Steal Vs. Splurge Minimalist Madness With NOMOS And Junghans


 The NOMOS Tangente and Junghans Max Bill are cut from the same cloth. The companies are both based in Germany, and both watches preach minimalist design principles that reference the Bauhaus. The two companies are well-regarded for offering serious value and serious design heritage, but they do operate at different levels on the value proposition scale. To see which one is the better buy, we're cross-shopping a Junghans Max Bill Automatic with a NOMOS Tangente Neomatik today – two self-winding, three-handed dress watches with no-date white/silver dials in stainless steel cases between 36mm and 40mm in diameter. Which one have you got?

       The Junghans Max Bill, as seen in Talking Watches.

The Watch: Junghans Max Bill Automatic Ref. 027/3500.04
Price: $1,100

Why It's Cool:

Well, first of all Gary Shteyngart owns one – which makes the Max Bill Automatic unquestionably cool in my book. Then there's the designer that gives the watch collection its name: Max Bill. 


        Artist and designer Max Bill, in 1970 (photo, Marcel Vogt)

Bill was a Swiss multi-hyphenate creative throughout the 20th century. He was a member and proponent of the Bauhaus, and during his lifetime experimented in a wide array of fields, from architecture and painting to industrial and graphic design. His partnership with Junghans began in the late 1950s, with the creation of a series of clocks, and was eventually followed by wristwatches in 1961. The timepieces designed by Max Bill are regarded positively by both design professionals and watch lovers – one of his kitchen clocks is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And what has made the line a continued success over the decades has been Junghans's dedication to preserving Bill's specific design language.

The Bauhaus school building, Dessau. (Photo, Mompl)

Although it's available in a wide variety of unisex executions – including a 40mm automatic chronograph, a 35mm manual wind, and the 38mm self-winding example seen here, plus a number of entry-level quartz options – the Max Bill line is easily identifiable through a number of key aesthetic attributes. Key among those are the pared-down dials that smartly use negative space, strategically utilize vertical lines, and call on authentic Bauhaus-era typography.

The Max Bill wristwatch remains a timeless design object that looks just as fresh today as it did when it was first introduced, 60 years ago.

Why It's Affordable:

The Junghans Max Bill watches come in an array of styles, yet they all remain relatively affordable. The self-winding 38mm example we've selected for this comparison is priced just barely over $1,000, an impressive value for a high-quality automatic watch made in Germany.

The Junghans Max Bill Automatic ref. 027/3500.04

Junghans gets there through the use of a relatively straightforward case design, without a bezel, made of polished stainless steel and a domed plexiglass crystal rather than a sapphire crystal that would offer improved scratch resistance. (To be fair, Junghans does coat its plexiglass with a special material developed for the automotive industry that's said to increase the scratch resistance, UV, and chemical resistance of the crystal.)

Inside the watch is the Swiss-made ETA 2824 movement, which is an excellent workhorse but doesn't quite reach the heights of the Max Bill design in terms of Junghans's internal excellence. If $1,100 is too rich for your blood, no worries. The hand-wound variants start around $700 and the quartz models around $500.


The Watch: NOMOS Glashütte Tangente Neomatik 39 Ref. 140
Price: $3,780

Why It's Cool:

Well, based on the Gary Shteyngart Approval Index, NOMOS scores twice as high as Junghans, as the writer has two NOMOS watches in his collection.

Shteyngart's selection aside, NOMOS ranks as a modern marvel of watchmaking in more ways than one. Just barely three decades old, NOMOS operates a pair of factories in Glashütte, the hotbed of German watchmaking, as well as an in-house design studio in Berlin. NOMOS is a completely independent company and has made vertical integration a serious priority in the past two decades, even developing its own in-house escapement in 2014.

The Tangente design is older than NOMOS is. 

The Tangente is NOMOS's flagship collection, part of the company's lineup since it released its first watches in the early 1990s. The design is inspired by an early 20th century dial layout found on Swiss and German watches from companies such as Longines and A. Lange & Söhne. Alternating Arabic numerals and printed batons rest on the dial while a pair of heat-blued hands glides over them and the small seconds sub-dial is positioned above six o'clock.

NOMOS in-house caliber DUW 3001

Easy on the eyes from the outside, it's what's inside the Tangente Neomatik 39 that gets me really excited. The in-house caliber DUW 3001 features the company's in-house escapement system and classic German decorative elements. It's beautiful, accurate, and thin – all elements that elevate NOMOS's most classic watch to new heights.

Why It's Expensive:

In-house watchmaking comes at a price, but NOMOS is able to keep the premium of its own movements to a minimum. Alongside the level of in-house watchmaking and assembly on display, NOMOS uses first-rate materials such as sapphire crystals, high-quality shell cordovan leather straps, and heat-blued hands. It’s expensive compared to the Junghans, but a bargain compared to many other watches with these features.

The classic Tangente dial.

The example we've selected has a 38.5mm diameter, but NOMOS offers the same watch with the same movement in 35mm (ref. 175). Of course, NOMOS still produces hand-wound variants of the Tangente that start under $2,000, but to experience the ultimate example of the company's flagship watch, there's no choice but to go with the Tangente Neomatik.

How To Decide

In Confessions Of A Watch Geek, Shteyngart's famous 2017 New Yorker essay, he reports that his NOMOS Minimatik lost only five seconds in a 24-hour period compared to 10 seconds for his Junghans Max Bill over the same period of time. (His Rolex lost 15 seconds.)

The NOMOS Glashütte Tangente Neomatik 39 ref. 140

If we follow, Gary's advice, then I think we'd all end up with the NOMOS – a watch that represents incredible value in its own right. When you consider the true in-house watchmaking on display, the Tangente's clean design language that references history, and the watch's sub-$4,000 price tag, it's hard to argue against what NOMOS has going on.

But let's try.

If history is important to you, Junghans has NOMOS beat. The company was founded in 1861 by Erhard Junghans in a small town near Germany's Black Forest. By the early 20th century, Junghans was considered the largest producer of timekeeping devices in the world – a remarkable and little-known fun fact. Of course, the Max Bill line also wears its heritage and timeless qualities on its sleeve. It's amazing that you can wear a watch designed by one of the all-time greats for a remarkably low figure in the Max Bill Automatic, which becomes even more of a value if you opt for a manually wound or quartz variant.

Photo, bastamanography, Flickr.

The Junghans Max Bill will also wear much smaller than the NOMOS Tangente, which is well known for having long, extended lugs that frame the flat, circular Tangente case but cause the watch to sit a good bit larger than its listed diameter. Another difference is the sliver of lume on the thin handset of the Max Bill; the Tangente has no luminescent details.

The most important factor in this comparison, in my opinion, will be your personal opinion on each watch's design. These watches are both known for their attractive aesthetics that have stood the test the time no worse for wear.

Personally, while I do love the looks of both watches, I find NOMOS's ambitions for in-house manufacturing to be persuasive enough to make up the difference in price between the Tangente and Max Bill. For others, that will be less of a concern; either way, you'll end up with one of the best watches out there that takes less-is-more minimalism to heart.


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