Timekeeping in the former East Germany

Short History of Ruhla Watches

A Short History of Ruhla Watches

Germany 1945 - Allied Sectors

Germany 1945 – Allied Sectors

With the end of the Second World War and the Soviet liberation of eastern Europe, the allied forces took administrative control of Germany. In Eastern Germany, Soviet forces remained and started to rebuild the economy and manufacturing. As a result, manufacturing plants and industries came under the control of the Soviet administration and thus the former clock and engine works of brothers Thiel GmbH Ruhla came under the control of the Soviet state enterprise Avtovelo. Avtovelo controlled several factories one of which was the BMW motorworks in Eisenach which later became the Wartburg Motor Works. The purpose of the Soviet administration was to identify what could be taken back to the USSR as reparations and also to re-establish industries to rebuild Eastern Germany.

Avtovelo

Avtovelo

In 1952, the enterprise was transferred to the new East German State and became the VEB Clock and Engine works Ruhla – VEB, Volkseigener Betrieb (an enterprise owned by the people). This was the legal form of industrial enterprise in East Germany. VEBs were publically owned and were routinely combined with other organisational units which were called Kombinaten. Later the works became the Uhren und Maschinenfabrik Ruhla – hence UMF seen on earlier watch dials.

The Ruhla works developed clocks and instruments throughout the 1950s and 60s. For example, in cooperation with the Soviet aircraft maker Ilushin in the mid 1950s, VEB Ruhla developed calibres for use in aircraft in East Germany and the Soviet Union (Ilyshin 14) as well as electrical clocks, automatic controllers and such instruments as chess clocks as well as heavier machinery such as milling machines.

Interflug IL 14

Interflug IL 14

Some early calibres developed by VEB Ruhla in the late 1940s, early 1950s proved  difficult and to manufacture. Some of the parts required could not be made within the East German economy which meant sourcing these components from the west. This resulted in both economic and political difficulties. Firstly, in economic terms the foreign exchange costs involved were not sustainable and politically, East German production was meant to be free from capitalist interference which precluded sourcing materials or components from the west.

In the early 1960s, as a response to this, Ruhla developed the caliber 24 design. The caliber 24 proved very successful and many variations were produced. Within a few years, production had reached 5 million units and virtually all materials and components were produced in-house.

UMF Ruhla Advert Ladies Watches 1959

UMF Ruhla Advert Ladies Watches 1959

It was in 1967 that the Ruhla works became part of a combine (Kombinaten) along with other clock manufacturing plants in the Erfurt area such as Glaschutte and Weimar although each plant remained economically independent. Together, the kombinaten employed approximately 7,500 people.

Around 60% of production at VEB Ruhla was exported to western countries. In the Federal Republic (West Germany) Ruhla watches were sold through department stores and catalogue companies. Ruhla also exported movements to be cased-up in the Far East. Catalogues were also popular in East Germany and the State department stores produced catalogues of goods from the 1950s onwards. Both Ruhla and Glashütte products were sold via this means.

The success of these calibres and the high production volumes resulted in the automation of the assembly process at Ruhla in 1967. There were 87 mostly manual processes in the production of the calibre 24 movement and these were replaced by 38 fully automatic processes. Workers controlled the assembly from control panels*.

The chairman of the Council of State of the German Democratic Republic, Walter Ulbricht presented to representatives of the VEB Kombinat Ruhla the honorary plaque of the Central Committee for the 50th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution on 27th October 1967. It was after 1967 that UMF was dropped from the dials of Ruhla watches and just Ruhla was used to brand products.

In 1978 there was a further restructuring of the East German watch industry and Ruhla then became part of the Kombinat Mikroelektronik Erfurt. An electro-mechanical movement was developed , the caliber 25. This caliber was used not only in watches but also car dashboard clocks and alarm clocks. The technical developments made in the caliber 25 provided the East German watch industry with the prerequisites for developing quartz watches. The first quartz digital watches were put into production as the UMF 28-40 calibre.

Sigmund Jähn

Sigmund Jähn

In this same year, East Germany entered the space race through the Soviet space programme. An electro-mechanical stop watch was tested during the first space mission undertaken by Sigmund Jähn of the East German Airforce aboard Soyuz 31 and 29 to and from the Salyut 6 space station in August/September 1978.

Later, during the early 1980s, development work concentrated on quartz wrist watches and clockwork movements such as the UMF M 24 and quartz alarm movements; much of the production of which was destined for the East German domestic market. The East German Goverment took the view that LCD quartz watches would be the future for watch production.

During its lifetime, the Ruhla clock works manufactured many hundreds of millions of clock movements of different calibres. A full list of calibres is available here: Ruhla Calibre List

Following the re-unification of Germany, the kombinaten was broken up and different enterprises developed. VEB Ruhla was converted to a limited company (GmbH) many staff were layed off or put on temporary contracts  and by 1991, the factory ceased production. However, an engineer of the VEB Ruhla plant and two other colleagues bought the clock plant which became Gardé Ruhla and which still successfully manufactures quartz watches today including a high quality radio controlled time movement.  (c) 2012 https://ostalgieruhla.wordpress.com

See also Industry, Economy and the East German Government

*DEFA Studios Newsreels and Documents 10.11.1967

Milling Machine VEB Ruhla 1985

Milling Machine VEB Ruhla 1985

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49 responses

  1. Arturo Márquez

    Hi, I have a plastic red clock, belongs to my grandmother. I want to know what year is it?

    May 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    • Hello Arturo,

      To be able to tell you how old it is, I would need to see a photo. Some of the designs were made from the 1960s right through to the 1980s. Others, like the red square plastic clock were made from the late 1970s through the 1980s.

      If you can send me a picture/photo of the clock to sekondtime@gmail.com I will do my best to tell you.

      Regards
      Sekondtime

      May 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  2. kerim uğur

    hi. I Have one of them from my dady. it has roman nomerals and black leather antimagnetic mechanizm…I wanna know what year is it? I want take a photo for your comment. but I don t know how can ı do it?

    July 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm

  3. kerim uğur

    again me I found it photos on your web site.Ruhla UMF 24-42 with Polymide Rocker Indigo Dial black Roman numeros but white one.

    July 20, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    • Thank you for your message. I have sent you an email to send your photo to.

      Sekondtime

      July 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm

  4. Dale Rossmann

    Hi,
    I have just purchased a Ruhla jump watch from eBay. But more interestingly, I am lead to believe the original Ruhla building was in the town my father was born in. Was the original building in Prussia? Ostprusin(sp?) Was how the town was pronounced originally. It no longer exists, but it did end up with an early BMW factory in it. Any info on the exact whereabouts of the original Ruhla watchworks would be greatly appreciated.

    September 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    • Hello Dale,

      Congratulations on buying a Ruhla Jump Hour watch. They are becoming quite sought after.

      The Ruhla factory was and is still in the town of Ruhla in Thuringia (http://maps.google.com/maps?q=ruhla&hl=en&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=36.999937,86.572266&vpsrc=0&z=12). Before the partition of Germany following the war, the Ruhla watch works was a private company called Gebüder Thiel GmbH. If you look at the home page of my site, you will see a photograph of the Thiel factory building in 1935 and another recent photo of the factory which is now operated by Gardé Ruhla, the succesor company. You can visit the Gardé Ruhla museum of Ruhla and Thiel watches there.

      I hope this answers your question.

      Sekondtime

      September 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm

  5. Pingback: Un reloj “made in GDR” | La Azotacalles

    • Muy interesante! Que hay por venta un reloj del GDR mas que 20 años despues del caída del muro de Berlin es una sorpesa de verdad!

      January 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm

  6. Angela Nghiem

    Hello,
    I had a Ruhla small lady watch 17 Rubis Antimaganetic, its look like gold plated, can anybody let me know information about this watch. Thank you.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    • Hello Angela,

      The small Ruhla ladies watches with 17 Jewels were powered by Soviet produced movements from the 2nd Moscow Watch factory which made the Slava brand of watches. The movements are usually 1600 caliber. The cases for the watches were probably produced at the Ruhla factory in East Germany. The Ruhla watch factory had long links with the Soviet watch industry as technicians from the Moscow factories helped re-establish watchh and clock making in Ruhla following the 2nd World War.

      I hope that gives you a bit more information.

      Sekondtime

      June 22, 2012 at 7:29 am

      • Aileryn

        Hi there, my husband recently inherited a ruhla watch from his granddad, + I’ve been having trouble finding any info on it; anything u could tell me would be greatly appreciated! It’s remarkably singular aesthetically, so rather than attempting a written description I’ve attached a photo. On the backside is engraved (?) the words “inoxydable” + “electronically timed” in a circle, in the center, “antimagnetic.” Thanks a million in advance! Aileryn B.

        February 27, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      • Hello,

        Thank you for your message. Unfortunately I cannot see the photo you have attached. Can you send it to the site email address which is sekondtime@gmail.com. I will then try to give you some information.

        Regards

        Sekondtime

        February 27, 2013 at 7:59 pm

  7. Trevor

    I have a round, white face Ruhla anti-magnetic watch with blue hands and a red date window. The dial shows 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock with dashes in-between. I can’t find a picture or any detail on it anywhere.

    October 15, 2012 at 11:53 am

    • Hi,

      I think I may have something similar which is not shown yet on the site. You could send me a photo to sekondtime@gmail.com and I will be able to comment further.

      Sekondtime

      October 17, 2012 at 7:39 am

  8. Pingback: Lost Samba – Chapter 03 – Part 02 | Lost Sambista

  9. Mark

    Thank you for such a wonderful website! I have gained so much knowledge from it. Keep up the good work! 🙂 I have just bought a Ruhla Eurochron LCD watch. Externally the case, face and bracelet are brand new looking. I don’t think that it was ever worn as it is so perfect and clean. But the battery leaked at some stage and so the watch module is dead. Do you know of any where that I could get a UMF 15-11 module for it? Of even just the processor board? Thanks in advance.

    July 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    • Hello Mark,

      Thank you for your enquiry and pleased you like the website.

      Ruhla LCD watches tend to be expensive to buy but there are a few dedicated collectors of the LCD watches in Germany and Finland. I am afraid I do not have any spares for these watches. However, I have asked a fellow collector in Germany if there are any sources of movements or parts.

      Regards,

      Sekondtime

      July 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm

  10. DrPoulet

    Hello,

    Thanks for the great website. I have recently bought a vintage Ruhla / Gardé (made in GDR) chess clock on a flea market and I would like to know more about it. Your website is covering a lot of items from this company but unfortunatly nothing about chess clocks…

    It would be great if you could tell me more about it. Thanks a lot!

    August 27, 2013 at 10:17 pm

  11. guillermo

    En 1988 me regalaron un reloj ruhla dorado antimagnetic con números romanos negros a cuerda, con aspecto de los 60s, lo deje de ocupar en 1991 porque se atrasaba, ahora le di cuerda y ha funcionado; me gustaria saber el modelo

    September 23, 2013 at 4:59 am

    • Hola Guillermo,

      ¿Tiene una foto del reloj? Será más fácil dar información con una foto. Usted puede enviar la foto a sekondtime@gmail.com.

      Gracias

      Sekondtime

      September 25, 2013 at 7:35 am

  12. eyates16

    Hi there,

    I was recently going through some of my late grandfathers items and came across a ruhla watch, I would love to know what year it is. Is there an email I can send a picture of it to?

    Thanks,

    Emily

    September 26, 2013 at 10:05 pm

  13. Hi, my Dad was the representative for Ruhla watches in Brazil, I wrote a small chapter about this in my Book, perhaps you will enjoy it: http://wp.me/p2laeG-uo

    February 25, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    • Thank you for the link. Your father was part of the network which allowed Ruhla to be sold in more than 60 countries worldwide. This fact was often quoted in the East German National newspapers in articles about developments at the Ruhla watch factory. It was a point of pride for the GDR.

      Do you have any printed materials such as catalogues or inventories from your father’s work as a representative of Ruhla watches?

      Sekondtime

      February 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm

  14. Hi,

    Unfortunately we sold the company in 1984 and kept nothing. At the time the restrictions to imports by the Brazilian government were strangling the business.

    Anyhow I remember the products well and also taking some directors from Ruhla out in Rio de Janeiro. The business was very successful and we are grateful for the good times that Ruhla allowed us to have.

    Best,

    Richard

    February 26, 2014 at 12:18 am

  15. elio magri italia

    Goodmorning i have an old garde watch chess. Its havent disch in alluminium of one quadrant. Can i buy that part for repaire it? There is in italy assistence point? Thanks

    June 20, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    • Hello,

      Thank you for your message. There are no Ruhla service agents that I am aware of. However, you could contact Ruhla Garde directly for advice on spare parts or service in your country. Their website is: http://garde.de/index.php?id=75

      Regards

      Sekondtime

      June 21, 2014 at 7:44 pm

  16. Anthony van Osch

    I bought a Ruhla quartz alarm clock in August 1983. It still works perfectly!

    July 13, 2014 at 4:01 am

    • That’s great! Ruhla quartz clocks have proved to be very reliable. I have a few in the collection and they all work and keep perfect time.

      Sekondtime

      July 13, 2014 at 10:01 am

  17. Mandy

    Hi I have a ruhla antimagnetic gdr pocket watch champagne colour enamel.face with gold indices. What year is this pocket watch and the value. I am from South Africa

    May 25, 2015 at 5:50 am

    • This pocket watch was made around the late 70s and through the 1980s. As to the value, the best way to check values is to look at values being achieved on ebay. Beware some of the inflated prices being quoted for “Buy it now” Ruhlas as these prices are wholly unrealistic.

      May 25, 2015 at 10:02 am

  18. Bojidar

    hi guys i have one ruhla watch it is working and its like made from gold but the time had make hem really dirty so can you pls help me understand the year wich he belong or somethink about hem ?

    June 2, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    • Without photographs of the watch it is not possible to tell you something about your watch. Send some clear photos to sekondtime@gmail.com.

      June 2, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      • Bojidar

        ok i send you 2 pictures of the watch

        June 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm

  19. Bodó Tibor

    Welcome! I have a Ruhla watch as the photo. Perhaps more difficult to buy parts? For example, spring?

    August 25, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    • Hello,

      Which watch are you referring to? Canyou send a photo to sekondtime@gmail.com and perhaps I can advise you.

      Regards
      Sekondtime

      August 26, 2015 at 1:42 pm

  20. Andrej

    Hello,

    I have pocket watch from my mother, i dont know a lot about that watch. It seems to be gold and on watch is writes eurochron quartz and bellow writes made in GDR.. What all that means and how much is worthed?

    P.S. Sorry on my grammar im from Croatia

    March 9, 2016 at 10:37 am

    • Hello,

      Thanks for your message. Your pocket watch is Eurochron branded Ruhla watch with a Calibre 13 quartz movement. It was made in the mid to late 1980s. GDR means German Democratic Republic, the former East Germany. For values, you should look at sold listings on eBay. Ignore the Buy it Now prices as these are over inflated. Remember, value depends on condition and if the watch is working or not.

      Regards
      Sekondtime

      March 9, 2016 at 8:28 pm

  21. Ralph Reed

    I use a old Ruhla watch which I bought second hand many years ago. I use it as a cheap watch to wear when I don’t want to risk a more expensive watch.
    It is a good reliable watch even though not made of the best materials.
    Thank you for posting the fascinating history of the company.

    April 16, 2016 at 5:43 am

    • You’re welcome. Ruhlas seem to be very robust despite their modest construction!

      April 16, 2016 at 1:06 pm

  22. Emma mccauley

    Hello am looking a bit more information about a watch that belongs to my father it’s a ruhla golden colour watch, no numbers, date box is present and has glow in the dark dots on each hour. Thanks

    July 17, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    • Hello Emma,

      Please send a photo of the watch to sekondtime@gmail.com and I should be able to give you more information about your watch.

      Regards
      Sekondtime

      July 17, 2016 at 8:39 pm

  23. Loukia

    Dear,
    I found in my parents home a ruhla
    Clock.
    Please let me Know the background information related to this item.
    I do have a photo .
    Thank you in advance,
    L.Stergiou

    October 12, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    • Dear Loukia,

      Please send clear photos of the clock to sekondtime@gmail.com and I will try to provide information.

      Regards
      Sekondtime

      October 18, 2016 at 1:42 pm

  24. Bonjour,
    Je détiens Un petit boîtier – montre en métal rouge avec façade dorée et son étui en cuir rouge, frappé en lettres dorées : ruhla et Sumatic en dessous. Cet objet provient d’un membre de ma famille qui était traducteur dans les foires de LEIPZIG. Ce Mr a voulu enlever la plaque arrière et a cassé l’axe en plastique rouge qui est resté sur la vis extérieure coincée avec le fond en métal.
    Pouvez-vous m’indiquer si ça vaut le coup de la faire réparer. Tout est sinon en très bon état apparent.
    Merci de votre réponse.
    Cordialement J.ROCHMANN

    February 19, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    • Peut-être votre seule option est de trouver un Ruhla Sumatic semblable en état de non-fonctionnement d’eBay et de transférer les pièces du montre. Pour un horloger compétent, c’est un travail assez facile.

      Cordialement
      Sekondtime

      February 19, 2017 at 7:09 pm

  25. Michael Fantina

    Hi, GREAT sight! Full of great information!! I have a question. I recently purchased a Ruhla on Ebay, new old stock, it is part metal and part plastic the back is stamped “Tropicalized” “Antimagnetic” “Waterprotected” with a picture of an aircraft on it. The face is gold tone with Ruhla and “Made in GDR”, printed there it is mechanical. I’d like to know if it was really made in the old GDR before it fell in 1990? I think obviously it was made for export as all the words are in English. Thank you so very much!

    Mike

    May 3, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    • Hello Mike,

      Thanks for your comments about the site!

      Yes, you watch was made in the GDR. During 1990, the East German government set up a government agency to oversee the transition of East German companies. With the reunification and changes occuring in eastern Europe, Ruhla lost its main markets and briefly ceased trading until it was trnasferred to the current ownership of Gardé Ruhla in the early 1990s. Gardé concentrated on quartz watches.

      The wording on all Ruhlas was always in English. Ruhla tropicalised watches were sold on the domestic market in the GDR and also abroad.

      Regards
      Sekondtime
      Author of Ostalgieruhla Watches of the GDR

      May 3, 2017 at 9:17 pm

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