Introducing

Junghans Max Bill

Junghans Max Bill– The Designer’s Choice

JUNGHANS max bill
Image courtesy of Junghans

Junghans and Max Bill were the perfect combination of design and technology when they joined forces 60 years ago.

Introduction

Junghans Watch Company has a long and distinguished history of watchmaking spanning nearly 160 years. Zeller and Junghans was established by Erhard Junghans and his brother-in-law, Jakob Zeller-Tobler in 1861 within the little German town of Schramberg in the Eastern Black Forest. 

Firmengründer Erhard Junghans (1823-1870) | Watchtime.net
Erhard Junghans.
Image courtesy of Junghans


Originally created as a clock component manufacturer, their first full clocks emerged in 1886.

The Junghans Factory with the Terresembaum to the far left.
Image courtesy of Junghans


Less than forty years after its inauguration Junghans was the largest clock factory in the world, producing 3 million alarm and wall clocks every year.

Expansion of the original factory was completed with the famous terrace building, or terrasenbau, in 1918. This heritage-listed, state-of-the-art, nine-level manufacture was designed by architect Philipp Jakob Manz on the slopes of the Black Forest valley to provide watchmakers with natural and well-lit work places. Optimal light is key to precision watchmaking.

Junghans’ watchmakers “limbering up” at the beginning of the day.
Image courtesy of Junghans


Junghans were fairly laboured in producing their first wristwatches in 1927, about ten years after the first German wrist watch. However, with one of the largest clock manufacturing facilities in the world, why would you change your successful gameplan?

Like many brands in existence today, Junghans has celebrated many peaks and endured many troughs in their history. Their history and achievements would make most high-end brands envious: 

  • In 1949 they presented the legendary J88 chronograph movement –  with 19 jewels, column wheel and Breguet over coil – which was chosen by the Bundeswehr pilots. 
1949 - Uhrenfabrik Junghans
Image courtesy of Junghans
  • In 1951 Junghans is the largest manufacturer of Chronometers in Germany and by 1956 the third largest in the world. 
Image courtesy of Junghans
  • In 1970 the Junghans AstroQuartz is Germany’s first quartz movement. 
Image courtesy of Junghans
  • In 1972 they were the official timekeepers at the Munich Olympic Games. 
Image courtesy of Junghans
  • In 1976 Junghans received it’s 3000th patent for horological developments.
  • In 1986 they presented the first ever commercially available radio controlled clock.
  • This was followed in 1990 by the first ever radio controlled wrist watch, the Mega 1.
1990 - Uhrenfabrik Junghans
Image courtesy of Junghans
  • And, then, the first ever solar powered and radio controlled watch in 1993
  • On its 100th anniversary, in 2018 the Terrassenbau is reinvented as the Junghans Museum.
JUNGHANS TERRASSENBAU MUSEUM
Image courtesy of Junghans

Arguably, their greatest triumph was the decision to create a kitchen clock with revered and celebrated designer Max Bill.

Image courtesy of Junghans


Max Bill, 1908 to 1994, was an industrial designer, product designer, graphic designer, typeface designer, architect, sculptor, artist and painter. He apprenticed as a Silversmith and then studied at the world famous Bauhaus, or “building house”, from 1927 to 1929. This renowned art school was created in 1919 by Walter Gropius and became famous for unifying aesthetics and application. Or form follows function. 

 

This stripped-down modernist approach can be witnessed in Max Bill’s designs and creations. No flimflam. No histrionics.

This modest and austere imagery is incredibly difficult to produce. The more you take away the less you have to create a visual character. Junghans highlighted huge potential in this area when they designed the classically elegant Miester watch in 1936.

1936 - Uhrenfabrik Junghans
Image courtesy of Junghans

Max Bill was one of the founding members of the design school in Ulm. It was here that he was approached by Junghans to create the aforementioned kitchen clock.

It was a natural progression for this successful design to be transposed onto the wrist in what has now become Junghans signature design.

 

As with all winning designs, the Junghans Max Bill has had few little evolution in the last 60 years. The movement and manufacturing processes have advanced to create a more reliable and robust timepiece but the Max Bill remains one of those rare wrist watches that look identical to its vintage original.

Junghans state this is as the “Maximum Minimal”.

Gents Junghans max bill Watch (027/3500.00) | WatchShop.com™
Reference 027/3500.00. £910
Image courtesy of Junghans


Comparing with the original above, there is very little that has been altered over the decades. A slightly elongated typeface is all that gives today’s version away.

When I first became educated in the Junghans Max Bill my favourite was the Chronoscope in the exact same style as the original. So, white dial, steel case with Max Bill numbers on tan leather strap.

max bill Chronoscope
Reference 027/4003.48. £1830.
Image courtesy of Junghans


All of the trademark Max Bill genius is rendered into this utilitarian chronograph endowed version. For a timepiece with a 12 hour chronograph it is still clinical in its presentation, with everything reduced to the essentials. It epitomises the Bauhaus mantra of Form Follows Function. It is absolutely beautiful in every regard. The addition of pushers and subdials should sway the design towards sports utility, but their discretionary manifestation connotes the opposite, which I really like. Often these conspire to turn a pleasant looking three hand timepiece into something with an awkward and clumsy appearance. The Max Bill Chronoscope is the most harmonious sports watch on the market, in my opinion. This is further vindication of the flawless Max Bill creation 60-odd years ago. 

However, I soon realised that what I actually desired was both the exact same three hand design, now with automatic movement, and the even more elegant Chronoscope sans numerals.

The Chronoscope without batons hides its stopwatch credentials even more than the example with Max Bill numbers.

As with all Max Bill timepieces I particularly like the lack of bezel which maximises the real estate of the dial to the case dimensions. I also really appreciate the vintage vibe afforded by the domed glass, which works wonderfully with the lack of bezel, as if all the components come together as one entity.

New for 2020 is the option to upgrade most of the Max Bill watches with a sapphire crystal, instead of the historically pertinent hardened plexiglass.

The 40mm diameter by 14.4mm thick case combine with the purest of dials and an impeccably polished case to engender this glorious timepiece with stylistic elegance. A lamented rarity in the luxury watch catalogues of today.

Other options within the Max Bill family are the 34mm Max Bill Handaufzug (or handwound), the 38mm Max Bill Automatic with date, the 38mm Max Bill Mega with radio controlled movement to allow for atomic clock accuracy through radio signal reception, the 38mm Max Bill Quarz (not a typo) and the 32.7mm lady’s Max Bill Damen.

All are available with multiple dial colours, Arabic numerals or baton markers, steel, PVD black or PVD gold and various straps or a mesh bracelet.

The 34mm Handaufzug is an intriguing option within the Max Bill collection. It is the most relevant to the original in size and movement. It can be worn as a wonderful homage to the original by gentlemen and by females who appreciate stylish timepieces with mechanical movement as well.

Looking like a sophisticated gentlemen of the sixties in the 34mm Handaufzug.

The 34mm Max Bill Handaufzug looks superb on my wife’s dainty wrist.
max bill Handaufzug
Max Bill Handaufzug. Reference 027/3004.48. £740
Image courtesy of Junghans


max bill Automatic
Max Bill Automatic. Reference 027/4000.04. £1040.
Image courtesy of Junghans


max bill MEGA Solar

Max Bill Mega. Reference 059/2021.04. £890.
Image courtesy of Junghans


max bill Quarz
Max Bill Quarz. Reference 041/7857.04. £560.
Image courtesy of Junghans
max bill Damen
Max Bill Damen. Reference 047/7850.04. £560.
Image courtesy of Junghans
Junghans Max Bill Edition Set 2020
Max Bill 2020 box set. Chronoscope plus Automatic Kliene. Reference 027/4018.02. £2415.
Image courtesy of Junghans


Conclusion

The Junghans Max Bill is an indulgent breath of fresh air in the over-subscribed luxury watch market where excessively designed utility timepieces have reached new levels of ubiquity in recent times. The reason for this is that brands need to make an aesthetic mark in the minds of browse weary customers. Junghans have the luxury of offering the gorgeous Max Bill that has remained relevant since its release 60 years ago and will remain so infinitum. This is a reflection of Herr Bill’s much lauded genius within the confines of the Bauhaus design principles.

A single glance at a Max Bill timepiece has the onlooker trying to work out the individual elements that have snared them. However, this is nigh on impossible because the Max Bill blueprint subscribes to harmony within all constituents.

People often think that a simple, classical watch dial is easy to create. However, this could not be further from actuality because you have less to work with to make a unique statement of integrity. This is why the Junghans Max Bill has stood the test of time (pun intended). The standard design philosophy for all new timepieces on the market in today’s impact driven world is to create something contemporary. Something that that will catch the eye. And in the cases (again pun intended) of the uber expensive wrist watches, something that will aid the creator’s aspirations of producing a status symbol.  

This is why the Max Bill continues to delight those that have intrinsic style and panache. Not a single aspect is superfluous. Despite being one of very few, every single visual nuance is an identifier within a concept that epitomises the “less is more” edict to which all great designers subscribe. The Junghans Max Bill is, quite simply, ocular indulgence of the highest order and mirrors our own aspirations for perfection upon our chosen path.

Brightening the days and lives of refined and cultured people since 1961

All words by Richard Atkins. All images by the author and Junghans, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the permission of the author.
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