It’s been 25 years since A. Lange & Söhne restarted its apprenticeships for young watchmaking talent. This milestone anniversary called for a special tribute as part of the celebrations: the naming of the in-house training centre after Walter Lange. The Walter Lange Training and Further Education Centre pays homage to not just the life work of the Saxony manufactory’s founder, but also his extraordinary commitment to promoting young talent and securing the future of watchmaking in the region.
This year, A. Lange & Söhne proudly looks back on an important milestone in the company’s recent history: 25 years of watchmaking training in the manufactory. From its humble beginnings in 1997, with just two apprentice watchmakers, the training centre has flourished into an internationally renowned centre of excellence for precision watchmaking over the last quarter of a century. Since relaunching its apprenticeship business on 25 August 1997, a total of 244 trainees, 228 of them watchmakers, have successfully completed their training.
Thanks to the pleasant work environment, the long-term career prospects and the diverse and varied scope of tasks, the majority of these trainees stayed true to the company after completing their apprenticeships and now contribute to the continued success of A. Lange & Söhne. In each of the years 2014, 2018 and 2022, one graduate from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK – Industrie- und Handelskammer) was named Germany’s best watchmaker trainee. The manufactory, which has already been awarded the distinction of “Excellent Training Company” five times by the IHK, has also undergone major development over the years: It now also offers apprenticeships in the fields of tool mechanics, cutting mechanics, office management with a focus on personnel and financial accounting, and IT specialists for system integration. State-of-the-art facilities at the training centre ensure the best working conditions and an excellent learning atmosphere. The current apprenticeship year includes twelve apprentices, who are being trained in the secrets of a craft, which is as rich in tradition as it is contemporary, established by Ferdinand Adolph Lange over 175 years ago in Glashütte.
Walter Lange – a role model and protagonist for the watchmakers of tomorrow
Walter Lange, whose fifth death anniversary was commemorated in January 2022, was passionate about promoting young talent. Following Germany’s reunification, the great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolph Lange revived his family’s legacy and brought the art of precision watchmaking back to Glashütte. Together with his partner Günter Blümlein, he managed to breathe new life into the legendary brand founded in 1845 – re-establishing it after a 40-year-long involuntary hiatus and successfully taking on the powerful competition from Swiss watchmakers. His bold vision of the modern watch crafted in Glashütte with perfection and technical finesse paved the way for other renowned manufacturers to move to the city in the Müglitz valley, putting Glashütte once again on the map for German precision watchmaking. Walter Lange described the period of setting up the business in the following words: “I was already retired when the Berlin Wall fell. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to rebuild the legacy of my ancestors. For me, it was about reviving the name A. Lange & Söhne. Most of all, I wanted to give the people of Glashütte new hope.” For his exemplary service to Saxony’s watchmaking industry, Walter Lange was made an honorary citizen of the town of Glashütte and awarded the Order of Merit of the state of Saxony as well as the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Investment in the future of craftsmanship
In order to ensure its success in the future, the company began training young people as early as 1997 in the craft that represents high value and sustainability. After all, it was clear early on that success and growth can only be ensured in the long term by excellent specialist training. Walter Lange impressed his apprentices with his expertise, his passion for the craft, and his open and warm personality. His advice to the next generation of watchmakers: “Try and make the most of your talent, and never stop in your quest to improve things.” This was also his motto in life.
Burkhard Geyer, one of the first two apprentices, who completed their training at A. Lange & Söhne, fondly remembers the many interactions with Walter Lange: “He enjoyed spending time with the apprentices and often looked over their shoulder and chatted with them as they worked on the watchmaking bench or lathe.” It was Walter Lange’s way of following the progress made by not only the young talent but also the processes in the manufactory, the work on new watch models, the construction of new buildings and many more such company-related topics.
Walter Lange remained committed to the company until the very end. The patron and initiator of the training and further education centre of the company he founded, continued to maintain close ties as a brand ambassador and consultant long after he stepped down from his leadership role. He saw himself as “the bridge to the past.” Equally, he saw the next generation of watchmaking talent, who receive their training in-house, as the bridge to the future.
“Walter Lange lives on in the culture of our company,” says Lange CEO Wilhelm Schmid. “We’re now paying tribute to his outstanding and exemplary work by renaming our watchmaking school the Walter Lange Training and Further Education Centre. It’s our way of keeping the legacy and vision of this remarkable Glashütte native alive.”
Interview with Neele – apprentice at Walter Lange Watchmaking school
“I immediately felt welcome”
In the summer of 2022, Neele successfully completed her training as a watchmaker. The 25-year-old came to watchmaking via detours – initially she had decided to study biochemistry. In contrast, the three-year apprenticeship at A. Lange & Söhne was anything but theoretical. She quickly realised that the craft, which is characterised by a striving for perfection, suits her with all its facets, as she reports in conversation.
When did you realise that you wanted to work in the field of watchmaking and what was the decisive factor?
At first, I started studying biochemistry, but it was too theoretical for me and I eventually dropped out. I then researched what alternatives there were in the craft and more practice-oriented field. Since I have always had a great interest in small and fine things, I quickly landed on watchmaking. I have not regretted this decision.
How did you finally come to A. Lange & Söhne?
I applied for an apprenticeship at several companies in Glashütte and in Hamburg, but the well-structured process at Lange quickly convinced me. During the application process, I had a good feeling right from the start. It started with the fact that I received a response to my application letter very quickly and was invited to a recruitment test. On site, we were then given a comprehensive overview of what the next three years would be like. The apprenticeship supervisors were available to answer all questions and you could already make first contacts with the apprentices from the other apprenticeship years. The human aspect, which plays a big role at Lange, was already noticeable on the first day. I immediately felt welcome. To this day, I enjoy going to work.
What aspect of your work do you enjoy the most?
My technical highlight is the finish, a manual process where each part is refined until it looks perfect. We learned these techniques at the beginning of the apprenticeship and were able to further deepen them over the years and on our own project watches. After a certain amount of time and practice, it is possible, for example, that no scratches are visible on the chatons, even with a magnifying glass.
Interview with Elias – apprentice at Walter Lange Watchmaking school
“In watchmaking, technology is combined with beauty“.
Elias has held his vocational certificate since mid-July 2022. In the interview, the 21-year-old looks back on the three-year watchmaker training at A. Lange & Söhne. The self-confessed perfectionist liked the demanding work in the small-scale world of precision mechanics right away. His personal highlight is when the movement used brings the watch to life.
How did you get into watchmaking?
When I was doing my A-levels and didn’t really know where I was going, I was already interested in the subject and watched YouTube videos because I found it exciting how much can go into a wristwatch. It is much more than just a product that can simply tell the time. I wanted to see if I would enjoy working on watch movements. That’s why I came to the open training day at A. Lange & Söhne and gave it a try. I quickly realised that this small-scale work suits me and gives me pleasure, because I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. It bothers me when something isn’t quite flawless. As an apprentice at Lange, you can completely “let off steam” in this respect and take a lot of time to make sure that everything is really perfect in the end.
What skills should one have to be successful in the watchmaking profession?
You should be patient, and if something doesn’t work out, you should be able to take the time to practise until the problem is solved and it works perfectly in the end. For a long time, I found it difficult to maintain concentration. After all, we are working “right in front of our noses”, which requires a high level of attention. At the very beginning, I only managed for a few hours. For example, I slipped with the screwdriver and caused scratches. That can happen and is not a bad thing during training, because we are here to learn. But with time came practice and the ability to concentrate for a long period of time.
How is your relationship with the trainers?
Very good! We all get along great and often joke around. That guarantees a very relaxed atmosphere and a pleasant working environment. We also have a very good relationship with each other, especially because we live very close to each other here in Glashütte, so we also do a lot together outside of work. That strengthens the team spirit and also works with the trainees from other companies. We exchange ideas and tell each other, for example, what we are currently working on or what we have already done. Although Lange is a very traditional company, the team is very young. Every year, new watchmakers join the team who have just completed their training. This ensures a breath of fresh air.
What role does Walter Lange’s legacy play during training?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet him because he passed away before my apprenticeship in 2017. But I heard that apprenticeship was very close to his heart and that he often visited the apprentices in the company. I also read his book – “The Revival of Time” – and found his life journey and how he described it very inspiring. What Walter Lange has built up here in Glashütte is very impressive.
What is your personal highlight at work?
The most beautiful moment is when the movement is assembled, and all parts are perfectly polished. When you look at the watch afterwards and the polished surfaces shine in the light and you can no longer see any scratches, that makes one a little proud.
About A. Lange & Söhne
Dresden watchmaker Ferdinand Adolph Lange laid the cornerstone of Saxony’s precision watchmaking industry when he established his manufactory in 1845. His precious pocket watches remain highly coveted among collectors all over the world. The company was expropriated after the Second World War, and the name A. Lange & Söhne nearly vanished. But in 1990, Walter Lange, Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s great-grandson, ventured to start over again. Today, Lange crafts only a few thousand wristwatches, mainly in gold or platinum, per year. They are endowed exclusively with proprietary movements that are lavishly decorated and assembled by hand. With 69 manufacture calibres developed since 1990, A. Lange & Söhne has secured a top-tier position among the world’s finest watch brands. Its greatest successes include brand icons such as the LANGE 1, the first regularly produced wristwatch with an outsize date, and the ZEITWERK, with its precisely jumping numerals. Extraordinary complications such as the ZEITWERK MINUTE REPEATER, the DATOGRAPH PERPETUAL TOURBILLON and the TRIPLE SPLIT represent what the manufactory always strives for: to drive the traditional art of watchmaking to ever-new heights. The sporty yet elegant stainless-steel ODYSSEUS, introduced in 2019, marked the start of a new chapter for the manufactory.