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An eventful life

Interview on the 80th birthday of Hans-Jürgen Mühle

Hans-Jürgen Mühle has worked in the Glashütte watch industry for over half a century: from taking over his father’s business in 1970, through his time as GUB managing director, to the re-establishment of the company of his ancestors, he has seen and shaped the history of the place like no other. Hans-Jürgen Mühle was born on September 22nd, 1941 in Schweidnitz. This year the founder of Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte was 80 years old.

Mr. Mühle, you turned 80 on September 22nd: A good opportunity to look back on your eventful life. Which experiences do you particularly remember?

A very special event was the birth of my three children: Bettina and Thomas were born in Beierfeld in 1965 and 1967, where we lived in two rooms in the “Zur Krone” hotel. I worked there as a designer in the “VEB Messgerätewerk Beierfeld” and there was absolutely no apartment to be found in the town of the Ore Mountains. Thilo was born in Zossen in 1968 after I had accepted an offer from the Klausdorf brick combine and was supposed to develop a new microswitch in the household and micro technology department. The associated apartment in Blankenfelde-Mahlow made the small counter a very tempting challenge.

On the other hand, there is a very impressive memory of our escape from Schweidnitz from my earliest childhood. In the freezing winter, a Wehrmacht truck took us to Dresden from there. A tarpaulin had been stretched over its loading area, but the snowflakes gradually covered the quilt under which I was sitting with my pregnant mother. She struggled with it and kept wiping the snow from the ceiling with her hands to protect us from freezing to death.

As a young man, the takeover of the company “Ingenieur Hans Mühle” was a decisive event. On the one hand the early death of my father, on the other hand this led me back to Glashütte, where I jumped into the famous cold water as co-owner and managing director of our company. Because as an engineer for precision mechanics and optics I didn’t have that much idea about the business side of a company and had to learn a lot of new things in a very short time.

 

If you wanted to sum up the past 80 years in one sentence: what would it be?

I am happy that I have retained my interest in a wide variety of things to this day, that I am still ready to learn and, above all, that I am curious about new things.

 

This fits very well with your personal motto in life, according to which one should not mourn what one can no longer change anyway – and should rather look ahead. But isn’t there something after all that you would have wished back or done differently?

As the saying goes: “Afterwards you are always smarter.” So when you look back on an earlier decision in your life, there will always be something you could do differently. But even if something did not go optimally – such as signing the termination agreement with the GUB without a severance payment – you can still turn it around for the better and, for example, found your own company. On the whole, therefore, there is nothing that I would really do differently.

 

In 1994 you re-established your family’s company. When you look back on 27 years of Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte: what comes to mind spontaneously? And what was the best experience as a company boss and founder?

In the years after the founding of Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte, there have already been some things that we have succeeded in doing very well. I particularly fondly remember the early days of the company, when the three engineers – Bernhard Köhler, Siegfried Krumpolt and I – first had to renovate the company building and at the same time designed our new marine chronometers, which then went smoothly from the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency were approved in Hamburg.

In the first few years in the field of ship clocks, the development of our intelligent slave clock movements was also exciting. At the time, these were so unique and progressive that they secured us technological supremacy in automated clock systems for many years. Many well-known cruise ships and large yachts were subsequently equipped with it.

In the area of wristwatches, it is our patented woodpecker neck fine regulation that immediately comes to mind. It is very shockproof and offers, especially in emergency watches such as the S.A.R. Rescue-Timer and other sports watches have a real technical advantage. It is also used in the Robert Mühle calibres in our manufacture line, of which we can also be very proud.

 

Mr. Mühle, before founding Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte, you were also the commercial director of GUB from 1990 onwards: How did this appointment come about?

After our second company “Ing. Hans Mühle” was finally incorporated into the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe in 1980, I switched to the sales department of the GUB. I later became sales manager for the watch sector and also represented our sales director for a year, who was attending the political school during this time. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Siegfried Bellmann, the operations director of the GUB; then asked whether I, as a non-comrade, would not want to become commercial director? Then I said “yes” on the spur of the moment.

At his suggestion, I was appointed by the Treuhand in 1990 and, as one of a total of five managing directors, was to transfer the GUB to the new economic system. It was an exciting, but also a difficult time, as the task also included handling a large part of the GUB. So everything that wasn’t “clock” was discontinued at Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe GmbH, as the GUB was now called. That nearly were 60 percent of the production.

 

After founding Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte, you initially produced marine chronometers and ship clocks. How did the first wristwatches come about?

After the founding of Nautische Instrumente Mühle-Glashütte, Walter Lange and Günter Blümlein often visited us. The latter was not only interested in our work, but was also interested in the expansion of the new watchmaking location. He always said to me that anyone who builds marine chronometers with such precision must also make wristwatches. In fact, at that time I already had an inquiry from a shipyard that needed robust diving watches for their ships. In 1995, for example, we developed a diving watch for the shipyard we supplied, which was intended as equipment for the ship’s crews. Encouraged by Günter Blümlein’s advice, we continued this development in 1996 with the men’s sports diving watch and a seawater-resistant marine pilot’s watch made of titanium.

 

What do you wish for the future of the family business Mühle-Glashütte?

Above all, of course, I would like our company to continue to exist successfully as a family business. With my son Thilo it has been in the best hands for many years and I am happy that his children and my grandchildren Fanny and Dustin are now also on board. In addition, my son Thomas, my daughter-in-law Mandy and my son-in-law Uwe have been working in the company for a long time. We can really take the term family company literally.

In addition, our marine chronometers and ship’s clocks are still very important to me. And even if we now mainly manufacture wristwatches, I would be very happy if our ship’s clocks complement this product group for a long time to come.

What are your plans for the next ten years up to your 90th birthday?

First of all, I want to stay as healthy as I am today. That’s the most important thing! Then I look forward to following the further development of our family business. Since the nautical world doesn’t let me go completely in my free time either – I treat myself to a cruise on an AIDA cruise ship once or twice a year – I have made a few more trips: This year it will still be from Las Palmas across the Atlantic to the Dominican Republic. Two absolute dream destinations are then South Africa and Greenland.

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Frequent questions
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Who can service my Mühle wristwatch?

You have various options, if you would like to have your Mühle watch professionally serviced. For example, you are welcome to bring your watch directly to our factory or send it to us by post with the note “Service”. Please contact us in advance if you would like a service in our factory in Glashütte. We will be happy to provide you with more information about our services, the safe shipping of your Mühle watch and send you a return slip. In addition, you can contact a Mühle specialist dealer in your area. They will not only give you competent advice, there you can also hand in your watch for an inspection conveniently and easily.

Where can I find technical details for my Mühle wristwatch?

The most important technical information on watches in our current collection can be found on our website by visiting the “Wristwatches” page and selecting your collection and model. Technical details for your model can also be found in the instruction manual for your watch. If you have any further questions, especially regarding older models, please feel free to contact us.

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