A Visit to the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory
The Birthplace of the Dial of our Glashütte Original Senator Meissen

 © text: Martina Pfeifle, pics: Gerd Pfeifle (if not otherwise noted), 2008
translation by Glashütte Original


As the proud owner of a Senator Meissen, which Glashütte Original introduced at the 2007 edition of the BASELWORLD Watch and Jewelry Show, we were curious about how the dial—a hand painted Meissen porcelain specimen—of this extraordinarily beautiful watch is made.

An e-mail to Glashütte Original and a few phone calls with René Marx, responsible for new media at the company, with our request to be allowed to take a peek behind the scenes at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory was all that was necessary to set the wheels in motion. In March we received word that it would be the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory’s pleasure to welcome us for a brief visit in April.

Certainly we had known of Meissen’s porcelain factory for quite some time, and we had even visited the city of Meissen as well as the porcelain manufactory once in the 90s shortly after the border to former East Germany was opened. At that point in time, however, neither we nor the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory would have thought that one day Meissen’s porcelain dials would grace watches created in nearby Glashütte.

Excited and full of expectation, one Wednesday in April 2008 we drove from our accommodations in Dresden through the lovely Elb valley to Meißen, a beautiful old city located about 26 kilometers downriver from Dresden and about 50 kilometers from Glashütte.


Albrechtsburg and Meißen Cathedral


Meißen―a city with more than 1,000 years of history―is also known as the cradle of Saxony. The cityscape is characterized by the Albrechtsburg built on the castle hill and the nearby cathedral. The Albrechtsburg is considered the first castle built in Germany and was constructed between 1471 and 1524 in the late Gothic style. It now houses a museum and is, along with the cathedral and the porcelain manufactory, a popular tourist attraction, drawing both foreign and domestic visitors.

The buildings belonging to the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory are not far from the medieval city center along the Triebisch River.


The Main Building of the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory


One look at the main building suffices to show that it is a manufactory of long standing tradition, one that extends back to the beginning of the 18th century.  

History of the Manufactory

It all began with Johann Friedrich Böttger’s claim that as an apprentice chemist at a pharmacy in Berlin he could convert base metals into gold. After Böttger supposedly turned silver coins into gold during a public experiment in 1701, he aroused the interest of several crowned heads. He was able to escape from the Prussian king Frederick I, who had placed a bounty on his head, by fleeing to Wittenberg. Finally, however, August the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, was able to get Böttger to Dresden and then to the Albrechtsburg in Meißen in 1705, where he continued his experiments to create gold.

Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, who had already spent several years trying to make porcelain, convinced Böttger to work with him on his project. In 1707, Böttger was able to create a red stoneware or jaspis porcelain, which later became known as Böttger Porcelain. Following a suggestion from Gottfried Pabst von Ohain to use “white earth” in his experiments, he was able to make a simple vessel of hard, white porcelain at the beginning of 1708; European porcelain was born.

The founding of the Royal Polish and Elector of Saxony’s Porcelain Manufactory was announced on January 23, 1710, heralding the beginning of a success story that is now nearly three hundred years old―that of the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. The manufactory was set up in the Albrechtsburg on June 6, 1710, where it remained until 1864 when the present production facility opened in the Triebisch valley.

This former “people’s company” of the German Democratic Republic has operated as a limited company since June 26, 1991, under the name Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Meissen GmbH, its sole shareholder being the Federal State of Saxony.



Gundela Corso, director of media and public relations, officially welcomed us to the manufactory and guided us through the stylishly furnished … 


    …stairwells and…                                              … hallways of the historical manufactory buildings…

     …to “our” dial painter’s workplace, Thomas Hannß.

Gundela Corso and Thomas Hannß

Thomas Hannß has worked at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory since 1979. Because of his years of experience in the field and further education in typographic design at the Dresden School of Fine Arts, he is ideally qualified to take on the tasks involved in decorating the dials of the Senator Meissen models.

But before we can look over Thomas Hannß’s shoulder as he works, there are a few things yet to be said about the porcelain dials that he uses as a blank canvas for his artistry. 

 General Information about Manufacturing Porcelain

Porcelain is made from the raw materials kaolin, feldspar, and quartz. The kaolin or “Seilitz earth” used at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory is extracted from a mine in Seilitz, just 7½ miles from Meissen, after which it is elutriated and cleaned in the manufactory. The nearly complete removal of discoloring metal oxides allows the uniquely brilliant white of Meissen porcelain to be achieved, lending the Senator Meissen’s dial its especially brilliant white color.

Objects produced at the manufactory are generally bisque fired at 900˚C after having been dried completely. It is then by sharp firing the objects at temperatures of up to 1,450˚C that the special characteristics of brilliant whiteness and the particularly hard, smooth surface are created. During sharp firing, the porcelain shrinks by about sixteen percent.

The same object before (left) and after (right) sharp firing― sixteen percent shrinkage.


Special Production Process for Dials Made from Meissen Porcelain

Meissen Porcelain dials have been made for Glashütte Original watches since 1996. In order to meet the precision requirements for components suitable for assembly in luxury watches, the Meissen Manufactory has developed a special production process that differs in some aspects from the standard technologies used in porcelain production.

It is clear from looking at the unique characteristics of porcelain, as outlined above, that certain challenges would be faced by both Saxon companies in creating a porcelain watch dial. In general, blanks made of silver or brass are used in dial production because the diameter and thickness of them can be precisely controlled to within one one-hundredth or even one one-thousandth of a millimeter using stamping, milling or similar metal-working techniques. Such strict precision requirements and absolutely flat surfaces are generally not necessary in porcelain production, understandably. Despite this fact, elegant hand-crafted Meissen porcelain dials have been making the hearts of aficionados and collectors of Glashütte Original’s timepieces beat faster for more than twelve years thanks to the special efforts of both companies’ personnel.

Using the craftsman’s experience and visual judgment, the dial blanks are poured as thinly and evenly as possible onto a plaster board. After a brief drying period, the blank is measured and the dials are cut from areas that measure 0.85 to 0.88 mm. The blanks are allowed to dry completely, after which they are worked on further and then fired at 1,400˚C. After this second firing, the final precision processing occurs.


The dial blanks have to have a uniform thickness across their entire surface; in other words, they have to be completely flat. In order to achieve this, they are polished by hand (left) and measured exactly (center). Finally, a hole is drilled in the center of the blank for the hand socket (right). All three photographs © Glashütte Original. 

One of the many measurement processes (photograph © Glashütte Original).



The decoration process begins with the application of guiding lines that ensure the accuracy of the position, angle, and distance between the Roman numerals. 

One of the aids used is a device made in the toolmaking department at Glashütte Original.


Drawing the guiding lines on the blank. 

A Glashütte Assmann timepiece stands as the model for the Senator Meissen (upper left corner of the picture).
Photograph © Glashütte Original


After the guiding lines have been applied, the colors used in decorating the dial are mixed. The color laboratory at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory has formulas for approximately 10,000 colors, 400 of which are in constant use in the glaze painting process. 

A brief overview of the variety of colors used at the manufactory can be seen by visiting this “tile wall” in the manufactory’s exhibition hall.


Mixing the color

To paint the Roman numerals, Thomas Hannß uses iridium black, a glaze that is very compact in structure, of intense color, and does not run. Diverging from the usual porcelain glazing process, he thins the glaze with alcohol instead of turpentine, which would cause the glaze to become too thick and increase the chance of it running. 

Decoration can begin

The words “Glashütte Original” are painted on using an extremely thin brush. It seems unbelievable that this filigreed script can be painted by hand. Loupes can be used if necessary.

Thomas Hannß proudly shows us both a half-finished and a finished dial.

Here are a few more blanks in varying stages of decoration.

A guiding line in the form of a symmetrical axis can be seen on the dials in the foreground.


It was a very special experience for us to watch Mr. Hannß paint watch dials, and it quickly became clear to us what extraordinary artistic and technical ability is needed to paint the extremely fine Roman numerals and “Glashütte Original” predicate onto the dials with such precision and perfection.

We were able to observe one of several parallels in the work methods of both Saxon manufactories: Thomas Hannß works with absolute quiet and concentration, perhaps even contemplatively, in a light-flooded room in the same way that the watchmakers at Glashütte Original assemble high complications.



Thomas Hannß at his work station.  His co-workers are in the picture to the right.

Each Senator Meissen dial is unique, graced with individually hand-painted numbering as well as crossed swords, the centuries-old trademark of Meissen Porcelain.


The Crossed Swords


In the early days of the manufactory it was already clear that the products needed to have an identifying mark to protect them from forgery.

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory started marking its products when a former employee, Samuel Stölzel, tried to set up competition in Vienna in 1718 using the secret formulas and production processes that had been entrusted to him.

The symbol of the crossed swords, part of the Saxon Elector’s coat of arms, has been in use for this purpose since 1722.




The crossed swords are still painted by hand on the unglazed piece after initial firing, in this case on a cup crafted in Meissen porcelain.

After the decoration process is complete, the dials are fired a third and final time at about 900˚C (decoration firing). They then make the short trip to the Glashütte manufacture where they are attached to a metal dial blank and subsequently connected to automatic Caliber 100 and encased in the Senator Meissen case.

Our visit to the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory illustrated for us most impressively how two Saxon companies with completely different product ranges, but with a common dedication to creating precision, high-quality products, have united their greatest strengths to form a unique symbiosis of traditional fine arts and precision in engineering, which can, without exaggerating, be deemed one of Saxony’s finest commodities. We, in any case, have become even prouder of our Senator Meissen than we were in the first place.

In answer to our question whether there might be a message that Mr. Hannß would like to send out to the current and future aficionados of Senator Meissen models, he replied, “Be patient.” He was referring, of course, to the long wait that some customers have to be prepared for when ordering a Senator Meissen. In our opinion, waiting patiently is well worthwhile; a Senator Meissen made by piecework or mass production, or worse yet, using mechanical aids, would certainly not bring its owner as much joy as a unique piece created by Thomas Hannß.

We would have been utterly remiss had we not accepted Gundela Corso’s offer to tour the exhibition workshops, halls, and manufactory museum after visiting with Thomas Hannß. We would like to make it clear right from the start how worthwhile the tour was. A few photo impressions from our visit follow:


Tableware production                                                           Dipping Glaze



In the exhibition workshop: the porcelain clay is spun by hand on a potter’s wheel creating a model (left),

 from which a plaster mold is made for products that are rotationally symmetrical.


In the case of porcelain figurines, such as the enchanting example to the left, the individual parts of the sculpture, which can comprise up to 100 components, are made in molds. The porcelain clay is placed into an open mold consisting of several pieces and then the two halves are pressed together.

The individually molded pieces of a single sculpture are then worked on further using sculpting tools to ensure that they match the model in the finest detail. During this phase, details such as hands, facial expression, and surface texture, which can’t be transferred adequately from the mold, are finely worked (right). This step is called finishing.



 Porcelain painters at work, true masters of their craft


The covered inner courtyard with a view of the Meissen shop


A few historical exhibits from the museum

It is clear that these were made during a time before photography was common, causing some figurines of exotic animals―such this macabre scene with a crocodile―to be not quite true to life.


As illustrated here, the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory was already involved in clock design in previous times.

The first collaboration between Glashütte Original and the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory in 1996 resulted in a twenty-five piece limited edition by the name of Julius Assmann 2. The Meissen porcelain dials are painted with various motifs from the Schulz Codex by Meissen porcelain painter Johann G Höroldt (1696-1775), who was known for the chinoiserie style of his work. The Julius Assmann 2 is outfitted with manually wound Caliber 52 and can be worn either as a wristwatch or a pocket watch.

The response to the Assmann 2 was so overwhelming that the two manufactories decided to collaborate again, with their next two creations also on exhibit in Meissen Porcelain Manufactory’s museum. 

The 1845 Meissen model from 1998. Limited edition of 150 pieces.
Outfitted with the manually wound Caliber 49 and a wafer-thin dial of Meissen porcelain.




Ladies’ model Lady Meissen, also from 1998.
Outfitted with manufacture Caliber 10-30 and a dial crafted in Meissen porcelain, available in a total of three historical motifs originating in the copper etching flower painting technique (blue, lilac, and yellow carnation motif), in a limited edition of 150 pieces (50 of each motif).

In the ensuing years, more unique products were created as a result of the collaboration, though they are unfortunately not yet on display at the museum.


As the crowning glory of our visit to the manufactory, we allowed ourselves to indulge in a trip to the company’s restaurant, where diners are presented with inventive meals that are not only a treat for the palate but also a feast for the eyes―and all that in a stylish setting at an astonishingly fair price. The “Time Travel” meal, for example, is served on tableware sporting decorations and design features from various eras of manufactory’s history: 



The charger plate and hors d'oeuvres plate are from the Swan Service, the most extensive baroque-era porcelain service. The pattern is based on the shape of a shell with an intricately sculptured surface. The main theme of the Swan Service, which began production in 1737, is that of water as a metaphor for the everlasting flow of life.


The main course is served on a dinner plate from the Garland of Grape Leaves service, and is one of the classics in porcelain decoration. This pattern was designed in 1817 by Meissen porcelain painter Johann Samuel Arnhold. The green color represents life and hope, while the wine symbolizes vitality and when fashioned into a wreath it symbolizes reverence and infinity.


Dessert is served on “White Waves,” which is decorated with “Forest Flora” painting. The form of the White Waves service was created in 1996, while the Forest Flora painting uses delicate brushstrokes to capture the vibrant freshness of nature.




The meals served on “regular” Meissen porcelain also made an excellent showing.

On the way back to the parking lot, Martina still felt magically drawn to the Meissen shop. The exceedingly friendly and helpful salespeople showed us select pieces from the manufactory’s current production in a very competent and discreet manner, with the result that the Friends of Meissen Porcelain® club, was founded in 1998, is now one female member richer.

At this point, we would like to take a moment to once again express our thanks to the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory and Glashütte Original, and especially Gundela Corso and her team and René Marx, for making this report possible and for providing us with the information and additional photographs we needed.

We hope that we have been able to convey some of our impressions of and insights into the world of the collaboration between Glashütte Original and the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory as well as our enthusiasm for the entire process. Our wish for the future would be that many more successes of this kind issue from the best manufactories in Saxony.

Martina and Gerd