From 1892-1991, Ruhla was an industry leader, pioneering the first mass-produced watches. Now, two young German entrepreneurs, Gunther Beck and Alexander Lange, are bringing it back under the name Thüringer Uhrenwerke Ruhla (TUW Ruhla). Gunther Beck, tells us more.
How did you meet?
We met through a mutual acquaintance while at university in 2005. The three of us became good friends, and then a year later we founded our company together, Zeitlounge.com (in 2005 it was still called Watch-Shop.com). It is an Online store for watches, which still exists to this day. Over the years, Alex and I were also able to expand the business and open a brick-and-mortar watch dealership. In August 2016, we will be celebrating the ten year anniversary of Zeitlounge so, it’s going to be a very eventful year for us.
How did you become involved in the brand?
Just like every other kid who grew up in Thüringen in the 1980s, both Alex and I had a Ruhla alarm clock that woke us up every morning. I still have mine, and you can see it the video about the history of Ruhla watches that we created. Our parents had Ruhla wristwatches too, so it was rather depressing to see a brand you grew up with disappear practically overnight in the early 1990s.
This hit home particularly hard for me since I grew up only thirty minutes away from the city of Ruhla. In the 1980s there had been almost 8000 watchmakers working in and around Ruhla and most of them became unemployed after the factories were shut down.
These days, things are going much better for the city of Ruhla and its residents, despite the fact that their watchmaking industry disappeared. Still we receive a lot of inquiries about Ruhla watches in our ‘offline’ store from customers who are wishing to buy one. After years of turning these customers away, we slowly realized that Alex and I are probably Ruhla’s best chance of making a comeback. So here we are!
What makes you so passionate about Ruhla?
Ruhla is a brand that we have always loved and that we thought we knew well. So in the beginning, we felt rather confident—we felt like we were the right people for this undertaking. Only after we did our research did we figure out what big shoes we had to fill.
Ruhla was a major trendsetter in the watch industry for quite some time, both in the realm of watch design and movement technology. As it turned out, Ruhla had an extremely extensive and interesting collection, which made the brand’s disappearance all the more of a shame.
In taking up this challenge, we were inspired by Glashütte, another region of Germany known for its watchmaking industry. Their industry never disappeared entirely, but it did suffer from a major downturn, from which it was able to recover. Nowadays they only produce expensive timepieces. Our ambition is to make timepieces the average customer can afford.
What makes TUW Ruhla different?
Ruhla watches have been known for their reliability and their accessibility to the average customer. We intend to carry forward this tradition. While not cheap, our watches are certainly affordable. In addition, we’ve made sure that our maiden collection provides exceptional value for money. As watch salesmen, we know our market very well, and we can tell you with absolute conviction that you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal for our asking price.
Another thing we noticed is that many of the watches in our price segment (USD 100 - 500) are all about inventing a fashionable name and logo. At TUW Ruhla we have the chance to go a different way since we have the rich tradition of Ruhla watches to fall back on. This is why we are not only bringing back the Ruhla name, but also the unmistakable designs, the innovative spirit and, of course, the place of origin of these watches. No other manufacturer in our price segment can claim to do this.
How have you found the reaction from the watch industry to the re-launch?
The feedback has generally been positive! Many of our colleagues from the Ruhla region were excited to see that someone was finally stepping up to the challenge of reviving the brand. The only negative criticism we experienced was from the people who thought that our designs are too new and trendy. However, this was a conscious decision on our part, since we did not want to be a retro watch brand. We combine the old with the new to give a sense of continuity to the Ruhla brand. We use many design elements which made the Ruhla watches so unmistakably unique in their own time, and we give them a modern feel. After all, the watch is to be worn today.
What exciting plans do you have in the works for 2016?
We have too many plans to accomplish in 2016 alone, but there is one particular project we can’t wait to dive into. We are going to create a limited edition of TUW Ruhla watches together with Dr. Sigmund Jähn. Dr. Jähn was the first German cosmonaut in space, and he is a big supporter of Ruhla watches. On his space mission, he carried with him four Ruhla watches, three of which he presented to his Russian colleagues. The design of our own watch has already been finalized, so it’s only a matter of bringing it to the public.
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