Laco is a brand that sometimes flies under the radar (notably in America), overshadowed by German counterparts like Sinn, Junghans and MeisterSinger. It should definitely not be overlooked as it offers compelling, military-inspired watches at attainable prices. The brand is also older than two of the three mentioned above and is perhaps best known as one of five producers of the B-Uhren Observation Watches. There’s currently a healthy portfolio of Laco mechanical pieces from pilot and navy watches to chronographs and classics (and B-Uhr reproductions). Today, we have the new Cuxhaven and Bremerhaven Navy watches on hand with “old-school”, hand-wound ETA movements, differentiated only by dial colour. Let’s take a closer look at this intriguing pair from a brand you should probably know more about.
Laco was founded in 1925 as Lacher & Co. (“La” from Lacher and “co” from Co.) in Pforzheim, Germany. The original founders, Frieda Lacher and Ludwig Hummel, found success early on and Hummel founded a sister company in 1933, Durowe. This new factory thrived and in conjunction with Lacher & Co., it quickly became Pforzheim’s most popular watchmaker. Demand was still relatively low in Germany and Hummel reluctantly relied on Swiss movements and parts, but ultimately persevered and produced 30,000 in-house movements per month by the time World War II took hold. During the war, Durowe focused on pilot’s watches with chronometer-grade movements, with the production of the B-Uhren Observation Watches. These World War II wristwatches were engineered to the highest accuracy standards by Laco, A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Stowa and IWC for German pilots.
As World War II was coming to a close, almost all of Lacher & Co. and Durowe facilities were destroyed in air raids (over 80% of Pforzheim was in ruins). It wasn’t too long before both companies bounced back and by 1949, operations resumed. With help from the US Marshall Plan, Hummel was able to build a five-story facility and by the mid-1950s, 1,400 people were employed and 80,000 movements were produced per month. Notable watches include the Laco Sport in 1952 with Durowe’s first automatic movement and the hand-wound Laco chronometer in 1957 that tried to recapture the success of the wartime pilot’s watch.
Sales, unfortunately, slowed to a point that Hummel sold the company to Timex (U.S. Time Corporation at the time) in 1959, although another significant development, the Laco-electric, was launched in 1961. This was the first reliable electric watch from Germany (pre-quartz) and following another acquisition in 1965 (to Ebauches S.A.), Laco-Durowe found continued success. Over a half-million movements were produced in 1974 alone. Things took another bad turn when the quartz crisis hit in full force, effectively shutting down the company. Erich Lacher Uhrenfabrik, a sister company started in 1936 by founder Frieda Lacher’s son, was still operating and in 1988, company manager Horst Günther bought the Laco name and logo rights. Pilot’s watches and other classic Laco reproductions were produced with many limited editions, but the brand ultimately struggled and fell into insolvency by 2009. The company found its footing in 2010 and has successfully reintroduced the classic Laco formula with vintage-inspired military and sports watches, with an emphasis on its core pilot’s watches. The Cuxhaven and Bremerhaven Navy watches, named after German port cities, are among the brand’s newest releases with multiple inspirations from the past.
Case and Design
The design of the twin watches harkens back to 1940s pocket watches as well as wristwatches issued to German U-boat crews (U1 submarines) during the war. The 316L stainless steel case is 42.5mm in diameter x 10.7mm in height (49.8mm lug to lug), so a substantial watch without going over the top. The majority of the case has a brushed satin finish, but the bezel is polished. A coin-type knurled edge sits just below the bezel and reminds me a bit of Chronoswiss, but in this case, the detail is more subtle.
The crystal is flat sapphire with an anti-reflective coating and the caseback has an expansive sapphire window showcasing the ETA pocket watch-based movement that fills the entire back. The crown is large and easy to use for both winding and setting the time and has a kind of “half onion” shape with Laco’s logo embossed on a flat, polished end. The lug width is 22mm, common for a case of this size, and the watch is water-resistant to 100 metres.
Dial and Hands
The Cuxhaven and Bremerhaven are basically identical with the former having a white dial and the latter dressed in black. The Bremerhaven has more of a military vibe with the Cuxhaven a bit more dressy, but both are oozing with vintage character. A railway minute track spans the outermost perimeter with spots of Super-LumiNova C3 every five minutes. Large Arabic numerals also painted with Super-LumiNova C3 are just inside of the track with a seconds sub-dial interrupting at 6 o’clock. It features a sunburst finish with a snailed pattern and compliments the Bremerhaven particularly well with the shinier tone against matte black.
Arabic numerals are printed every ten seconds and the sub-dial hand colours are opposite of their respective dial. The hour and minute hands have a sword style finished off in a syringe style, and are eye-catching and retro (if not technically modern). Both are filled with Super-LumiNova and the generous amount of lume on the dial and hands appear pale green under light.
Dim the lights and the bright green glow is both bold and lasting. The two dial colours do an excellent job at differentiating the watches and giving them distinct personalities, but they’re clearly twins nonetheless.
The heart of both watches is an old-school, hand-wound ETA 6498.1 Elaboré grade movement, first introduced in 1950 and still in production. It’s based on a pocket watch movement and fills most of the 42.5mm case, displayed behind the expansive exhibition caseback. It features 17 jewels, beats at 18,000vph (2.5Hz) with a 46-hour power reserve. Functions include central hours and minutes, and sub-dial seconds at 6 o’clock (non-hacking).
Winding the large movement has a satisfying feel and loud ratcheting action and almost resembles the winding of a clock. It’s officially called the Laco 98 calibre as the brand has made some aesthetic enhancements. All visible plates have Côtes de Genève with a sunburst pattern on the wheels (and Laco printed on the larger wheel) and blued screws. Elaboré grade ETA movements are adjusted in three positions with an average rate of +/- 5 seconds per day.
Strap and Buckle
The 22mm strap comes in either black or cream leather with a stainless steel pin buckle (colour matches the dial). Both straps have cream stitching which, of course, is more conspicuous on the black leather. They were a little stiff out of the box, but not necessarily uncomfortable and both loosened up a bit after about a week. I’m definitely a strap snob and immediately replace factory straps about half of the time, but notwithstanding the initial stiffness, they both look great and compliment their respective dial and overall military aesthetic well. As far as I’m concerned, they’re keepers.
An interesting note – I got a smaller strap on the Bremerhaven that fit my smaller than average wrist well. The Cuxhaven had a strap that was simply too large, but this seems to confirm that multiple sizes are available for a variety of wrists (and that’s always a good thing).
When it comes to sports cars (most cars, actually), I prefer a manual transmission over an automatic any day of the week. The same applies to watches. I almost always prefer a hand-wound movement to an automatic and the large, pocket watch-based ETA 6498 and sister 6497 are among my favourite movements at any price level (well, let’s say under USD 5,000). The expansive view of plates, gears, screws, jewels and oversized balance wheel will satisfy just about any watch enthusiast. And winding one is like cranking a centuries-old clock. Loud, tactile and just so cool.
That’s only half of the story, of course, as the dial side of the Laco Cuxhaven and Bremerhaven are special in their own right. The military vibe is palpable from a brand with significant wartime credentials. The simple, uncluttered dials are easy to read both day and night and I can imagine a submarine captain sporting one of these. The case size is just at that maximum threshold for me, but still fits surprisingly well and wears a bit smaller than the diameter suggests.
Laco is a brand that should be on the radar of anyone looking for a military-inspired piece with a legit history to back it up, and one that’s attainable by most enthusiasts. I have yet to see another German brand (or any brand for that matter) produce a more refined, aesthetically pleasing collection in this price range. Both the Cuxhaven and Bremerhaven sell for EUR 980 (incl. VAT) or USD 1,190, which is definitely a value proposition. It’s not the cheapest of its kind, but in this case, you get what you pay for. For more information or to make a purchase, visit Laco’s website.