Travel and watches are inextricably linked. We track the time it takes to get there, the time we have to get from one connection to another, the time difference between here and there, and the time we have left before we return. My Tudor Black Bay GMT review mentioned, “What I believe is signified by wearing a GMT watch is a sense of travel.” This is something that I believe permeates the watch-collecting community and is largely responsible for the uptick in popular of GMT watches. In this piece, I am going to attempt to do two things. Firstly, I’d like to share my experience purchasing a new watch while abroad. Secondly, I want to analyze how and why one might purchase a watch while traveling.
My wife and I had been planning a trip to Germany for the better part of a year. I blame it on Atomic Blonde, the 2017 movie featuring Charlize Theron that takes place just before the Berlin Wall fell, or maybe it was Bridge of Spies? Either way, we were headed to Germany. Around the time we started planning, I started scheming. You see, there are watches in Germany. German-made watches. I started weighing my options. My first thought was a Sinn U50. I had the chance to spend time with a U50 back in 2021, and it’s stuck in my mind ever since. I started doing a little googling around where I could find Sinns in person to try on. I also wanted to make sure that whatever AD I went to would have the watch(es) I was interested in. This proved to be difficult. ADs that listed Sinn as one of their carried brands didn’t keep the watches in store, and I’d need to have them “ordered in for viewing.”
The more I looked into Sinn, the more complicated it seemed like it would be. I wanted to be intentional to not shift the focus of this trip from visiting Germany to “making sure Aaron can find a German watch in Germany.” So, I set the “Sinn conundrum” on the back burner as we continued to plan the trip. Fast forward to a couple of weeks, and we had our itinerary solidified. Berlin, Dresden, Bamberg, Fussen, and back to Berlin before flying home. I was perusing the map, looking at potential drive times, and noticed that the small town of Glashutte was just 30 minutes outside of Dresden. From that moment onward, I knew what I was going to do. I was going to buy a Nomos.
Now, one thing I’ve learned about myself is that no amount of “trying” is going to inject an emotional attachment into a watch purchase. It’s important to make sure that you’re buying a watch you’ll want to own and wear. Back in 2019, I was in Paris with my wife for our tenth anniversary, and I had my heart set on picking up a Black Bay GMT. This wasn’t too far after the watch was released, and they were very difficult to find. The AD I found in Paris only had it on a NATO, and I knew I’d want a bracelet.
So, I bought something else instead. I no longer own the watch that I settled for. On paper, you’d think that watch would be a forever keeper regardless of what it was, but I could never force myself to get attached to it. I do believe that if I’d found the watch I wanted, it would have been much easier for me to hang onto it. So my advice to someone traveling somewhere and wanting to commemorate it with a watch purchase would be to do some of the work beforehand. Once I knew we were going to be in Glashutte and that I was going to bring home a Nomos, I knew there was no other than the Weltzeit. The World Timer.
What I did next was look at Nomos’ presence in Glashutte itself. You, generally, cannot buy watches directly from watch brand’s factories. Two of the other big brands in Glashutte, A. Lange & Söhne and Glashutte Original, do not sell watches in Glashutte. In my research, I found that Nomos has its “Kaufhaus” boutique within the city of Glashutte itself. I emailed the store and let them know I intended to purchase a watch from them on a specific date and asked them to reserve a blue Zurich Weltzeit for me. If you find yourself wanting to make a watch purchase while traveling abroad, I would encourage you to do some of the legwork first and make sure that you’re going to be able to find what you want when you’re shopping.
As we crossed the Atlantic, I started to think about what it means to purchase a watch on a trip. I think I narrowed it down to two primary things. Firstly, it can purely be a chance to treat yourself to something nice when your inhibitions are somewhat lowered. Your bad decisions won’t haunt you till the next credit card statement comes, right? And then you’ll be home, and the watch will be yours. What’s done is done. Second, it can be an opportunity to get a memento of the place you’re visiting. This is generally best accomplished if there’s some intrinsic connection between the place and the timepiece. For me, the opportunity to purchase a timepiece in the same city where it was built felt like the perfect association.
Arriving in Glashutte was a bit of a surprise. The drive from Dresden is very bucolic with winding mountain roads through small German villages. You’ll see cows with bells around their necks and pleasant little German cottages where I can only assume you’d get the kickassiest Schnitzel you’ve ever tasted. However, as soon as you round the corner into the German watchmaking capital, you’re greeted by this glass monolith of A. Lange & Söhne. Around the corner from Lange is Glashutte Original, and across the street from them is Nomos.
The whole city of Glashutte is probably no more than three or four blocks, all of which are dedicated strictly to watches and watchmaking. We parked right in the center of town next to the Glashutte watchmaking museum that occupies the city’s main square. Directly across the street was Nomos’ Kaufhaus boutique. Their boutique is a very charming shop that only has a few display cases, a table to sit down and try on some watches, a shop dog, and, of course, Nomoses (Nomi?).
My purchasing experience was very different than I anticipated. Going into it, I had the romantic idea of being able to sit down in the boutique and have several watches brought out to try on. Maybe there would be champagne or espresso. You know, the whole thing. In reality, we arrived at the Kaufhaus boutique, and the salesperson didn’t speak any English. There was no champagne, no espresso.
After realizing that I was “that American that was supposed to come by today,” she brought out the Blue Worldtimer from the back with a sticky note that had my name on it stuck to the box. I asked them to swap out the buckle for a deployant clasp, paid, and it was over. It was much less romantic than I envisioned, but the salesperson was still very friendly. They gifted me the deployant clasp and handed us a bottle of champers on the way out the door. I point all of this out to highlight that sometimes your expectations need flexibility when it comes to watch purchases abroad. It didn’t make the experience any less special, but I did need to adjust my mindset when we arrived.
After the purchase was made, another thing that felt important to do was to create an experience around the watch that would cement everything in my mind. We were able to arrange a guided tour of the Glashutte watch museum. This tour was a fantastic way to top everything off. The museum guide told us about the region’s history and Nomos’s impact on it. Contextualizing my watch was very cool to say the least. I loved learning that along with Lange, Glashutte Original, and Grossmann, Nomos is one of the few brands in the city that manufactures its own movements. However, only Nomos and Grossmann are independently owned. This is all super neckbeard-y, but hey… I was in Glashutte buying a watch, I wanted all the neck-beardiness.
At last, my dream of buying a German-made watch in the city it was made was complete. Now, it was time to figure out the pesky details of a VAT refund and claiming my “goods” in order to get it home safe and sound. Importing purchases over EUR 175 can get a little technical, but it’s important to know if this is something that you want to do. Prices in the EU generally include VAT (value-added tax), which can be refunded to you if you take the necessary steps. The reason this matters is that it’s usually a considerable amount. In the case of Germany, the VAT is 19% of your purchase. That’s worth getting back on a watch purchase. At the retailer, you should mention that you want to purchase the watch tax-free, and they’ll provide you with a form.
Depending on what country you’re exiting the EU from, the process will be a little different. For myself, being from the US, I needed to go to a counter at the airport and get an export stamp on that form. From there, you generally need to do “something” with that form. In my case, I FedExed it back to Nomos once I got home, and they wired me the tax they’d collected at the time of purchase. This process has differed in different countries. Switzerland just had me drop the form in a drop box at the airport, and my credit card was refunded a week or so later. France had the form electronically processed at the airport. So, do your research before you travel so that you know what to expect.
Once I arrived home and put the Nomos Weltzeit into my watch box, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of melancholy. I had been anticipating this watch for months. I had made all sorts of plans around the act of purchasing it and, in a lot of ways, over-romanticized it to a pretty large degree. This is a feeling any watch collector can relate to. The hunt is almost more fun than the actual quarry.
On the other hand, this watch will hold all sorts of authentic memories from this trip to Germany, and being that it is a world-timer, it’ll go on more trips with me and continue to build that provenance on my wrist. I’m looking forward to wearing it on my next escapade. I would encourage you, fellow watch collector, to spend some time thinking about what sort of horological purchase might enhance an upcoming trip that you may have planned. Do some of that planning in advance, and you’ll be rewarded with a rich experience that goes, at least somewhat, according to the image you have in your head.
Aaron is a Nashville based watch collector and road bike rider. In addition to TBWS, his articles can been seen on ABlogtoWatch and Bladereviews.com. Aaron’s interests primarily focus on tool watches — specifically in the dive, pilot, or field watch arenas. When not over enthusiastically asking someone about the watch they’re wearing, Aaron can be found traveling, cycling, trying new restaurants with his partner Carissa, or petting any and all dogs within his sightline.