When in 1168 silver ore was discovered in the area of the present-day town of Freiberg, the farming settlement of the Erzgebirge mountains with the traditional regional forest hides villages also started.
Glashütte was documented for the first time in the abbey matriculation of Meissen of 1346. The Archpriest of Dippoldiswalde had, inter alia, the supervisory of the churches at “Bernstein”, “Jahnsbach”, “Dittersdorf” and “Glashütte”. Therefore already in 1346 these places had their own churches or chapels. In the year 1506 the Saxon Duke George the Bearded gave the town of Glashütte its first charter.
In 1769 Glashütte was known as a “place very impoverished by the total decline of mining”, which was “completely ruined by the recent disastrous war”. In Carlsfeld a non-profit foundation founded a factory for Black Forest clocks in 1829.
The boom as a town of watches began in December 1845, when Ferdinand Adolph Lange, with the help of a loan from the Royal Saxon Government, founded his watch company in Glashütte and thus laid the foundation stone for the entire Glashütte watch industry. After long negotiations with the Royal Saxon Ministry of the Interior an agreement had been reached, in which Lange committed to train 15 apprentices in watchmaking, while Saxony in turn provided a ready-refundable advance payment of 7,820 Taler (German dollars).
Many Glashütte watches bear the name of the town, often with “Sa” (for “Saxony”) or “i/Sa” or “i/S.” (for “in Saxony”).
The success of watches made in Glashütte spawned an industry of copycats, producing pocket watches in the town's distinctive style in other locations. The Swiss were particularly active in copying these watches, which were often marked “System Glashütte”. They featured the distinctive elements of Glashütte construction Three-quarter plate, ribbing, and perlage and copied the movement layout as well. As a result, the Glashütte makers began marketing their watches as “Glashütte Original”, a name that has resurfaced today.
Among the companies profiting off the Glashütte name was Nomos-Uhr-Gesellschaft, Guido Müller & Co, Glashütte i/S., which assembled Swiss components in the town. A. Lange & Söhne sued the firm in 1910 in a landmark case designed to protect the Glashütte reputation. Today the Nomos name has resurfaced on a respected maker of watches in Glashütte. The unwritten Glashütte Rule states that any watch using the name should be primarily constructed in the town, though cases and dials have long also been produced in Pforzheim.
Being a center of precision industry, Glashütte was heavily bombed during World War II. Although watchmaking continued, much of the town's infrastructure was in ruins. Saxony fell under Russian control, and the Russians seized tooling and equipment from Glashütte as war reparations. Soon, Russian factories were producing watches using these Glashütte machines.
On April 20, 1948, A. Lange & Söhne was expropriated by the new communist government of East Germany and renamed VEB Mechanics A. Lange & Söhne. Shortly, all of the expropriated watch holdings of the town were merged and renamed Glashütter Uhrenbetrieben (GUB). This included not only Lange but also Urofa, UFAG, Otto Estler and the precision mechanics companies Lindig & Wolf, R. Mühle and Gössel & Co. The resulting company continued production of watches throughout communist times, focusing mainly on simple utilitarian watches, but signs of the quality of Glashütte manufacture continued to show through.
One issue during this time was a lack of access to materials, components, and supplies from other watchmaking companies. For this reason, GUB developed the capability to produce all parts of a watch in-house. Even specialized pieces like jewels, balances, and springs were produced in Glashütte. This capacity would become a prized element of the companies after German reunification and the rebirth of firms such as Lange.
Immediately after German reunification, descendants of the original Glashütte watchmakers such as Walter Lange set about recreating the companies lost in communist times. Lange worked with Günter Blümlein of LMH to re-establish his family brand, launching the new A. Lange & Söhne on October 24, 1994 in Dresden. The new firm would become a cornerstone of the Richemont empire, ironically becoming a component supplier to sister Swiss firms.
GUB had continued producing watches through reunification and re-launched that same year as Glashütte Original, calling to mind the town's heritage. In 2000, Glashütte Original was acquired by the Swatch Group, setting the firm against A. Lange & Söhne in the premiere luxury segment of the market.
Glashütte also became the home of upstart manufacturers, including the successful restart of Nomos. Launched in 1991, Nomos presented a series of watches assembled in Glashütte using Swiss and German parts. Over the ensuing years, Nomos brought more and more of this manufacturing in-house in true Glashütte style, launching their first in-house movement in 2005 and switching to entirely in-house production starting in 2014.
Mühle had been primarily a precision measurement toolmaker prior to its integration with GUB, but it also emerged as a watch brand in 1994. Lacking in-house production capability, many of Mühle's watches used Swiss movements and components, leading Nomos to sue them for violating the Glashütte Rule. The resulting 2007 judgment against Mühle drove them to insolvency, though the company was able to re-emerge the following year with additional financing.
The following companies produce watches in Glashütte
Also the Sternwarte Glashütte (Observatory) has become a major watches address in town After it was totally refurbished by the Hamburg family enterprise Wempe, since January 24, 2005 a permanent establishment for watches is located there, as well as an independent chronometer testing laboratory, which is operated under the direction of the Regional Office for Measurement and Calibration in Thuringia (LMET, Landesamt für Meß- and Eichwesen Thüringen).