Today we are gonna take a look at a very interesting brand, that has a long going history, and now it get’s it’s revival through Kickstarter and with help of couple enthusiasts from Germany. So here is some history of the brand and later we will look at the watch and see how they managed to keep the main essence of Ruhla alive.
Ruhla is little known outside of its place of origin in East Germany, but it’s responsible for a number of significant “firsts” in the worldwide watch industry.
As is the case with Glashütte, the name “Ruhla” comes from the name of the town where the watch brand was born. The town of Ruhla is located in the midst of dense forests and steep hills in central Germany. The challenging topography of the region made agricultural work impractical, but the nearby mountains provided the metal ore to make Ruhla a blacksmiths’ town. The first recorded mention of this city is in 1355.
Ruhla is a small town located in the central-German region of Thuringia. The population of Ruhla is only about 7,000 people, but since 1862 Ruhla has been a very important part of Germany’s watchmaking industry. The steep hills and dense woods around Ruhla made agricultural work there unfeasible, so step by step Ruhla developed into a watchmaking town. Here is pictured Ruhla’s main watch factory, approx. 1910.
The beginnings of Ruhla’s watch industry are usually pinned to the year 1862. This is the founding year of the company Gebrüder Thiel GmbH. This company started out with the mass production of door hinges and gradually moved on to producing smaller, finer mechanical components. In 1874 the company produced its first mass-manufactured892 — the world’s first mass-manufactured pocket watch.
The development of Ruhla’s first pocket started in the late 1880s and lasted for several years. In 1892 the company Gebrüder Thiel (now lead by the sons of one of the original founders) was ready to mass-manufacture its first pocket watch, the “Fearless”. This watch was inexpensive, accurate and reliable. It was mostly sold on the North American market, where it became a huge success. Already in 1897, 1000 factory workers would produce 4000 Fearless watches every day. That’s 1.46 million watches a year.
In 1908, the Thiel Factory released their first wristwatches. They were based on the successful ladies’ pocket watch models “Darling” and “Divina”. The world’s first mass-produced wristwatches were also intended to be worn by ladies. It is worth noting that it was fashion, not technology, which was the limiting factor for the spread of wristwatches worldwide. But still, it is pretty amazing that one company from East-Germany made the first mass-produced pocket watch and also first mass-produced wristwatch. That is quite an accomplishment in my opinion.
The triangular pattern, which you see on the back of this early model became the logo of Ruhla watches only in the 1960s. Its three tips represent the three major centres of the German watchmaking industry: Ruhla, Weimar and Glashütte. All three cities are located in relative proximity to one another in Eastern Germany.
The outbreak of the First World War negatively affected the Thiel company, since most of its production was intended for export. Instead of “Made in Germany”, the watches were simply labelled as “Foreign” and the Thiel logo was removed altogether. Quite often the watches were sold through intermediaries, such as the British watch retailer Ingersoll. Some of you probably know that the Ingersoll name also was revived, but that is a different story for another day.
In the 1930s the watches produced by Gebrüder Thiel became much more similar to what we are used to today. These watches still operated on manual (hand-wound) movements, but they were much smaller than their counterparts from just a decade earlier. In 1920 wristwatches accounted for only 10% of the sales of the Thiel Company. This figure increased to 45% in 1938.
In 1952, ownership of the Thiel watch factory was returned to the German people and the factory was renamed to Uhren und Maschinenfabrik Ruhla — watch and machine factory Ruhla — or UMF Ruhla for short.
In 1963 UMF Ruhla introduced their now-famous “Ruhla” logo. It was used for those watches, which were intended for the East German market. Other brand names were used for watches which were exported. The movements created by UMF Ruhla were another popular export item. Click here to see the list of brands, which carried Ruhla-made movements.
In 1978 Sigmund Jähn became the first German astronaut. On his mission, he carried four Ruhla watches with him. Three of them were intended as presents to his Russian colleagues. Thus Ruhla watches also became the first German watches in space. Sigmund Jähn is currently 80 years old and he still has his watch from his space mission. He lives in Strausberg, 30km East of Berlin.
In the 1980s Ruhla’s watchmaking industry had reached its peak. It employed over 8000 people in the design and manufacture of watches, watch movements as well as watch production machinery. Such a degree of vertical integration was not possible anywhere else in the world, so Ruhla quite likely became the world’s largest watchmaking plant. And the Ruhla watches from these years are probably the ones most of the people remember. My grandfather has 2 Ruhlas from the 80s and they are pretty cool looking with this funky case design and bright colours. I’m actually thinking of getting one for myself as NOS (New Old Stock) Ruhla’s on eBay are going from 30$ and up already serviced. So I was thinking about getting one as they are really cheap and nice looking.
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany reunited in 1990. What followed was an abrupt transition from a planned economy to a free market economy. Due to its sheer size and scale, the Ruhla watchmaking factory was forced to close down. What started as short-term insolvency became permanent closure. Many of the Ruhla watch factory buildings were demolished or left for vandalism. The last Ruhla watch was produced in 1991. It is a shame that this happened as if they still were making watches they would be competitors to such companies as Seiko, Citizen or Casio. Right now the Japanese companies own the affordable watch market.
But after some years there was a new start for the Ruhla name. Gunther Beck and Alexander Lange are two Thüringen-born entrepreneurs who started out by creating an online watch store back in 2006. Ruhla watches had been ubiquitous in Thüringen during their childhood but they have since disappeared from the market completely. Three years ago, the success of their watch store finally allowed them to take matters into their own hands and bring back the Ruhla brand.
Thüringer Uhren Werke (TUW) Ruhla stands for Thuringian Watchworks Ruhla. For the two founders of TUW Ruhla, it was not only important to bring back the Ruhla name, but also the Ruhla watches. Their collection primarily takes design cues from the 60s and upwards, but they also put some modern take on the designs. The watches are handmade in Germany under the oversight of Mr. Uwe W. — one of the watchmakers who worked in the original Ruhla factory in the 1980s and also studied for his watchmaking diploma there.
The TUW Ruhla was brought to life with a help of crowdfunding through Kickstarter. In the Kickstarter project, we had classic looking watches. There were a lot of dial and case colour options and the movements they used were Japan made automatic movement Seiko NH35 and Swiss made Ronda quartz movement. They were funded by 90 backers who pledged overall €24,892 which was plenty enough to start producing watches. Over a couple of years, they updated their collection with a lot more watch designs like aviation inspired chronographs, dive watches, world time zone watches, racing-inspired chronographs, power reserve complications and even solar powered watches. And they use an automatic movement from Miyota, Seiko and even Vostok, for the quartz they use Ronda and for the Solar they use Sii movements. So a big variety of movement manufacturers are found in TUW Ruhla watches. If you ask me, they really kept the design essence and affordability from original Ruhla idea.
So I reached out to TUW Ruhla and asked if they can send a watch in for a review, as I was really wanting to do a review on their newer piece and see how it compares to the Ruhla’s my grandfather has. And so they were kind enough to send one in for a review. The model they sent me is called TUW Ruhla Globetrotter. Globetrotter means world traveller.
The watch arrived in a cardboard outer box and leather clamshell inner box. The box isn’t anything special. It actually looks like the same box what AEGAON watches uses (I reviewed one of their pieces couple of weeks ago). But we are not about the box. Inside you get the watch and instructions/guarantee. Seems that TUW Ruhla is keeping it simple, just like the old days. The first impressions were nice. I already noticed some design cues from the old Ruhla’s with the rectangle on the dial and rectangular hands, also the sunburst dial screams 80s. Before I review the watch itself I need to remind that this is made in Germany watch, of course, the movement is Russian Vostok, but outside of that everything you see is made in Germany, the case, bezel, dial, strap etc.
The case is made from 316L stainless steel. The diameter is 42mm, case thickness is 14,3mm, lug tip to lug tip it is 50mm and lug width is 22mm. The case is mainly finished in polished finishing. The side of the case and case back is polished. Only the upper side of the lugs and under the lugs you will find brushed finishing. Actually, the polished case sides give me that vintage watch vibe. The case shape is round with long lugs, I actually like the proportions a lot. 42mm on paper for some would look big, but it wears a lot smaller, more like 40mm. The lugs slope down quite a bit so the Globetrotter so it wears very comfortable too. At 3 o’clock we have a push/pull crown which is polished with Ruhla logo etched on the side. This watch also features the GMT world time unidirectional rotating bezel with city names on it. The bezel is made from stainless steel with aluminium insert. The bezel and the insert are in black colour. And again you see design cues from 70s watches as most of them with rotating bezels had black bezels but in plastic. The city names are in white colour and the “GMT” under “London” is in red. The bezel has a pretty nice action. I used this watch for two months and bezel has zero play. It isn’t stiff too, it is pretty easy to grip and rotate. The screw in case back has an exhibition window so you can see that Vostok 2426. The crystal on the case back and also over the dial is sapphire. Actually pleased to see sapphire as I was expecting mineral. On the case back, you will find basic specifications etched on the outer ring of it. I’m very impressed by the quality of the case, but that’s what you expect from made in Germany watch. The finishing is done really good, all the case lines are sharp and I like that they kept it in this vintage style.
Silver sunburst dial on the Globetrotter is really a stunner. I never had a silver sunburst dial on any of my watches or any that I reviewed, as I thought they don’t look good. But this just looked really good in pictures, and I got to say, in real life, it looks even better. Pictures really don’t give justice to this dial. Around the outer edge of the dial, we have the minute track. The black hour markers are applied with a small line of lume in the middle of each marker. Then we have the 24-hour track for the world time function. In the middle, we have a rectangular line going from 9 to 3 o’clock. That is Ruhla signature thing to do. At 12 we have the TUW Ruhla logo and at 6 we have the “Made in Germany” text. The hound and minutes hand is in black and rectangular shape with applied lume on them. Th second hand is also black but stick shaped. The second time zone hand is in orange and arrow-shaped. Overall the dial is kept in this 70s early 80s vibe and I love it. I’m impressed by the quality of everything on the dial. Everything lines up and matches perfectly. The lume is pretty good, but in long term it just shines 2-3h.
The Ruhla Globetrotter is fitted with the self-winding Vostok 2426 movement (32 jewels, 19,800 BPH, a variation of the 2416) and, alongside the standard hours, minute and second hands there is a secondary 24 hour (GMT) hand. This sweeps the face once every 24 hours. If you use the rotating bezel in conjunction you have a second-time-zone. The Vostok movements are really good workhorses, but accuracy wise this isn’t the best movement. This one goes +18 to +20 seconds a day. For some, this is too much, but for me who changes watches every day, it isn’t a problem.
The strap that came with the watch is actually pretty good. It is in dark brown, genuine leather band with white stitching. And I have to mention that it is also made in Germany. The leather is pretty soft and doesn’t need the break in period like most other watch brands generic straps. The buckle is really good looking one with TUW Ruhla logo engraved on it. The buckle is made from stainless steel and has brushed finishing on top and polished under the buckle. The strap is good quality, but I immediately swapped it for orange canvas strap, it just looks better with bright colour straps. But for sake of the review photos, I put it back on the original strap.
It was very interesting to write about the history and research the brand more. Also taking a look at the TUW Ruhla Globetrotter was cool. I really like the vintage styling the watch has with those rectangular hands and sunburst dial, black bezel. It just looks so good. I actually have zero complaints about this watch, maybe the accuracy is a problem for some, but overall the watch is pretty solid. You get a Made in Germany watch, automatic movement, GMT function, good looking vintage design and sapphire crystal on front and back for just 379€, I think that is a steal!
Case MaterialStainless Steel (brushed/polished)
Diameter (without crown) in mm/inches43 / 1,69
Display TypeAutomatic: Hours, Minutes, 24h hand
Special FeatureSolid Case