This review was first published on Scottish Watches on September 4, 2019.
A little background to kick things off – Sternglas is a small Hamburg based watch company that produces Bauhaus inspired watches. The company was launched in 2016 by Dustin Fontaine following a successful crowdfunding campaign. At the time of writing, they have a range of six watches in the 34 to 42mm range with a mixture of quartz and automatic movements.
I am an engineer, not a designer. I would certainly never claim to be an expert on Bauhaus design but I am going to start this article with my thoughts on Bauhaus design just to give a little context. When I think of Bauhaus design the first thing that comes to mind is the first-generation Audi TT with its clean lines, form following function, simple aesthetic and mass appeal.
I can remember when the Audi TT was launched in the late 90s, there was nothing else quite like it in production and certainly nothing with the same level of accessibility. Sure, you can argue that the Porsche 911 is also Bauhaus inspired but, if we are being honest, it is a car that is beyond the reach of most people. The Audi TT on the other hand with its array of engine sizes, drive trains and configurations made Bauhaus inspired car design available to a much bigger market. I think it appealed to a lot of people, from traditional car guys and petrol heads through to hairdressers and mums.
It had everything you needed in a 2+2, it was sporty but at the same time you could fold the rear seats flat and have a decent loading area considering the size of the car. Its bulbous look was approachable while at the same time suggesting that the car could be pretty nippy. Sometimes getting the balance between function and form is difficult, if function is the only driving force form can suffer and things can start to get, well, utilitarian, in a bad way. If you can package something up in a way that the function is there and then the details are layered on top in a simple, concise way that enhances the look it can often result in a beautiful product with a wide appeal.
Sternglas embrace the Bauhaus concept. Their aim is to create high-quality watches that are affordable and timeless in their design, they are not trying to follow a trend as far as I can tell. They are also trying to design watches that are accessible to anyone at a fair price. Their watches are minimalistic, and they have really embraced the clean lines and simple aesthetic associated with Bauhaus design, while at the same time they have tried to produce good quality watches using well-established materials and parts.
The watch that Sternglas sent me is the Zirkel. I appreciate that this is somewhat subjective but for me, the Zirkel has the simplest dial in the Sternglas range and as such it is the dial that most embodies the Bauhaus look. The dial fills most of the face of the watch and is protected by a domed sapphire crystal with double anti-reflective coating which obviously does a great job of protecting the watch.
Inside the watch is a MIYOTA 821A automatic movement, very much a reliable mass-produced movement accurate to -20/+40 seconds per day. It may not be the most exciting movement in the world but you know that it is going to perform adequately and should it ever need a service a decent independent will be able to do it for you. You can see the movement through an exhibition case back, it has a Sternglas branded rotor which is a nice touch.
The watch case itself is made from 316L stainless steel, it’s a 40mm case that is 10mm deep with a 20mm lug width and a lug-to-lug length of 48mm. This is a comfortable size on my wrist, but I think that for a watch at the more dressy end of the spectrum is could be a little smaller, especially the depth of the watch for wearing under the cuff of a shirt. I suspect it is the domed crystal and exhibition case back that contribute to the overall depth so there may have to be a compromise in one of those departments in order to shave off a mm or two. It’s a minor detail, which is reflective of my personal preference, in an otherwise very consistent and coherent package.
The Zirkel comes with either a black or white dial and there are a number of strap options comprising of mocha, mahogany, grey, nero (black), a milanaise (milanese) bracelet or a five link metal bracelet. They all come with quick release spring bars which makes strap changing very straightforward. I went for the Zirkel in white on the milanese bracelet for a few reasons. I had never owned a milanese bracelet before but I know some people prefer them so I thought it would be nice to try one out, I also thought that the milanese bracelet matched the clean aesthetic of the watch really well and finally I thought it would be the most adaptable choice.
The Zirkel is definitely at the smarter end of the spectrum when it comes to watches, I think that it is well suited to a bracelet or a plain leather strap. I don’t think it is something I would wear on a NATO or rubber strap. It is also not a watch that I would pair with a heavily detailed strap such as crocodile or snakeskin. It definitely lends itself to a more simple, understated look.
So how and where would I wear this watch? I think the smart functional look of the Sternglas is perfect for the office. It would go really well with a suit and tie. It would in many ways stand out, despite being relatively plain, in a sea of desk divers and sports watches. I would also wear this watch if I was going to a nice restaurant for a meal or to a smart family event like a birthday celebration. The Zirkel is rated to 5bar (50m) but it is not a watch that I would wear when swimming or playing sports, it is not a sports watch, it does not have the clear legible dial of a sports watch or any lume. That’s not a criticism, it is just not what it is intended for. I definitely see this as more of a mid-week work and smart events watch rather than a weekend warrior adventure watch.
When I first saw the watch I couldn’t help but compare it to a couple of other brands – Skagen and Nomos. Now I know Skagen is a Danish company but I think that they share a similar simple aesthetic with clean lines. With Skagen you are very much buying a look, albeit at a lower price point. My father-in-law has gone through half a dozen Skagen watches over the years, I don’t know if that is down to his unique ability to break things or due to the build quality and inability for them to be repaired. On paper, the Sternglas is a much better specification and should survive day-to-day life well. At the other end of the spectrum you have Nomos Glashuette, clearly also featuring Bauhaus inspired design. Again a similar aesthetic but at least four times the price of the Sternglas. Yes, Nomos have in house movements and numerous patents but in terms of accessibility and wide appeal they are the Porsche 911 to Sternglas’ Audi TT!
There you have it, the Sternglas Zirkel. Bauhaus inspired design from a Hamburg based watch company. A solid, elegant, and smart watch that’s perfect for the office or a date night. If you like the simple, timeless design at a fair price point (£273) then this certainly a watch to consider.
Update – Sternglas must have read my mind. A few days after I finished writing this article Sternglas announced an update to the Zirkel. They have changed the movement for a Miyota Calibre 9015, moved the date to 6 o’clock and reduced the depth of the case from 10mm to 8.4mm. I haven’t seen the updated model in the metal but I think this design change is definitely an improvement in terms of the style and aesthetic of the watch. The slimmer case makes sense for a more dressy watch, helping it slide under a shirt cuff, it will look smart and understated. The updated model does come with a bump in price to £376 but as an overall package, I still think this watch makes sense and it pitches itself well when considered alongside other Bauhaus inspired watches.