Second of three parts
GLASHUTTE, Germany — Whether you’re looking for the perfect car, the perfect kitchen, the perfect sound system or the perfect watch, chances are that German-made products will end up at the top of your list.
The penchant for perfection among German manufacturers — to the satisfaction of discerning customers — has earned this country a reputation for producing quality goods that are sought by a growing class of affluent consumers from Beijing to New York.
Germany’s ability to cash in on the yearnings of the well-to-do — the segment of the world economy least affected by the economic devastation of the Great Recession — is a key ingredient to the success of the European economic powerhouse.
That success has vaulted Germany to center stage and given it the leading role in resolving the long-running debt crisis plaguing southern Europe. Germany has used its newfound influence to rewrite the playbook for the European Union, while forcing financially stricken countries to run their economies more like Germany — with budget-balancing discipline and market rigor.
“Our success in international markets gives us power” in the broader European economy and world at large, said Ursula Muller, deputy director-general at Germany’s Foreign Office.
But Germany’s reascendance did not come without a struggle.
“Germany has no natural resources, so traditionally our success has been based on innovation and creativity,” Ms. Muller said. The nation’s heavy reliance on imports of raw materials forced Germany to “live on its exports” of manufactured products, she said. Today, more than 341,000 German companies are oriented toward exports.
A recent tour of German factories highlighted how the nation’s manufacturing renaissance grew not from some overarching government policy but rather from the initiatives of a small army of entrepreneurs who started with sometimes simple ideas or humble products that they honed through hard work and years of refining into the best in the world.
Here in the picturesque town of Glashutte in the Ore Mountains near Germany’s border with the Czech Republic, the tradition of making some of the best and most expensive timepieces in the world started modestly.
Merchants sought loans from the king for startup capital in the early 1800s. Their craft gradually grew and flourished, and the region became known for its excellent watches.
The watchmaking tradition was broken during the Cold War years, when the town was behind the Iron Curtain. Venerable companies were dismantled by the East German government, forcing entrepreneurs to start from scratch after reunification in the 1990s, drawing together remnants of the old watchmaking companies.
Today, the town of 4,700 is buzzing and producing watches again, regaining its reputation. Each watch is spun from fine brass wire and other tiny components — some thinner than a human hair — hand-assembled and tested by workers in a process as intricate as the watches themselves.