At A. Lange & Söhne, the new training year began on 19 August 2013. Seventeen young women and men from various regions in German were prequalified and will now be acquainted with the secrets of Lange watchmaking artistry during a period of three years. Additionally, two toolmakers will be trained. With them, the company now has 41 students for the watchmaking and toolmaker professions.
But why do youngsters still want to become watchmakers in this day and age? Many of them are technology enthusiasts. Others have relatives or friends in this profession. Some wanted to become actors and discovered by chance that they can best unfold their talents on a stage with a diameter of 30 millimetres. Laura Schreiber is one of them. She attended an occupational career exhibition and, at the stand of A. Lange & Söhne, started working on a piece of metal. From then on, she never wanted to do anything else. Her third apprenticeship year with A. Lange & Söhne has just started – a good point in time to ask her about her training experience so far and her expectations for the future.
"A mechanical movement can be thought of as a complicated three-dimensional puzzle – one that is three centimetres in diameter and has up to five hundred parts. Many of these parts weigh just a few milligrams and can be seen only with a magnifying glass. But it is an amazing feeling when you've completed the puzzle and breathed life into a complicated mechanism. That's one of the best aspects of watchmaking: You can see what you've created with your own hands, and be proud of it.
But I've got quite a way to go before I can actually make watches come alive. It begins with the A. Lange & Söhne Watchmaking School. On our first day two years ago, when Chief Instructor Katja König familiarised us with the curriculum, I could hardly believe all the things we would be learning in three years. The first weeks passed in a breeze. I met my future colleagues in various departments. In the teaching workshop, I started with the hands-on activities focused on metalworking fundamentals – filing, sawing, turning, and drilling. Concurrently, theory classes took place at the vocational school in Glashütte.
Half a year later, we finally turned our attention to the object of desire: the timekeeping instrument. Initially, the movement of a clock was used to show us the mechanical components and explain their functions. At the end of the first year of apprenticeship, I was allowed to glance over the shoulders of watchmakers in the manufactory. I worked in different production departments for three weeks to gain experience and make new acquaintances. For the first time, I felt like a real watchmaker.
In the second apprenticeship year, we gradually began to deal with wristwatches. First, we learned about the design, function, and repair of pocket watches – they were the point of departure for everything at Lange 165 years ago. But the absolute highlight for me is the opportunity to craft my first and very own wristwatch.
At a mid-term exam halfway through the apprenticeship, I was able to demonstrate what I had learned by then – with a perfectly functioning subassembly. And I was successful!
Now, I'm in my third year already. The last lap! There's plenty more that I need to learn: self-winding watches, the outsize date, chronographs, and other extra functions of a wristwatch. Additionally, I have been selected to participate in an exchange programme with the Danish School of Watchmaking in Ringsted. I will finish a watch there together with my Danish colleagues. Finishing means polishing and decorating the surfaces of all parts by hand. I will also personally adjust the watch by regulating its beat such that it displays the time to the second, without undue deviations. Apart from horological know-how, fluency in English is important for those who undergo training in Ringsted. Thanks to the language courses offered by Lange throughout an apprenticeship, I feel confident that things will go well.
For us apprentices, one of the particular third-year challenges is taking part in an international competition for aspiring watchmakers. It's a chance to demonstrate our creativity and craftsmanship. Our predecessors at A. Lange & Söhne have already won the competition twice.
The final exam is gradually nearing. If my grades are good, I will be able to work full-time for A. Lange & Söhne, as agreed at the outset of my apprenticeship. I can hardly wait."