Hands-on with Max Bill Watches by Junghans

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Max Bill was a renowned Swiss designer, graphic artist, and architect who is remembered, first and foremost, for his highly influential body of work. Though he studied at the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, it would be a disservice to simply call him a student of the Bauhaus. Outspoken and brash, Bill expressed his distaste for shallow design; in fact, he often blamed American designers for the rise of what he called the “commodity aesthetic.” But he also understood the fine balance between form and function, often citing the significance of beauty in his designs. He dedicated most of his career to developing long-lasting forms, blending style and utility to create work that was, in many ways, the spiritual successor to the Bauhaus movement.

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In 1956, Max Bill began a collaboration that would cement his name in the world of horology. Junghans, a German watch company founded in 1871, approached Bill to design a set of watches and clocks for the brand. Fascinated by time, Bill accepted the offer and released his first piece, a wall clock, in 1956.  Combining clean lines, simple geometry, and a unique type, the Max Bill clock was a master class in form. Five years later, he released a series of wristwatches heavily influenced by that initial design, effectively creating a line of Bauhaus classics that to this day bear is name.

Form, Function, Beauty = Gestalt  -Max Bill

Junghans has since rereleased the Max Bill line, which includes many of the historical models as well as some modern interpretations of Bill’s original vision. There are three main variations in the current lineup: the 35mm hand wind, the 38mm automatic, and the 40mm automatic chronograph. We were lucky enough to get our hands on two pieces from the line for a brief review: the automatic Max Bill Silver Dial Ref. 3500 and the Max Bill Chronoscope in black. Coming in at $966 and $1989, respectively, these watches share a pricing category with some stiff competition (including two other Bauhaus favorites, Nomos and Stowa). So, are Max Bill watches worth the price with all the other options out there?

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Max Bill Silver Dial Ref. 3500

The silver-dialed Ref. 3500 is the anchor of the Max Bill line.  Stylistically, it bears a close resemblance to its historical counterpart. At 38mm, it’s perfectly sized for a modern dress watch, and a thickness of 10mm ensures that it will fit snugly under a shirt cuff. Speaking of fit, the Ref. 3500 is also one of the most comfortable watches I have ever worn; the unobtrusive lugs paired with the curved case back guarantee the watch will lay comfortably on the wrist.

The silver dial has an attractive quality to it and varies in color depending on the light. It often looks white, but under certain conditions the silver grain becomes visible; the overall effect is quite stunning. The printing is also incredibly precise–the hour markers are thin, the text is small, and the lume dots are inconspicuous–all of which result in an uncluttered look that is functional without appearing sterile. Similarly, the hands are slim and sharp, perfectly complementing the crispness of the dial.

Each hour marker is topped off with ideally stylized Arabic numerals. The type is unique and well balanced (just look at that “4”) and is a detail you will not find anywhere else. To top it all off, the highly domed plexi-crystal emphasizes the vintage styling and convex dial, giving the whole look a softness that sapphire simply cannot replicate. For those of you worried about scratches, the surface is hardened and shouldn’t easily scratch. In case it does, Polywatch and some elbow grease should do the trick.

Though Junghans at one time produced their own movements, the Ref. 3500 uses a slightly modified ETA 2824 (the hand-wind model uses a ETA 2801).  Some purists might balk at this, but it is important to remember that the 2824 is a reliable workhorse, and the long-term ease of servicing such a movement is something worth considering. The 2824 also keeps the pricing accessible by bringing it under the 1K mark.

Max Bill Chronoscope in black

Though Bill never designed a chronograph model, the Chronoscope is an honest reimagining of the original Max Bill design. Coming in at 40mm wide, the watch is averagely sized by today’s standards, though it is on the larger end for a dressier piece. Like the Ref. 3500, it wears a bit larger than its given dimensions, mostly due to the thinner bezel. However, the color of the dial and squat lugs do a great job at tempering the piece, and the overall appearance looks and feels well-proportioned. While some might find the height of the Chronocope a little off-putting (13mm), especially when compared to the slimmer profile of its 3-handed brothers, it’s important to remember that most of the height comes from that beautiful domed crystal and modified Valjoux 7750. Having said that, I think a hand-wound chronograph movement would be a welcome addition to the line, and would help trim some fat off the case.

Like the 3-handed automatic version, the dial of the Chronoscope is clearly and effectively designed.  It features a nearly symmetrical layout with sub-dials arranged along a vertical axis, crisply printed lines, and well-positioned lume dots. My favorite detail–the gorgeous minimalist type–is unfortunately only visible through the brand logo and date window. For those interested, there is a version of the silver-dialed Chronoscope with Arabic numerals, though your best bet may be the secondary market.

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If I had to find fault with the black-dialed Chronoscope, it would have to be the date window. Like many other brands, Junghans opted for a white date wheel against a black dial. Generally, this ruins the symmetry of a piece, or at the very least sticks out like a sore thumb. Somehow, the Chronoscope manages to pull it off, and the date window is not as obtrusive as it is on other watches. Still, it is something to consider when buying this piece. The Chronoscope retails for $2,004.00

Conclusion

With their unique styling, attractive heritage, and solid German construction, Max Bill watches are a clear win. They look as relevant now as they did over half a century ago, and they will remain relevant another 50 years from now. With the rising popularity of vintage watches, many companies today are turning to their archives. These rereleases, however, often miss the mark when sizes are grossly inflated, dials are reorganized, type is changed, etc. The Max Bill line avoids this unfortunate trend, and instead offers classic timepieces that can be worn by anyone with a taste for good design.

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Ilya is worn&wound's Managing Editor and Video Producer. He believes that when it comes to watches, quality, simplicity and functionality are king. This may very well explain his love for German and military-inspired watches. In addition to watches, Ilya brings an encyclopedic knowledge of leather, denim and all things related to menswear.
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  • Beautiful watches.

  • Great photos of an amazing watch. A Max Bill is one of the leading candidates for my next watch and this review may put it over the top. Thank you!

  • so good looking. love them!

  • The white Chronoscope might be my favorite chronograph on the market. The simplicity of its dial, even with the added chrono subdials is amazing.

    The size may scare some people off, but I think it’s because they haven’t every worn a watch that is literally all dial.

  • Very cool designs. I’d have to be in love with Bauhaus to drop 2 grand on one however, lots of choices in that price range. Doesn’t help there’s a Junkers Bauhaus chronograph for under $400.

    Admittedly there are differences in more expensive versions of watches via geographical origin of the movement (cough), sapphire crystals, sculpted cogs, etc. It’s always interesting to me to see how different brands establish the value of these differences and how wildly they vary.

  • Definitely one of my favorite brands.

  • Kurt

    I just discovered your site, and I love it. I keep coming back just to revel in the dazzle of these amazing pieces. This chronoscope has me hooked.

  • Patrick

    FYI: Due to the special coating they put on these crystals, you cannot use Polywatch. I know this from bad experience.

  • Monty

    @Patrick – can you clarify what you mean? What happens? What was the bad experience?

  • Bill

    No on-the-wrist shots?

  • Aleksandrs Aperans (Aleks)

    Any recommendations for swapping out the black band of the Max Bill Silver Dial Ref. 3500 for a brown one?

  • Shinytoys

    Excellent Article. Beautiful watch !