text: Martina Pfeifle, pics: Gerd Pfeifle (if not otherwise noted), 2008
translation by Glashütte Original
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.
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.
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.
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.
and Meißen Cathedral
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.
buildings belonging to the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory are not far from the
medieval city center along the Triebisch River.
Main Building of the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory
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
Corso, director of media and public relations, officially welcomed us to the
manufactory and guided us through the stylishly furnished …
… hallways of the historical manufactory buildings…
“our” dial painter’s workplace, Thomas Hannß.
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.
The decoration process begins with the application of guiding lines that ensure the accuracy of the position, angle, and distance between the Roman numerals.
of the aids used is a device made in the toolmaking department at Glashütte
Drawing the guiding lines on the blank.
Glashütte Assmann timepiece stands as the model for the Senator Meissen (upper
left corner of the picture).
Photograph © Glashütte Original
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hannß proudly shows us both a half-finished and a finished dial.
Here are a few more blanks in varying stages of decoration.
guiding line in the form of a symmetrical axis can be seen on the dials in the
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.
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.
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 are still painted by hand on the unglazed piece after initial firing, in this case on a cup crafted in Meissen porcelain.
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.
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.
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
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:
In the exhibition workshop: the porcelain clay is spun by hand on a potter’s wheel creating a model (left),
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.
painters at work, true masters of their craft
covered inner courtyard with a view of the Meissen shop
few historical exhibits from the museum
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
meals served on “regular” Meissen porcelain also made an excellent showing.
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.
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.
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