In partnership with Damasko

Damasko: A Look Inside the Manufacture

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Just fifteen minutes by car from Regensburg, Germany, you’ll find Barbing. This wooded area is not all too different in appearance from upstate New York, despite being a continent away. Large fields studded by small structures line either side of the road when there’s a break in the trees. In the mornings in October, the fog is so thick you can’t see more than a few feet ahead, and there is a pleasant if not slightly-sharp chill in the air.

Tucked away on one of the many understated side roads is a long, single-story, white building with a pitched roof. There’s nothing flashy about it, and nothing to tell you that inside raw materials are transformed into complex machines. Machines that, despite their understated appearances, are some of the most technology packed in their industry.

This is where Damasko watches are made.

Founded in 1989 by Konrad Damasko, this family-owned-and-operated business has been producing watches in earnest since 1994, hitting the market in the early 2000s. Konrad didn’t just set out to make another watch; he wanted to make a watch that would survive anything. A watch that wouldn’t break down or show wear. A watch that would look as good on day one thousand as it does on day one.

“…a watch that resists all the adversities of everyday life, and that remains affordable for everyone. This has always been my vision.” – Konrad Damasko

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The unassuming Damasko factory.

A trained and talented engineer and inventor, Konrad set up the shop as a specialized manufacturer of high precision components, producing complex parts for numerous industries requiring tolerances down to the micrometer, if not finer. It’s a practice that continues to this day, and over the years each project has brought new challenges and requirements, which has allowed Damasko to amass engineering solutions and machinery that they now use to create their watches and movements.  

Konrad Damasko.

These solutions have turned into a plethora of durability enhancing features that make Damasko watches hands-down some of the toughest watches currently in production and have earned their DC 56 Si Chronograph the honor of being the official watch of German Eurofighter pilots for over 10 years. Some notable enhancements include:

  • Ice-hardened steel, which is four times harder than traditional steel and creates highly scratch and impact resistant cases.
  • Fully-hardened crowns that are easily replaceable should they get damaged (something Damasko says only happens during catastrophic events) and boast features like permanent lubrication cells, Viton gaskets, and true movement decoupling.
Cross-section of Damasko’s patented crown technology with the lubrication cells show in red.
  • Multi-layer DAMEST® black DLC coating, which further protects their watches and bezels while providing a near unscratchable finish.
  • In-house manufactured ceramic bearing rotors, offered on select models, that are near unbreakable and have withstood mil-spec endurance tests.
  • And Damasko’s own patented EPS® silicon hairsprings, which they developed way back in 2008.
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In 2019, Damasko has a wide catalog ranging from simple and affordable three-hand pilot watches and dive watches made from hardened submarine steel, to central minute chronographs with in-house modified Valjoux 7750s and watches featuring fully and truly in-house manufactured movements. Damasko watches are highly regarded by enthusiasts for their simple, understated designs, extraordinarily overbuilt cases, and accessible pricing. While other brands talk the talk about being tough, few walk the walk like Damasko.

The Factory

Entering the factory you are quickly reminded that this is a family-owned-and-operated business. You aren’t greeted by some corporate lobby with marble floors and rented art on the walls, but are instead met with the sounds and smells of metal being transformed. To the left and behind a heavy door is one long section of the production floor. To the right are the administrative offices, where you’re likely to find a Damasko family-member or two working at their desks, as well as conference rooms which seem to have an endless supply of small cookies. Past this corridor is more machining, finishing, and finally watch and movement assembly and testing.

A wall of raw material.
Laser-engraving bezels.
Milling the details on a Damasko case.

Currently five members of the Damasko family work at the company. There is Konrad, the Founder, and Petra, the CEO. Their daughters Nadja and Isabella are the Director of Sales and Director of Marketing, respectively, and their son Christoph is the Technical Director. Additionally, there are several highly-trained machinists, watchmakers, and a small administrative staff.

Though the factory started off modestly with just a handful of hand-operated machines, it now features nearly 50 state-of-the-art mills, lathes, laser cutters, EDMs (Electrical Discharge Machines), and multi-function CNCs. Walking through the factory floor, one’s head spins as the buzzing, whirring machines crank out incredibly complicated parts while various attendants spot check dimensions, calibrate and change programs, and replace material stock. Some of the machines are big and brutal, cranking out larger components, while in a temperature-controlled room far more precise machines tackle parts with undetectable tolerances, such as balance wheels and bearings.

Measuring the case down to sub-micrometer accuracy.

In fact, Damasko manufactures components with such exceptional precision that they have an entire room dedicated to measuring. Here you’ll find a machine that moves like a 3-axis mill, but rather than a bit on the end, it has ruby-tipped measuring probes. An operator will then set up a program that measures a component or a series of components to sub-micrometer accuracy, bouncing the data live off of a spec sheet to make sure each part is within range. This is how they make sure that their watch components — whether they’re part of the case or the movement — meet the highest standard.

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The Process

Getting a peek behind the curtain of a watch manufacturer is always an eye-opening experience. Watches are complicated systems made out of materials that are not easily transformed, and while the end result is often something beautiful, luxurious, and seemingly effortless, the process is anything but.

Each watch mid-case starts as raw steel cut into a billet, which is then machined into a form that I can only compare to a mini-bundt cake. This primordial shape is then taken to an EDM machine where the cases are cut out by electric wire in stacks. This is a slow and uncommon way to cut a mid-case into shape, which is typically done through milling or stamping, but it’s Damasko’s preferred method. These forms, which I liken to cookie-cutter cutouts, are then milled and tapped for crown holes, spring bar holes, case backs, etc. Finally, they are ready for finishing.

Damasko’s cases are cut with an EDM.
Cutting in process.
Case cutouts.

Not everything is CNC and automated at the Damasko factory. Finishing is still an art that requires a human touch. After machining, each Damasko case goes through several steps of finishing, which one might not expect given the somewhat simple matte finish of most Damasko cases. Nevertheless, the mid-cases are deburred and polished the good old fashioned way on a wheel. This is a process that requires a seasoned hand; an inexperienced operator could easily remove too much material in the process. They are then cleaned and sent out to be ice-hardened.

Case cleaned and polished by hand.
Cases are then bead-blasted one by one.

A proprietary annealing process, ice-hardening consists of heating the metal in a vacuum and then cooling the metal down with nitrogen. This achieves a hardness of 710 vickers all the way through. Finally, the mid-cases go back to the finishing room where they are cleaned and bead-blasted to an even, matte finish.

Konrad happily taking a hammer to the case to prove its toughness.

Of course, this is just the mid-case. All of the other components are made in-house and go through similar processes. Case backs and bezel inserts undergo deep laser etching as well, and various parts go through Damasko’s proprietary, three-layer DAMEST® DLC coating.

Watchmaking

In stark contrast to the intense and messy process of crafting components, in a series of spacious, quiet, naturally-lit rooms Damasko’s watchmakers assemble movements and watches. Led by Master Watchmaker Mayer Wolfgang, several young watchmakers put everything together, honing their skills and making great watches in the process. One room focuses on case and dial assembly, while the other on movements. Though the majority of Damasko’s watches use Sellita and ETA movements, they are all modified with new date-discs and are individually regulated. Movements such as the C51-1 central-minute chronograph have about 40% new parts manufactured in-house, and each movement requires a lot of additional assembly.

Damasko’s C51-1 central-minute chronograph.
Master Watchmaker Mayer Wolfgang.

Damasko’s in-house movements are also assembled in this room, and the operation is personally overseen by Herr Wolfgang. Though in-house can be a contentious term, Damasko has earned the right to use it, having designed and engineered the movements themselves and manufacturing most of the components just down the hall. Some components are outsourced but they are still entirely of their own design. Take, for example, Damasko’s jewels, which have a shape they defined, and their EPS® silicon hairspring and pallet wheel. The latter two components are taken for granted these days as they are becoming more common, but when first introduced in 2008, Damasko was one of the very few with this technology. Additionally, their EPS® spring has a patented polycrystalline structure that allows their springs to perform even better.

The Store

Thanks to Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law, beer in Bavaria is not only fresh and delicious, it’s cheap and abundant with each city having local breweries with vast supply. This has nothing to do with watchmaking, but it helps express the charming feel of Regensburg, the city in which Damasko operates their sole shop. Old winding streets are filled with cafés and eateries — most of which offer outdoor seating — allowing you to take in the beautiful sunsets that come over structures that are hundreds of years old while enjoying a cold one.

The Damasko store in Regensburg.
The Damasko store sells special pieces that one can only purchase there.

Damasko’s boutique is fairly centrally located in Regensburg, offering locals and visitors the experience of seeing, trying on, and purchasing their watches in person. It’s an elegant shop with leather couches and glass displays creating a pleasant environment for trying on a watch. If you happen to be passing through town it’s a highly recommended stop. Not only do they have the watches you are familiar with from Damasko’s catalog, but they also sell special pieces that one can only purchase there.

Onward and Upward

The story of Damasko is that of a brand and family that has worked hard over the last 25 years to become a leader in what they do. They are a modest brand that quietly and persistently works to create watches that outshine and will likely outlast their competition. These are watches with tasteful designs, accessible prices, and a bounty of technology that make them exceptionally durable. They aren’t flashy, they aren’t decadent, they aren’t fake — a sentiment that is true for both the watches and the people behind them.

The Damasko family: Isabella, Christoph, Petra, Konrad, and Nadja.

As time continues to march forward, so does Damasko. On the horizon are new models, new calibers, and new clever solutions to create even better, cooler, and more durable timepieces. For fans of independent watch brands and brands that put their product before their marketing, Damasko is a company to follow closely.


Damasko’s website

Damasko watches are available at Windup Watch Shop

Images from this post:
Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
wornandwound zsw
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