We also make wall clocks, navigation and ship clocks. It is a small part of the business, but an important one.
The watch industry used to say, “this is what we have, and this is what you will buy.” That thinking is now changing. We are happy to make special editions. We listen to consumers, and we are careful to be sure that the consumer knows we are listening.
Why should a collector buy a Mühle-Glashütte watch over another watch in the same price range?
Because the buyer will get a watch with a soul.
We spend our energy and our emotions into the quality of each watch, and you can feel that with each of our watches. Also we offer great value and high quality.
In Glashütte, you can’t make a cheap watch. For example, eighty percent of our cases we buy in Germany. Most companies (in our price range) will buy from cheaper sources. I think you can tell the difference. When you spend $2,000 or $3,000 on a watch, you should be buying a quality watch, not contributing to a marketing budget. Also, not everybody will have a Mühle-Glashütte watch.