Nomos Glashütte Autobahn: Pedal To The Metal!
As the name suggests, surprising departures can be, well, surprising.
Our brains use patterns to develop an idea of what a thing is and what it isn’t so that they don’t consume unnecessary energy in constantly reevaluating what we appear to have evaluated before.
Our brains are prediction machines.
This practice can be very valuable to many aspects of our lives: using accepted ideas helps navigate our day-to-day activities.
But sometimes preconceived ideas cause people to judge too harshly or too leniently. And our brains deliberately deceive us by avoiding obvious facts or dismissing contradictory information simply because it doesn’t fit into the established framework.
Porsche is a good example. Since the early 1960s when the original 911 was introduced, Porsche has been known – for good reason – as a high-performance sports car manufacturer. Every model was created to appeal to drivers who wanted racing performance in a street-legal vehicle. This provided an understanding that Porsche made serious sports cars.
In 2002, when the Cayenne, a mid-sized luxury crossover SUV, was introduced, the reaction was very mixed as may could not reconcile the fact that a sports car manufacturer would make something so “pedestrian” as an SUV.
The Cayenne did not fit the mental model of Porsche, so despite the badge (and price tag), it wasn’t a “real” Porsche.
This left three choices:
1. Ignore the Cayenne and continue with the mental model that Porsche exclusively made sports cars for “real” drivers.
2. Reject the Cayenne and decide that Porsche was effectively dead as a true enthusiasts’ car manufacturer.
3. Accept the Cayenne revise the mental model to the fact that Porsche now made both high-performance sports cars and more practical luxury vehicles (all with healthy performance).
The Cayenne went on to become the bestselling Porsche model in North America numerous times the last decade, alternating its number one position with the 911 .
Clearly the public chose option three, but it did take four years to become the highest selling model, and there are many Porsche enthusiasts to this day who maintain that the Cayenne, along with the later-released Panamera and Macan, are not true Porsches.
And that’s okay; each to their own.
Nomos Glashütte Autobahn
At Baselworld 2018, Nomos launched a new model line that called the Autobahn, which, to put it mildly, ruffled the feathers of quite a few devoted Nomos acolytes. The automotive-inspired design of the Autobahn is a significant shift from the usual Nomos fare, so requires a resetting of mental models.
The new Autobahn is awesomely different, and that is exactly why it’s testing some enthusiasts’ long-held notions as to what exactly defines Nomos Glashütte.
Strong opinions, weakly held
The new Autobahn is a highly contentious design. But I’m not sure the contention actually originates in the design, but rather in who is behind the design.
If the Autobahn had been launched on Kickstarter, or come from a brand like Autodromo, the reception is likely to have been much more positive. There are always haters, just as there are those who praise every new dial color on a Rolex as a revolution.
But the Autobahn is an outlier, and as they say, the squeaky nail gets the hammer.
The design is not expected from Nomos, and it supposedly flies in the face of the Bauhaus aesthetic of minimal “design,” allowing function to drive form with no need for superfluous flourishes and complication for the sake of added beauty.
I will be the first to admit that it definitely isn’t dominated by a flat white dial with square numerals and black stick hands in a sterile case; it has curves to it and it has sensuousness about it. The Autobahn is Nomos Glashütte dipping its toes into some new water and seeing how it goes.
The objective of this watch wasn’t to fit perfectly into a square hole to sit neatly beside the Tangente or the Tetra; it was a created to try out a new design space, allow for options that didn’t previously fit within the current models.
And for many, that is the problem. They might say how sad it is to see Nomos abandoning its design principles and producing a “bizarre mess” instead of sticking to the tried-and-true Nomos design.
If Nomos stuck to “what they do” it would risk their customers getting bored of them as they grow stale, and then people might complain that they never do anything new, similar to what many have to say about Rolex.
The real problem with the design is that many enthusiasts have strong opinions, rigidly held, with no room for growth or the ability to change one’s mind.
Tech forecaster and Stanford professor Paul Saffo put forth the idea of having strong opinions, weakly held as a great way to be able to make decisions while allowing the room to make adjustments should information change. His advice might go a long way toward helping watch enthusiasts enjoy new things as they come.
See you in the curves
What might have preempted the entire issue is the watch industry’s culture of venerating the past (mainly its own heritage) above pretty much everything else, which seeps into many WIS beliefs and has created the monster vintage market built largely on feelings of anemoia (the yearning for a time you’ve never known). I am all for saving the past, maintaining classical skills, and making sure knowledge isn’t lost to history.
But my adoration of the past comes to a halt when it arrives at the task of exploring new design avenues. I don’t want a company to produce the same exact thing, for decades, only changing dial colors and font choices.
Life is not what it was in the 1990s, why would we expect people to design exactly the same thing today?
The Autobahn is born out of a respect for the past and a respect for historic design ideas, but with an eye on current trends and a desire to try something a little new. How exactly does it do that? With some gentle curves never before seen on a Nomos timepiece.
The design of the Autobahn centers around three main elements: the concave dial with concave subdial, a large luminous track around the top two-thirds of the dial, and the triple-wide date window opening at 6 o’clock.
The concave dial and subdial are probably my favorite details for the Autobahn as it harkens back to the concave subdials of the late 1960s and 1970s. I am always a sucker for a significantly curved dial, and concave ranks higher than domed in my book.
Domed dials don’t convey depth the way concave dials do; the upward curving edges make the Autobahn feel as though it is brimming with potential. The gently curving edges are also reminiscent of the banked corners of older race tracks, tying the automotive theme to the physical shape of the dial.
The subdial does the same but on an even more miniature level, like a divot in a stone that has had water slowly dripping on it for decades.
The small details count
The large luminous track around the top two-thirds of the dial is an attempt to capture the look of dash gauges from vintage cars, and sectioning it off into hour segments is a nice touch. The subtlety rounded edges on the segments keep the lume track from trying too hard to copy any one design and instead create a strong shape that dominates the dial while not adding over-stylized shapes to the already distinct face.
The very thin hands keep from getting in the way – typical to most Nomos pieces – though the color choices for the white and midnight blue dial versions feel a bit lacking in contrast and could benefit from some darker options.
The strong orange detail is something that could probably be emphasized more, but I understand that could risk the watches simply coming across as “orange” watches.
The choice to make a triple-wide date window is also an interesting departure for Nomos, though it isn’t an uncommon thing to find on watches in every price segment. The inspiration for this feature was the desire to allude to the passage and speed of time, showing yesterday, today, and tomorrow as if they could all fly by quickly.
The layout of the numerals and the font choice all play into the typical lightness of a Nomos, and the choice to only use five hour numerals keeps the dial from becoming overly busy. Since the curves of the physical dial and the large lume ring command so much attention, the rest of the details were kept minimal in true Nomos Glashütte fashion.
And, faithful to Nomos standards, the heart of the watch is the newest in-house caliber: DUW 6101, which features an outlying date display and the Nomos Swing System (learn about this important element in Bravo, Nomos Glashütte! How The Metro Will Change The Watch Game).
The developmental effort put into new calibers and the creation of the Swing System is always the quiet celebrity of a Nomos Glashütte watch, and this one is no different. Since the design has drawn the attention of fans and critics alike, the movement is peacefully ticking away, never searching for the spotlight even though it deserves it.
Overall the Autobahn is decidedly Nomos Glashütte in design and execution, even if it doesn’t match everything that has come before. This makes sense to me from both a brand-building standpoint and a pure marketing standpoint: small but successful brand develops something new without completely shifting the direction of corporate strategy.
I don’t run a large (or even small) watch company so I can’t ever say what is appropriate for Nomos, but I do know design and product development and the new Autobahn is an awesomazing direction that will help grow the brand without abandoning its core values.
Those who say Nomos has done anything other than attempt to make a decently selling new model probably are holding on to their opinions too strongly and could benefit from taking a step back and realizing Nomos Glashütte can’t stay the same as it always has been; it needs to grow just like any organic creature.
I for one am excited again for what Nomos has up its sleeves and what ideas it will bust out next.
Haters are always going to hate, but for the fans of the Saxon watch brand who love it exactly as it is without judgment, the Autobahn marks the next chapter for and will show future buyers that Nomos isn’t afraid to take some calculated risks.
This new piece may not have the exact same flavor as what came before, but it seems to me that the brand is still quite certainly on the right track.
So let’s break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 8.12 The shift in expectations is what really wows with this watch!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 81.2 » 796.299m/s2 The gentle curves will caress you late into the night and keep you swooning!
- M.G.R. * 46.5 The small-batch in-house movements from Nomos are top notch, especially at the price point they are sold for!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild A date function is always useful (if not always appreciated) so you’ll need at least children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the days’ worth of swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 8.12 Cutting a little too much off your fingernail! Sometimes you cut just a little too much and get into that sensitive pink nail bed, and for a few days you hate the short nails because of it. Yet I would gladly take that, repeatedly, if it meant getting an Autobahn on my arm!
- Mermaid Moment * A lap around the block! Its automotive inspiration won’t take long to catch hold when you are out on the road (or in the cul-de-sac), so when you get home you’ll make plans for hiring a band!
- Awesome Total * 522.94 Divide the caliber number (6101), by the power reserve in hours (42) and then multiply the result by the movement thickness in millimeters (3.6) and you end up with a rather strong awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.nomos-glashuette.com/en/watches/families/autobahn.
Quick Facts Nomos Glashütte Autobahn Neomatik
Case: 41 x 10.5 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber DUW 6101 with Swing System escapement
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
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Also published on Medium.