Since its foundation in 1882 by Johan Adolf Hanhart in Diessenhofen, Switzerland, Hanhart had a major impact to the history of the watchmaking industry especially to the chronographs and high precision technology. As the manufacturer of the first reasonably priced stopwatches, Hanhart was one of the pioneers in the development of chronographs and stopwatches.
The sun glows red in the evening sky over the little town of Diessenhofen, located on the River Rhine in northeast Switzerland, as the watchmaker Johann Adolf Hanhart sits down, takes out a pen and paper and drafts an announcement. He “respectfully informs the worthy residents of Diessenhofen and surroundings” that he has purchased a business and its premises there with the intention of opening a watch shop. The building is situated at Hauptstrasse 33. The notice appeared in the “Anzeiger am Rhein” newspaper on 1 July 1882. Johann Adolf Hanhart, who was born in Diessenhofen on 11 May 1856, went on to serve the community as mayor for a number of years before relocating his business in 1902 to Schwenningen in southern Germany, the stronghold of watchmaking.
The family of entrepreneurs experienced an initial and extremely innovative epoch here in the 1920s when the youngest Hanhart son, Wilhelm Julius, who was born in Schwenningen on 31 October 1902, joined the business. This sport-loving young man introduced the world’s first reasonably priced mechanical stopwatch in 1924. He had participated in a track and field sports meeting in the previous year, for which the organizers had great difficulty in finding even four stopwatches of varying quality. These timepieces came exclusively from Switzerland at that time and were only available at exorbitant prices – if at all – since essentially only individual watches were produced to order. Wilhelm Hanhart became so irritated by this that he decided to manufacture stopwatches himself. In association with a watchmaker, he conceived and designed the first reasonably priced mechanical stopwatch – and in doing so he pressed the start button for the company that leads the stopwatch sector to this day.
Hanhart did not let up: the first pocket watches and wristwatches extended the product range. Willy Hanhart concentrated on manufacturing his own movement blanks. A second manufactory, which continues to manufacture the Hanhart stopwatch collection to this day, was established in Gütenbach in the Black Forest in 1934 as part of the planned expansion of the business. This was followed by the market launch of a complicated split-second stopwatch in 1935. New and increasingly intricate models went into production. Even in those days, first-class precision in perfected form was one of the maxims of the company. 1938 marked the start of a new epoch in the history of the company – when the first Hanhart chronograph model entered series production. This was the single-button “Calibre 40”, which would soon become established as the company’s main product and its new re-issue as the “Primus” model has become a coveted collectors’ piece and connoisseur’s item. The legendary “Calibre 41” and “Tachy Tele” pilot’s chronographs followed in 1939 – with a red painted button to prevent unintentional resetting.
Hanhart – like other companies – supplied military materiel during the Second World War. Pilots and Navy officers wear chronographs that are capable of withstanding the most severe tests. At the end of the war, the businesses in Schwenningen and Gütenbach were looted and dismantled. Most of the machines were taken to France. Willy Hanhart was interned. The business was compulsorily wound up, and Willy Hanhart was facing ruin. His tax trustees advised him to file for bankruptcy. Instead, with the support of his wife Gertraud, he embarked on the reconstruction of his factory in Gütenbach. 1947 he flees to Switzerland and returned to Germany in 1949. In the two years he acquired his first machines in exchange for chronograph wristwatches, and his employees collected movements along with small machines and tools from secure hiding places. The production of chronographs was resumed in 1948. Under a commission from the French, Hanhart manufactured the “Admiral” chronograph – especially for doctors and military officers. Precision timepieces were supplied to the German Navy. Production was once again running at full speed by the early 1950s. Hanhart concentrated increasingly on the manufacture of mechanical stopwatches and at the same time introduced a variety of innovative products onto the market such as automatic timers and the “Sans Souci” wristwatch alarm.
The company headquarters were rebuilt in Schwenningen in 1952. In the same year, Hanhart participated for the first time in the Swiss Watch Fair – now known as Baselworld. After equipping the German Armed Forces, formed in 1955, with pilot’s chronographs, their manufacture ceased in 1962 and gradually also the production of wristwatches. This was the age of the stopwatch! Driven as always by the highly motivated Willy Hanhart, with his active involvement in sport, the watchmakers of Gütenbach continued to develop new models. In 1962, Hanhart repeated his coup of 1924: with the “Amigo” he took the market by surprise with a new stopwatch. The company became the market leader and Europe’s largest producer of mechanical stopwatches.
Hanhart now moved up a gear and commissioned an additional production facility in Neukirch in 1963. There is hardly a school or sports club in Germany in which Hanhart stopwatches are not used for time recording. The age of the quartz watch then dawned in 1972. Hanhart established an in-house plastics injection moulding plant and developed a quartz movement, which was sold by the millions. Customers included well-known companies which used the movement in their own alarm clocks and watches or Hanhart produced products according to their design. Then the first cheap quartz movements arrived on the market from the Far East. Pressure on prices increased, and the volume of sales fell. The Black Forest manufacturer responded to this offensive from the Far East by developing a new competitive movement, the Calibre 3305, in 1981. This went into production in 1982. No fewer than 40 million units were sold! In 1983, Willy Hanhart’s son-in-law, Klaus Eble, who had joined the company in 1966, took over the management of the business.
With the rediscovery of traditional craftsmanship in the world of watches, in the 1990s Hanhart turned to another of its own earlier pioneering achievements: the legendary Hanhart pilot’s chronograph of 1939 was presented as a replica at the Antiques Fair in Furtwangen in August 1997. Every detail of the original’s case and dial was copied with the greatest care, from the old Hanhart lettering to the asymmetrical offset of the buttons. The limited edition of 2,500 pieces sold out in only a short time. Spurred on by this success, the Gütenbach company immediately followed it up with the manufacture of the “Tachy Tele” pilot’s chronograph. This was followed in 1998 by the “Sirius” and “Admiral” models. The replica chronographs generated lots of enthusiasm.
Hanhart watches are increasingly developing into exclusive objects for collectors and connoisseurs of fine precision watches. The “Primus” single-button chronograph appeared in 2003. The German company became a pioneer in its own time and introduced the “Dornier by Hanhart” model in 2004. The impetus came from Irén Dornier, the grandson of the famous aircraft designer Claude Dornier. From the Gütenbach company he commissioned a chronograph which is dedicated to the legendary Do-X flying boat and which accompanied him on an extraordinary journey: Irén Dornier has flown around the world in a historic seaplane wearing the Hanhart chronograph on his wrist.
The collection was joined in 2005 by the “M39”, an extremely successful replica that is faithful to the original. Further newly developed models followed – with the revived aviation and marine design theme. Two special editions were issued in 2007 to mark the 125th anniversary of the company. These reflect the firm’s history: the “Opus 41” and “Spirit of Racing”. The “Opus 41” hand-wound chronograph in platinum, equipped with an original, historic Hanhart “Calibre 41/42” ratchet movement, is limited to 39 watches. The high-quality “Spirit of Racing” twin-set, comprising the classic Hanhart “Minos” wristwatch as well as a special model of a rattrapante flyback stopwatch, recognizes the spirit of 125 years of time recording for sporting competitions.
Also dedicated to this spirit is the world-first “Tachymaster” model, which Hanhart brought to the market in 2008. This watch provides passionate classic rally drivers with an entirely novel and innovative tool on the rally stages. The watch shows the target time for the stage, making the individual stage times much easier to manage. With the launch of the “Tachymaster” for classic rallies, this old-established German watch manufactory underlines its prominent position as Europe’s leading manufacturer of stopwatches.
Hanhart AG Switzerland
Hanhart AG Switzerland is a result of business co-operation between Klaus J. Eble, Managing Director of A. Hanhart GmbH & Co. KG and Thomas Allenspach whom he met on a flight to Hamburg in June 2006. Thomas Allenspach, CEO of a Swiss company, embarked on an intensive study of the company history of Hanhart and the watch market. After a guided tour of the Hanhart factory by Klaus J. Eble and Thomas Allenspach, both decided to lay foundation of their cooperation.The idea was to expand the market for mechanical wristwatches in the luxury segment based on a trilogy that is founded on the tradition of the German Hanhart watch manufactory along with the integration of Swiss state-of-the-art technology, which in turn makes it so unique.
Thomas Allenspach and Klaus J. Eble now set off on the search for investors. At the same time, they established contacts with acknowledged experts in the Swiss watch industry. They succeeded in convincing them of the project and in gathering them together around a table. Everything came to a head on 31 January 2008: Hanhart AG was registered in the Swiss Commercial Register – as a subsidiary of the German company A. Hanhart GmbH & Co. KG. The company has its headquarters in the Swiss town of Diessenhofen on the River Rhine – the same place where the Hanhart company was founded. The business premises of Hanhart AG are at Hauptstrasse 17, only a few steps from the building in which Johann Adolf Hanhart opened his watch shop in 1882. The official starting date was exactly 126 years after the foundation of the Hanhart company – on 1 July 2008. Thomas Allenspach is CEO of Hanhart AG. His area of responsibility within the Hanhart Group is for the positioning of the company’s chronographs internationally. Klaus J. Eble continued as director of production and stopwatch sales in Gütenbach.
Although small at the present time, the team in Diessenhofen, with Erika Müller-Lusti as Head of Marketing, is beginning to build up the new chronograph range. In close cooperation with the German parent company at its headquarters in Gütenbach and with highly specialized suppliers to the Swiss watch industry, a new sporting chronograph collection in the most refined design has emerged – with the unmistakeable, unique trademark that has characterized Hanhart ever since the introduction of its “Primus” chronograph in 1938: the red button, which is also a symbol of the stopwatch function of the new chronograph.
The new collection was launched at Baselworld 2009 as an exclusive, limited production chronograph range. It is a collection for connoisseurs and collectors, for people who go their own way. Drawing on the company’s core competence in stopwatches, the chronograph is intended to accompany people on their way through life and to capture important moments. The watch satisfies the highest qualitative demands precisely and robustly, and it combines the advantages that have characterized Hanhart stopwatches since 1924. Its sporting and refined features make it a sought-after accessory which people like to wear especially when life becomes an experience. The names of the chronograph range express these moments: “Pilot”, “Racer”, “Diver”.
2012: In 2012, Hanhart became the first and only watch brand in the world to use a certain kind of nickel-free stainless steel for its wrist chronograph cases. This steel has been treated using a special finishing process, making it extremely hard and therefore improving its scratch resistance by more than 10,000%. The use of this finishing process is patented for the watch- and jewellery making industry under the brand name HDSPro®.
This is why the Swiss-German watch brand has opted to use HDSPro® steel for the cases of its mechanical chronographs in the future, making it the first manufacturer in the watch industry across the world to do so. This steel offers the perfect combination of hardness, resistance to corrosion and nickel-free composition.