The ARISTOcrat of Pforzheim

We go in-depth with Aristo Watches from Germany

Date Published
Jan 20, 2021
Author
Samuel Ng
Category
Insight
SponsoredAcme Inc.

Watchmaking is a skilled trade that requires a collective effort—known traditionally as “établissage,” which involves using raw elements, assembly processes, and regulations that, in most cases, were done by relying on different parties. Yes, one might argue that a single watchmaker could do everything by themselves, but that’s not the primary driver in horology. The truth is that in the watch world, independent companies or individuals that account for every single element in-house have been few and far between.

(A modern Aristo that reinterpreted its German roots)

While one individual’s particular effort may seem to be all-important, it might only play a small role in horology, yet, as a whole, it is still significant. This close liaison has been evident since the late 16th century. It has remained much the same in keeping the homogeneous tradition, whereby different houses produce various components while experts in other fields, such as decorative finishers and assembly lines, complete the finished product—a  functional timepiece. This particular phenomenon can be recognized in a singular nation renowned for its watches, such as Switzerland, and around the world in places like England, America, and Germany. 

With that in mind, we want to pay close attention to watch industry veterans that are not your typical Swiss affair but are from Germany itself. Here, we highlight the compelling relationship between two watch brands in the early 20th century. One, whose traditional passion for finely made timepieces from Pforzheim, has been almost forgotten. Another from the same town successfully perpetuates its legacy. Intriguingly, the latter goes unnoticed for its watchmaking efforts but is still worth mentioning—a master, not known for producing watches, but instead recognizable metal bracelets. These two brands are known as Aristo, AKA, The Best, and Vollmer, the bracelet maker from Pforzheim. 

(Watchmaking right here in Pforzheim)

This article will delve extensively into each company, as both are worthy of the spotlight, aiming to understand their origins. Through the journey, we’ll realize their uncompromising relationship that can be seen throughout the Black Forest town, and why the brands are so central to German horology. Both entities forged a unique path throughout the years, leading to the unity that is Aristo-Vollmer Gmbh today. While most of our discussion focuses on watches, we decided to tap into both Aristo’s watchmaking and Vollmer’s effort to translate its technical prowess in metalworks infused into Aristo’s designs.

Born In Pforzheim

(The Black Forest Town) (Photo Credit: CirculaWatches)

First, we need to understand the origins of the two firms that played such intrinsic roles in Germany’s horology. To do this, we must focus on the key regions that essentially defined the country’s watchmaking tradition: Glashütte in the east; and Pforzheim on the opposite horizon. For this article’s purposes, we focus on the latter as the birthplace and operation venue for Aristo and Vollmer. 

Historically similar to the Swiss, the watchmaking scene in Western Germany dates back as early as the 1700s, with the opening of horological schools and several watchmakers that focused on clocks, jewelry, and pocket watches. All this came to fruition thanks to Margrave Karl-Friedrich von Baden, who founded the watch and jewelry industry in the town in 1767, with the help of a pair of Swiss-French watchmakers who set up a watch factory in a local orphanage. Of note is that watchmaking began earlier in eastern Germany; Glashütte, at that time, was considered the pinnacle of watchmaking. 

(A selection of Black Forest signature cuckoo clocks) (Photo Credit: flickr by Amit Gandhi)

For a century, the Black Forest town of Pforzheim was well-regarded, particularly for manufacturing large clocks, table clocks, and cuckoo clocks. These products can still be found today and purchased by consumers. Manufacturers later moved their processes steadily towards micro-mechanics, manufacturing pocket watches with their own quartz components throughout the ninetieth and twentieth centuries.

After a millennium and a half, during the 1920s, the south-western town experienced an emergence of watch and jewelry manufacturing so auspicious that people, both locally and abroad, nicknamed the region as “Little Geneva.”

These horological educational faculties led to the nurturing of many outstanding watchmakers. For instance, Mr. Jorg Hysek, who later designed the Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas 222; and Mr. Walter Lange, a fugitive from Glashutte who initially started assembling and distributing Lange watches under the logo A.L.P (which stands for A.Lange Pforzheim). Yes, he’s the man who achieved his brand’s renaissance and I.W.C under the current company named A. Lange & Sohne.

Many other local watch companies can be seen following parallel paths. During this time, numerous companies emerged as frontrunners of German watchmaking, being largely a family industry. There are also specific design codes for each of their watch’s elements that they strictly adhered to. 

(A pre-nineties A.L.P timepiece from Walter Lange) (Photo Credit: Vintage Portfolio)

There are far too many to list, but some are standouts and have become household names, such as A.L.P., Arctos, Ickler, Stowa, Laco, and Aristo. Apart from these watchmakers, the western town also had their fair share in Rohwer (ebauche) movement makers, including the renowned Pforzheimer Uhren-Rohwerke GmbH (P.U.W.) founded by Rudolf Wehner in 1933, supplying numerous movements to its neighboring watchmakers.

(Vintage Arctos with its Ufora 55 caliber) (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

From the late 17th century to the 20th, “Little Geneva” has produced watches and components in unity by providing support and supplies among themselves and forming alliances in the process. The cooperative effort can be seen as a singular approach, mostly when designing – where most products seemingly followed a particular code strictly, with the tangible enduring spirit can still be seen in their current collections.

The German Aristocrat

(Aristo Manufacturing facility before the take over by Vollmer)

With that in mind, let’s dive into the good old days of Aristo. Translated as “Ariston” or simply put, “the best,” the brand from a Black Forest town has authentic Germanic roots with classic aristocratic touches. Founded in 1907 by native Julius Epple I, as “Julius Epple KG.” The company made a name for itself producing jewelry components, progressing into watchcases, and later watches themselves. The brand showed remarkable expertise in horology. During a short period, Aristo even crafted an in-house hand-winding movement known as “JE Urofa 56” in 1934, although later returning their focus to crafting watchcases. 

(Case polishing operation that still can be seen today)

The brand from Pforzheim’s town finally settled on the name Aristo Uhren- and Uhrgehäusefabrik (Watches and Watchcase manufacturing) in the 1920s, officially registering it January 31, 1936. Less recognizable today, the company Stowa and Laco was a key player with a vital role in providing movements and components for others while still producing clean-looking, quality timepieces with refined aesthetics for many years. One of the earliest designs worth acknowledging is the “Bauhaus” look. 

(The modern interpretation of Aristo Bauhaus through the Dessau collection) (Photo Credit: Enjoy Your Watch)
(The epitome of Bauhaus influence on watches found on these timepieces)
(Photo Credit: WornAndWound)

The minimalist design was initially founded by an architect named Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany. Its relevancy came in conjunction with the German watchmakers in the country. At that time, the German watch industry was so heavily influenced by this 20th-century dogma that it imposed a lasting effect on the design philosophy. Fittingly, timepieces produced in Pforzheim often exude pure elegance and simplicity, often considered dress watches, yet unornamented enough to be worn daily and icons on their own. Even today, the indelible minimalist aura can be felt and seen in German timepieces. 

(Nothing felt unnecessary)

Consistency has been preeminent in their designs, as evidenced during World War II, where it appeared in every part of Germany. The global event resulted in watch manufacturers’ inevitable decision to focus on producing military supplies and accessories. During these dark days, Aristo and several others started to deliver “timing accessories” for the German Army, not just for their country’s military but also for foreign countries.

(An example of an early Aristo military piece) (Photo Credit: myWatchMart)

In the case of Aristo, the minimalist design makes it highly legible and functional in context—paired with Arabic numerals and hand-winding mechanical movements related to military ethos. The full matte case prevented reflective glare that affects readability; broadsword hands are linked to aviation and provide superior readability. Striking a balance between Bauhaus notes and B-Uhren (from marine watches), the dial aesthetics converged with the handset mentioned above; reliable mechanical movements provided accurate timing in most terrains. This sums up the mindset behind what the Germans were producing.

(Another fine example)

The Collective Effort

Digging a little deeper will highlight how Aristo, like its neighboring watchmakers, got their watches into the market. The only way for Aristo to build a complete watch was to rely on different specialists, and vice versa. For instance, the town at the northern edge of the Black Forest was also home to one of the largest dial manufacturers, Weber & Baral.

(One of the leading supplier of dials for German watch companies – Weber & Baral)
(Photo Credit: ArchitectureLab)

The dial specialists supplied the iconic Bauhaus dials to many German watch companies, including Aristo, Stowa, Laco, and Lange & Söhne, just to name a few—reinforcing the adherence to design code seen throughout the country. 

The same applies to mechanical movements. Aristo initially relied on local and Swiss Ebauche movement makers to ensure that the watches were as reliable as they were designed to be. The Deutsche Uhren-Roh-Werke, also known as Durowe (a sister company of Laco), and the Pforzheimer mentioned earlier Uhren-Rohwerke GmbH with its famed PUW 1260 and 1360 calibers, were both ebauche makers born in Pforzheim. They supplied Teutonic mechanical movements to all the Pforzheim watch manufacturers, including the first Lange’s watches throughout the early 19thirties into the late 1960s, before both companies faced tough times during the quartz crisis of Ebauches SA, later to be known as the Swatch Group.

(An early example of a vintage movement inside Aristo)

With the lack of in-house movement and suppliers from Pforzheim in recent times, Aristo sourced those renowned movements from the Swiss side directly. The watches were clad with Valjoux chronograph movements, popular since the 1960s, with the renaissance of chronograph sports watches.

(A Swiss caliber in modern Aristo today)

Manufacturers eventually came together to produce watches that bore their own labels or even created novel monikers for new partnerships. They formed alliances as early as 1949, such as the Parat-Group, the last REGENT group, among others. These alliances consisted of all different components producers, from movements to cases, all from Pforzheim’s town. 

Another Side Of Things

In the aftermath of wartime, Helmut Julius Epple III, the third generation that steered Aristo’s watchmaking at that time, paved a new way for the company that flabbergasted many, yet inevitable. In all likelihood, things were difficult for Pforzheim’s watch industry (Glashütte wasn’t better). Many facilities were either destroyed or dismantled – everything seemed devastated. For the surviving firms to persevere, Aristo and its production and watchmaking had to be diversified. The company took its proficiency and set foot into other private labels by joining forces with other watchmakers in the country and outside. One of Mr. Epple’s apparent efforts was the inclusion of a well-known brand named Deguna. 

(One of Deguna’s prolific chronograph) (Photo Credit: Monochrome Watches)

The company continued to pursue the equivalent of military field watches under the name Alpina. Deguna was part of a collective watch company called Deutsche Uhrmacher-Genossenschaft Alpina-Dugena. Through the diversified effort, Aristo managed to stay afloat in the market, with its private labels like Deguna taking off after the post-war period, producing high-quality quartz collections and great sports chronographs. 

(Example of an early sixties diver’s chronograph) (Photo Credit: Monochrome Watches)

Aristo’s effort in producing watches through collectivity and diversification was not unusual. Since the 1920s, the company had been exporting overseas under other labels; brands like Zentra, Regent, Adora, and Cathey. Not to be confused with another independent enterprise in the U.S. bearing the name Aristo Import Inc. Co, though they did purchase German’s Aristo components previously. Aristo even manufactured some coveted vintage chronographs for the overseas market.

Throughout its journey until the 1990s, Aristo’s diversified ventures lay in producing classical “Bauhaus” timepieces branded under different companies. In the post-war period, Aristo sustained itself through sub-brands like Deguna while receiving aid from other venerable manufacturers locally and abroad.

(An early sixties Zentra dress watch) (Photo Credit: CataWiki)
(A fifties Adora Automatic with the PUV 1360 caliber) (Photo Credit: CataWiki)

The focus on other labels seems prolonged throughout a period, mainly due to the lack of a suitable successor after the third generation. Haplessly, the Epple family had little choice but to trade Aristo to the Uhrentechnik Weimar (U.T.W.) in 1993, which only lasted for two years. In 1995, we believe that Helmut Julius Epple III regretted his initial move, rescinding the takeover in an attempt to regain the legacy of his heirloom. He reacquired the company successfully but passed the baton again three years later to another German firm. Only this time, he knew it would be in good hands.

In the Beginning, There Was Only Metal

Most people tend to focus on a watch itself and not the sub-object that holds it on your wrist. Perhaps, these bracelets are perceived as too bland or straightforward to be appreciated. However, paying particular attention to accessories, digging deeper reveals a notable maker— and an opportunity for a bracelet company from the same town as Aristo, playing a vital role in keeping a specific bracelet style, and the brand Aristo, relevant. This metal band protagonist is none other than Vollmer. 

(Ernst Vollmer in the factory) (Photo Credit: WatchStyle)

Ernst Vollmer, a German native, founded Vollmer Uhrarmbandfabrik. He started producing an assortment of metal bracelets in Birkenfeld, a town located in Western Germany, within the same region as Pforzheim. After World War II, the production of bracelets shifted to Pforzheim, and since then, the German metalsmith continued its journey to produce metal bracelets. The underrated band maker was considered very niche, comprised of professionals in the field of metalworks. Goldsmiths, metalworkers, polishers, and production engineers, came together to produce robust and stylish metal bands for timepieces, from raw material to the final product.

(The band maker consists of different professionals)

To produce the bands comprehensively, Vollmer had another strength: mastery of an array of unique tools and types of machinery to build the metal bands. From day one, metalsmiths relied on various kinds of traditional machinery, like the sheet metal punch, to create holes and shapes from the 19thirties. 

(A metal sheet machine in the factory) (Photo Credit: WatchStyle)

With the know-how combined with the machinery, all the rolling, pinning, screwing, or pressing processes were meticulous within the Vollmer workshop. This strenuous process could take up to 85 steps to create its bracelets, requiring comprehensive knowledge in handling different materials, like silver, titanium, and best of all, stainless steel.

(Three classic examples of Vollmer’s metal bracelets)

Now, you might wonder about our enthusiasm for bracelet making – what’s the big deal? It is an art in itself, and through the process and mastery of its craft, becomes a partner that completes the “whole package” of a watch for its wearer, like Robin to Batman (watch brands in this scenario) from the very beginning. Vollmer supplied countless watch brands, even those from overseas—Oris, Odeon, Rama, Candino, Roventa-Henex, Berney Blondeau, Emka, to name a few. The bracelet manufacturer of Pforzheim provided reliably matching metal bands for prominent watch brands.

(An Oris mesh bracelet from yesteryears that might just be from Germany’s Vollmer)

If Gay Frères is the “godfather” of metal bands from Switzerland, Vollmer is the crème de la crème from Germany. Vollmer rose to fame in the effort to restore certain bygone bracelets – like the 70s “Serge Gainsbourg” rally holes-styled steel band; and the charming Milanese mesh bracelet from the late twenties. Speaking of the latter, although one design can be traced back to as early as eight hundred years ago, the one of a kind metal band was renewed by two metal specialists from Germany – Staib, and Vollmer.

(A stellar example of a twin-bar bracelet that was brought back by Vollmer) (Photo Credit: Hodinkee)
(The iconic mesh bracelet found on Omega’s Ploprof was restored to fame by Vollmer) (Photo Credit: Chronocentric)

Even a cult favorite 600m saturation dive watch from Bienne’s brand, Switzerland, utilizes the mesh-form bracelet’s retro charm alongside its robustness. The raison-d’etre: Plongeur Professionnel (Plo-Prof) is a behemoth dive watch that was revolutionary in many aspects of engineering. And yes, it was paired either on an Isofrane rubber strap or a steel mesh bracelet for the professionals to take it down into the abyss ocean.

(The twin bar bracelet that is still in production today by Vollmer)

These bracelets were once long forgotten until manufacturers like Vollmer repopularized them once again. The intricate process of making them takes tremendous effort that cannot be replicated purely with modern computers and technology. Things are still done by hands of metalsmiths and finishers – through a long process from spiraling the material and cutting the steel webbings to heating it in a blazing oven of 1050 degrees Celsius before treating the mesh for its flexibility. A good mesh band crafted by Vollmer can be recognized by its robustness while exuding flexibility and comfort on any wrist – all that takes many years of experience, skill, and talent.

(The current mesh bracelet produced by Vollmer)

More Than Meets The Wrist

Through the 20th century, Vollmer offered many incredible metal bands that captured various fashions of the period in dazzling ways, utilizing different materials and traditional methods to create all sorts of bracelets for other watch brands globally.

(Watch cases are now produced in the Vollmer factory)

In the 1970s, the Vollmer family decided to up their ante. The metal band company started to diversify, producing watch cases and their current metal bracelets —an appropriate path to take as it’s still within the metal works. Over the next two decades, Vollmer honed their skill in watchcase manufacturing, and in 1989 once the famous Berlin wall was torn down and the whole of Germany came together, Vollmer started to sell complete timepieces to other watch companies and on their own.

(A Vollmer sports model) (Photo Credit: WatchStyle)
(The current production of both the watch head and bracelet in the Vollmer facility)

The Pforzheim metal band and watchmaker had thrived under three generations of family management, with the founder’s current grandson, Mr. Hansjörg Vollmer overseeing the firm. Hansjörg himself was like Helmut Epple in many ways – a third-generation managing and taking over the family business, born during an epoch of glorious days for Germany’s rising watchmaking industry. Graduating from business management in the neighboring town of Stuttgart, Mr. Hansjörg cultivated watch distribution experience and skills. Due to his ability to speak French and strong relationship building, he managed to forge close contacts with major manufacturers in Switzerland and Germany. 

(Mr. Hansjörg himself in his factory)

It was a golden opportunity for both Aristo and Vollmer, where the then seventy-year-old Helmut Epple entrusted his watchmaking business to Hansjörg, who had attested to be capable of representing both companies. The union also benefited their shared town, Pforzheim. This joyous occasion took place in 1998 when Aristo was declared to be kickstarting its “second life.” Vollmer signed the contract to take over Aristo and continue to produce Aristo watches. During this period, Mr. Hansjörg also started getting his Swiss contacts to supply these Aristo watches with reliable Swiss movements.

(The supplement from Switzerland with reliable watch movements)

Exactly seven years later, the Epple and Vollmer families combined to form a single entity that we recognize as Aristo-Vollmer Gmbh today. After the registration, Vollmer acquired Aristo’s remaining manufacturing assets to protract its watchmaking tradition.

Now, Aristo-Vollmer comprises both the professionals and the conventional machinery to produce and assemble its very own timepieces. In addition to case and bracelet manufacturing, it now includes a dial printing department. All Aristo watches have their dials printed with markers, logo, and texts, all done in-house, by a design team led by Mr. Hansjörg himself and his partner. Throughout the latter part of this article, we will be touching on the firm’s duality prospects with their revamped collections.

(Now with very own dial printing department)

A Humble Resurgence

Since early 2000, Mr. Hansjörg Vollmer has understood the effervescence in German watch production and successfully headed Aristo-Vollmer to perpetuate the brand in line with traditional know-how to produce utilitarian tool watches that harkens back to the early days. Like the resurgence of Vollmer’s retro bracelet, the man’s ambition was to remaster Aristo’s heritage of robust timepieces with iconic looks, improving each of them to be worn in any circumstances. In the words of Mr. Vollmer himself – “An Aristo watch for land, water and air.” 

(A current remastered German Flieger from Aristo)

For the next two decades, the company has had three main collections: the Sport line, Klassik, and design. To begin, Mr. Vollmer revived the the Klassik line that consists of the Marine/Field (land), U-Boot (sea), and Flieger (aviation) sub-collections. The first was the Marine series that evokes a dressier aesthetic worn by deck officers onboard ships and submarines. 

The Marine timepieces usually come with a lacquered white dial, incorporating Roman or Arabic numerals for some elegance. With an additional old-school cathedral or pomme (Breguet styled) hands, the watches recall the early thirties’ and forties’ historical Marine observation watches. To protect the watches, they are encased in its 316L polished case with sapphire crystal. These watches are a fantastic starter for Aristo, incorporating the Germanic ethos with modern precision.

Flieger in its Blood

The second collection released back-to-back with the Marine is the Flieger collection. Pilot watches are closely associated with German watchmaking, to this very day. These are atypical designs that have not only stood the test of time, but having gone through the hard wartimes, these elements are designated to be classic. The German Nav B-Uhr (Beobachtungs-Uhren) is considered to define the genre. Although before World War II, the world’s first official goes to Cartier with its Santos watch in 1(also the first man’s wristwatch) in 1904, by a good friend named Alberto Santos-Dumont. However, the German Air Force and its conceptual designs are more instantly recognizable, denoting what the Flieger genre has been about since 1935.

(The Type B Flieger Ref. 7H117 from Aristo)

These B-Uhren were started by four German manufactures and one Swiss: Stowa, A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Lacher & Company/Durowe (Laco), and International Watch Company. Through the thirties, many other Pforzheim watchmakers have followed suit in designing for the public as well. We’d go as far as to say that it’s Aristo’s core identity, if it wasn’t for the pilot watches, cultivating the company’s original roots of producing Flieger cases and watches. Along with companies like Stowa or Laco, its other brethren made pilot watches popular.

(The side profile is done with satin for a full utilitarian look and feel)

Mr. Vollmer once again restored and reinterpreted the impressive and novel German Flieger design. In the current Flieger collection, Aristo has an array of them while still adopting the standard criteria. The watchmaker’s collection is an evolution from the B-Uhr – coming in different dial configurations and case materials while available in various sizes and supplementary features. Nevertheless, all of them are done so with elements that are period-correct. 

(Classic elements like the dial and case of the Aviator 40 Triple Date Ref. 4H354)

The Aviator, Flieger, and Navigator models, on the one hand, emanate the uber Nav B-Uhren. While appealing in their own way, they are univocally legible with their matte dial surface, paired with the Arabic numerals as hour markers, to double up in precision reading. These dial elements are orientated with a triangle with two dots on each side (Type A) or an arrow (Type B) at the twelve o’clock position. All that is indicated with another iconic component – a pair of sword hands filled with luminous material for ease of time reading in any lighting conditions.

(A typical “Type A” pilot dial)

Let’s take a look at some examples that are available today. The Flieger 38s 5HXXs models and their bigger siblings, the Flieger 41 5HXXTis and Flieger 42 7H1XXs are the most salient in the collection. Pairing the highly legible Type A, Type B dials, and heck, even with “explorer” format, in both matte black or fully lume surfaces (like the 5H70Ti), a no-nonsense matte-finished round case with straight stubby lugs gives an impression synonymous with German tool watches.

(Ref. 5H69Ti in titanium with luminous “explorer” dial)

To display Aristo’s expertise in case making, the now-combined company produced its novelties in different case materials. As within Gnomon’s collection, from the smallest 38mm pilot watches to the larger ones, they are all impeccably finished in grade 5 titanium material and then sand-blasted after, mimicking the original matte look of the Nav B-Uhren, to prevent any glare from reflections.

Let’s not forget the time-recording variants like the Flieger 40 Titanium Chronograph 5H129Ti, and its steel brethren Flieger 42 Blue Chronograph 4H174M clad with a sunburst blue dial. Both the timepieces complete what would be Aristo’s “Nav B-Uhr hanger.” 

(The Chrono Flieger 40 in titanium)

While the theme is a classic German pilot timepiece, all models are topped with certain modern takes. And yes, every single model as of now has a sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating for durability. On the other side, each has an exhibition rear – a mineral crystal sitting within its titanium screw-down case-back – allowing a perfect view of what’s keeping the Flieger ticking away.

(Flipping any Flieger over one gets the view of what’s ticking inside)

For The Land Units

It is natural for Aristo to step forward into military field watch production, as these timepieces are seemingly congruous with pilot watches. Similarities can be drawn, intertwining them with each other without feeling uncanny. Since the thirties and forties, Aristo, along with other Black Forest manufacturers like Stowa, Arctos, Porta, and Laco, were obliged to fulfill military watches for the armament.

(Field watch Ref. 7H89 on the Vollmer’s Milanese mesh bracelet)

When Mr. Vollmer resuscitated the field watch collection in the new millennium, he did so with authentic familiarity but now in a higher echelon of quality and execution. For instance, the Vintage Military ref. 3H147 is a perfect example. Measuring 43mm with a matte sand-blasted steel case that functions like the aforementioned pilot models, paired with yet another highly legible “explorer” dial sans any logo or texts in the center. The use of “old radium” luminous on the markers and sword hands drive the vintage ethos home, as does the presence of a Flieger-inspired diamond crown, which assists easy manipulation in any scenario.

(The quintessential field watch from Aristo)

Another welcoming field watch would be the brand’s Jager ref. 3H41. The well-thought-out fully-luted dial paired with the no-frills Arabic numerals, flanged with minute stripe markers, lends a synonymous field watch look that is seen on many others like Marathon, Hamilton, and Stowa. Most importantly, it recalls Aristo’s very own 1940s military pieces that were officially offered to military personnel.  

(The lume dial Jager Ref. 3H41)

If you are looking for something more elegant but passing off as a military beater, the Officer 38 ref. 7H89. It is clear this piece is inspired by yesteryears and resembles those on an actual officer’s wrist. The 7H89 differs slightly with a full-satin case that shimmers somewhat. Elevating its elegance is the “railway track” minutes periphery that’s read by a lithe pencil-styled handset. To balance the watch’s sportiness, it comes on a bund style calf leather whereby an additional piece of leather sits in-between the watch and the wrist. This style of strapping on the wrist is heavily influenced by military pilots and infantries.

(An Officer field watch on a bund strap)

As the design philosophy is coherent throughout the brand, these field watches come with an open case-back and are all topped with sapphire crystals for modern durability. On a personal level, we professed our admiration of this particular genre – especially such a historical company as Aristo – with every brand variation. That’s what Gnomon Watches was founded on.

Back With Bauhaus

(The Ref. 4H127 is Bauhaus at its core)

On the other end of the tool watch spectrum is yet another series of dressy and elegant timepieces. As mentioned at the start of this article, the brand developed simple yet formal dress watches for more than five decades with the “Bauhaus” mantra kept in its spirit—so much so that the company celebrated the 100 year anniversary of this modernistic style.

Inspired by the country’s very own artistry and recently revived by several Germanic brands, the Bauhaus styling imbued is on par with those Teutonic tool watches currently in production – that includes Aristo. And to commemorate the centennial anniversary, Aristo has artfully developed a new series of dress models with refinement in both the design and build. The collection even elicits the original nomenclature – with the Bauhaus 38 4H12X series – with the addition of the Dessau 7H10X series named after the official German art school located in Dessau, Germany.

(That clean look with its elongated fonts)

Both series have distinguished themselves from other simple designs from countries like Switzerland and Japan while proving exceedingly well suited for everyday wear just like its sports counterpart. Dials are stripped of any extraneous elements for better legibility; the conventional Roman numerals are replaced with instinctive san-serif Arabic numerals that are atypical, being long and graceful—like those made by Weber & Baral during the twenties and thirties; a set of a thin stripe-like handset matches the clean minute strips around the periphery. 

(The latest Dessau Black)

What sets the Bauhaus 38 models apart from the Dessau series are the Arabic markers’ placements. The latter has them on the cardinal points. In contrast, the Bauhaus 38 gets one each on every hour. Both cases are finished differently also, where a full polished touch can be seen on the Bauhaus 38, resulting in an elegant piece with a German flair. The Dessau gets an entire satin-matte case and bezel for a more utilitarian look.

(With a touch of sunburst blue for a casual look)

That said, Aristo had them in similar dial color tone, with the classic matte black and cream white tones, and with the blue sunburst variant to be the most “fanciful” as such things go. Having the millennial collections developed in the strict codes of a Bauhaus watch, they have evolved considerably—carefully refined in design and execution, resulting in a refreshing festoon that is substantially chicer than its earlier iterations from the 1920s and thirties.  

(The Station Ref. 3H191M is yet another clean example)

Defined by the almost-sterilized dial with matching thin hands, surrounded by a classy round case, all that brings to mind an early era of watchmaking with an old-school look from where its origins lie. Aristo demonstrated the Bauhaus design once again, exemplifying singular minimalism that lends an authentic, elegant styling to a functional timepiece – an excellent selection for an under-the-radar daily beater.

The Carbon Fibre Treatment

As mentioned earlier, these collections are all about the “classics” – the pairing of the conventional case and dial elements to result in a no-nonsense appeal. The Sportliche Uhren collection eschews classicism.

Fond of automotive, Mr. Vollmer has reiterated a new collection based on the racing theme. The new Auto Sport collection is beyond the tangibly good-looking case work and craft. Mr. Vollmer uses an exotic material that’s deeply rooted in real race cars like Maclaren and others—the application of carbon material.

(The Carbonsports Ref. 7H95 became an icon of its own within Aristo)

The brand was one of the first few pioneers to incorporate this high-tech material into the watch designs, specifically on the dials (sometimes the bezel insert), resulting in an “exotic” look and an added racing-sports design. Take the case of the Carbonsports Ref. 7H95, for example. In particular, this model has a unique 39mm hooded chance that recalls a racing helmet in some ways. It’s fully satin for an even more sporty look and is paired with the rich textures of a full carbon dial with Arabic numerals, flanged by bright yellow stripes that correspond with the sharp-looking handset.

(The carbon material dial is a first)
(Yeah, it gets the case back exhibition)

Of course, Aristo has paired this model with the signature Vollmer’s mesh bracelet that works oh-so-well on the watch. This proves that mesh bracelets have versatile applications, not just on saturation dive watches or dress models on the other side of the spectrum, but also works on watches like this in-between.

Who would have thought that Aristo, seen as a traditionalist in German watchmaker through and through, would go beyond the conforms of strict designs that we have acknowledged throughout the years to produce such radical timepieces? Originality that’s indeed prevalent in the modern Aristo’s design.

German Cases And Bands, Swiss Mechanics

In the beginning, we mentioned that watchmaking was a collaborative effort in which manufacturers played a part in keeping the industry going. Aristo-Vollmer has had demonstrated these aspects since its inception, even during its diversified private labels period and today under the Vollmer family’s helm. As aligned with the Swiss tradition, this is one of the critical components of the brand’s advantage – Aristo has a deep network of other professionals to draw upon. That is hard to find outside the horology realm.

(You know your Aristo timepieces are powered by a reliable Swiss caliber)

The profundity of skills required in not just on designing and finishing, but also in engineering and manufacturing are vital elements. It is invariably true that things cannot be accomplished at an aristocratic level without proper know-how from different specialists in different fields that are invariably scarce. 

Like the town, Pforzheim was home to many different specialists, as in both Aristo and Vollmer. The afore started as a watch case specialist, focusing on producing them for themselves and others, and the latter on metal bands (during the early days) for the world’s watch and jewelry industry. It’s a teamwork effort at its core. 

Therefore, while the cases, dials, hands, and bracelets were produced solely within the Aristo-Vollmer factory in Pforzheim, the company sourced its movement from Switzerland.

(Watchmaker checking and assembling the Swiss movement)

All Aristo watches (those within our site’s selection) are fitted with trustworthy and dependable movements that have been proven workhorses just like the German manufacturer itself. The watches’ clad movements from the capable Sellita/ETA SW200-1 and ETA 2824-2 for three-hands timepieces, and the excellent Valjoux 7750 (also from E.T.A.) chronograph movement for the sports chronograph. To learn more about these movements, you can check out our in-depth review here The Rise of The Swiss Engines.

(The Aristocrat with its in-house tweaked caliber)

Impressive as they are,  the brand created a line of watches in the late 2000s that incorporates its own independent movement known as the Aristomatic. The Aristomatic was heavily based on Sellita’s SW200 ebauche movement, primarily improved and tweaked by Aristo independently, and it was first launched in 2008 on the Aristocrat. They have produced the movements further for a few more timeless, classic designed dress watches for both genders before switching back to Sellita’s and E.T.A.’s complete calibers.

(Adjusting the movement rotor)

Sadly, watch “purists” for the ubiquity that links with these industrial workhorses are sometimes looked down on. More often, we hear fuss about, “why do you even bother to have an opened back to view such boring mechanical movements?” Well, the thing is, we often forgot the purpose of this emotionally driven hobby of watch collection. We tend to forget the joy that speaks to us when we have the privilege of flipping our watches over and letting our senses absorb the fascination of what drives these little wrist machines every single day, putting a genuine smile on our faces. Yes, maybe a beautifully executed movement on the Breguet Classique Chronométrie 7727 is a worthy contender, but that defeats the point of being able to enjoy the simple magic that comes from industrial workhorses that have offered their excellent performance for many decades.

(Yes, a time check before heading off)

With the usage of reliable automatic movements from Switzerland, Aristo-Vollmer has once again highlighted the inextricable link with other specialists – to provide the best mechanical components to build reliable watches for consumers – just as the company did during its early days. And with those mechanical movements installed, the Pforzheim watchmaker has sealed the deal with an open case-back on each of its watches, allowing wearers to capture some fun-loving mechanics ticking away.

Timeless In Its Appeal

Aristo is a brand that has been clear in its vision of producing timepieces that inconspicuously evoke its past. Rather than following the millennial trends of making fashionable timepieces, Mr. Hansjörg Vollmer paddled against the current flow in favor of going back to tradition. This phenomenon can be felt and seen through the years with unmistakable models from Pforzheim, the German watchmaking capital city.

The inextricable connection between two families from the same country, sharing a common goal in an obvious way, is crucial. While many watchmakers’ names from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are resurrected to form modern watch brands, Aristo-Vollmer did not succumb to that fate. They continue to offer and keep their two centuries of lineage alive and kicking today. Most modern “inspired” brands are reinterpreting their fashionably mechanical novelties of bygone eras. Aristo-Vollmer collections beg to differ. The company has done an incredible job in reproducing its own archive, visually and mechanically, and quietly updating its craftsmanship for modern reliability. The dials, cases, and bracelets epitomize compelling Teutonic classicism and functionality, as evidenced in the collections mentioned above.

(Casing up the classic Flieger)

It enthralls that Aristo-Vollmer can link its traditional passion for finely made timepieces with today’s interest in fine watches with German watchmaking ethos. While the history of horology might not be as recognized as it is in France and Switzerland, the Germans have contributed their fair share to provide their own interpretation of no-frills timepieces, as displayed by Aristo and its cohorts from the Black Forest region. With such a strong collective effort in keeping domestic watchmaking going, the love of these watches from Germany starts to make sense.

From the dressy Bauhaus series to its Flieger design, we can see a coherent Teutonic formula that the brand has maintained for a hundred years. Their no-frills, clean aesthetics are fitting for both former occasions and as an everyday driver. It’s quite remarkable just how a watchmaker can keep its company’s design core without compromises. 

(Yeah, it’s Aristo to the core)

Another thing to note is these German Nav B-uhren feat. field watches and the Bauhaus timepieces have had proven through time with their designs to be evergreen and recognized. The timeless appeal of these form-follow-function time machines is not just tampering with the past but hold a singular contemporary statement on their own. They can be seen in parallel with Swiss’s ones like the Patek Phillip Calatravas or the Cartier Tanks and Santos. They’re really about being modern with timeless aesthetics that seem to be infinite.

(A timeless appeal of a German Flieger)

Beyond the healthy portion of Bauhaus and military appeal, we can see that Mr. Vollmer’s adventurous heart led to the successful development of contemporary auto-sports collection with both unrestrained and unapologetic designs like the Carbonsports model. In many ways, it’s a new appropriate direction that shows the maturity in Aristo with their prowess in making sports models that are equally as robust as its renowned Flieger and Military collections.

That said, these pieces appear to be not appreciated broadly in comparison to their Swiss counterparts. They seem to remain underacknowledged compared with a key group of much more renowned and perceived brands from Switzerland. Although the niggles in the design are close to none, many enthusiasts tend to lean towards Swiss timepieces for their less “boring” aesthetics – like those sixties dive watches with rotating bezels or compressor case; or flourishing dress watches with fluted bezels in different metals – they tend to be more flamboyant than the sober ones coming out from Germany.

(Definitely flying under the radar as compared to some others)

However, while one might find these German watches boring, that’s not necessarily bad either. We believe there’s always a “Yang” to the “Yin” on the other side of things to keep an equilibrium. Not everyone wants a showy wristwatch. And people who appreciate the longevity of traditional watchmaking typical of German manufacturers would be as high-spirited as others when it comes to Germanic watches that are indeed deemed timeless and classic – as if those words came straight out of Pforzheim themselves.

The Best One

Even within the local context, Aristo might not be the first name that comes to mind when German watch genres are mentioned. But we have to admit that the company, along with Vollmer, is one of the few that has gone through the highs and lows since day one. 

(The perseverance in keeping these beautiful watches for us)

During the war period, many watch suppliers from Pforzheim came to an end, and later on, many fell the bleak interval of the Quartz crisis. Companies either stopped business completely or were bought out by other investment firms, like the case of P.U.W. Only a few strong ones survived those tough times, with the sheer determination of individual families. 

Just past the 823rd birthday of the case-maker, and ninety-eighth of the bracelet-smith, both brands have gone through three generations of family ownership, leaving us without a doubt that they meant business. Historically both have had a strong bond since the early days in the same town, therefore unsurprisingly, the handover by the Epples to the Vollmers felt precise, like a perfect thing to do. Throughout the journey, since the portmanteau company name arose, Aristo-Vollmer has delivered excellent timepieces, combining engineering marvel and horological prowess resulting in a mastery of old-world-German refinement. 

(Aristo’s timepieces are as timeless as its watchmaking know-how)

In an obvious sense, the collections are a stylish package made to rekindle a genuine vintage watch produced in the town. But Aristo does it so well by doubling up on machinery and craftsmanship that it led to quality timepieces for us to appreciate. All that is respectable and to acknowledge it be synonymous with quality is a genuine effort that exemplifies Pforzheim watchmaking values. 

(The Officer on Vollmer’s mesh and on the wrist)

Fortunately, the legitimate takeover by Mr. Hansjörg Vollmer allows both families’ legacy to carry on through the millennia, offering modestly priced timepieces with true heritage attached to every one of them. This collaborative effort led to their survivability. It can even be seen replicated in history when a similar scenario happened to their neighboring watchmaker founded by Walter Storz; another successful handover by his retiring son to the famous independent watchmaker, Pforzheim’s very own Jörg Schauer.

(Stowa’s legacy lived on through Mr. Schauer)

Like today’s Stowa, Aristo deserves every ratchet that the Black Forest company has today. Similarly, Mr. Vollmer himself, like Mr. Schauer, combines the watch production with new iterated models and Aristo line, pricing his love and passion for the field of continuing what German precision watchmaking is all about.  

In many ways, Pforzheim’s horology scene should not be excluded from those better known Saxony ones from the Eastern region such as A.Lange & Sohne, Glashütte Original, and Nomos are considered the vanguard of Glashütte. In that case, Aristo, Stowa, and Laco are the heroes of Pforzheim – each region is to be seen as a whole to grasp the fullness of German horology.

Personal Thoughts

The formative offerings of Aristo-Vollmer Gmbh are unquestionably German – watch designs that are properly thought out and sober in all ways. The brand’s experience can be seen through the current watches it offers, and are worthy of the nod of approval from those ardent watch cognoscenti.

Aristo watches are both charismatic and comforting as they feel exactly like those that are straight out of Germany in the early thirties to the sixties. With particularly the dress and Flieger collections remastered by Mr. Vollmer’s vision, these watches are generally better known for their Germanic utilitarianism, contrasting with those fancy outlandish timepieces seen from others. Releases from Aristo reach back into its archive from the early days to create an alluring revival of its Teutonic watches, but also finely execute with precision in manufacturing and assembling—but not in an elegant manner. This would not have fit with the overall brand’s image. Kudos to Mr. Vollmer for keeping the tradition of Aristo in-check today.

(Germanic utilitarianism right here on the Ref. 5H68Ti)

On the wrist, the watches are ergonomically executed with classic ethos and legibility throughout. Although they are not as vivid compared to those with embellished aesthetics, they are unarguably some of the most soulful, classic German theme timepieces ever to be put on the wrist. Every single offering from Aristo tends to be period-correct and has a touch of elegance that cannot be felt elsewhere outside of the country. Best yet, most models are offered below $1000USD (the chronographs are at $970-990USD), leading them to be absolute value propositions for anyone interested in Germanic watches with Swiss movements from a brand with genuine pedigree.

(Classic ethos with legibility)

While we always tend to lean on Swiss-made tool watches, the punch from German brands like Aristo is endlessly appealing, with ruggedness and clean aesthetics found nowhere else, which results in an array of excellent everyday iteration. And we find joy, especially when working together with the man behind the charge for the brand. Mr. Vollmer has been carrying a torch (now for two family businesses) that seems to be interminable. All that said, we strongly feel Aristo-Vollmer’s effort and determination can be seen throughout the watch space, allowing more enthusiasts who are into no-nonsense tool watches to appreciate further what the company has to offer. Aristo is deep-rooted in this world. Their long traditional positioning in Germany allows them to provide timepieces with a natural heritage that most likely wouldn’t be found elsewhere.

Conclusion

In a general sense, Aristo and Vollmer’s history concludes what a collaborative endeavor from the Pforzheim town of Germany and its watchmaking is about. Mr. Hansjörg Vollmer and his Aristo-Vollmer company are certainly one of the great living German watch and bracelet makers that carries significance for our watch world and can be denoted as a work of art in its own right.

(A work of art in its own right)

And in an era where digitalism is occupying most of our space, Aristo’s watches can be seen as successful resistance against blathering contemporaries, purposefully sticking with an understating art of German watchmaking, persevering the traditional know-how, charmingly. Wearing an Aristo naturally permeates a sense of connection with the people involved in its creation, and even a taste of its cultural context – and is definitely not something you’d see every day.

We hope Mr. Vollmer and his brand continue their culmination of several generations of dedication to Teutonic timepieces and works, safeguarding the exquisite Pforzheim’s watchmaking culture, along with the few allied watchmakers that are still there. And looking forward, we trust Aristo will continue to breathe new life into past glories.

Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.
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