The Lange Akademie, getting to know the tree and its roots

October 2011

Every self-respecting brand seeks to train, as well as possible, their most influential “ambassadors”—those individuals who, by virtue of being in the stores, are in direct contact with the “real” client. This is very important because the final buying decision often depends upon the slightest “detail” that will make all the difference. It is necessary, therefore, for a salesperson to know and appreciate the critical subtleties and then understand how to convey them to the final client.
This understanding is even more important in the case of A. Lange & Söhne, since its offer may seem, at first glance, to be composed of rather severe styles for a client who has not yet been initiated into the mysteries of Haute Horlogerie. Beyond the classic appearance, the main attraction and the decisive advantages of the Saxon brand are the small and often invisible details—both technical and aesthetic—that make a big difference. So, to truly understand the importance of these details, and thus to be able to clearly communicate them, academic teaching and learning is simply not enough. What is necessary is to have a real experience with the watches—to meet the watchmakers, to talk with the designers and the engineers, to sit down at a workbench and handle the pliers, screwdrivers, and other tools, and even to try to assemble a movement, polish a setting, engrave a balance-cock, create a blued screw, mount a spring, plus so much more. And, very importantly, it is necessary to understand the particular spirit of the manufacture, to have an in-depth understanding of its history and the context of its birth, growth, and expansion. In short, it is essential to travel to Glashütte and breathe the air of the Saxon brand—to get to know the tree and its roots.

The Lange Akademie, getting to know the tree and its roots

Ambassadors, coaches, and experts
This mission to transmit knowledge, mainly by providing concrete experiences to the brand’s agents, has been entrusted to the A. Lange & Söhne Akademie, located in Glashütte. Directed by Joanna Gribben-Lange, the Akademie is much more than a conventional course or a simple type of internship or a sales and training seminar. It is all about providing a true “immersion” into the heart of the Glashütte manufacture. Designed in several phases that can take two to three years, the courses award participants a “title”. The first is “Lange Ambassador”, followed by the “Lange Coach” and finally “Lange Expert”.
Entirely supported by the Saxon manufacture, this in-depth training is aimed primarily at all the brand’s dealers, each of whom is expected to have an “Ambassador” or even an “Expert” in their employ. Today, around the world, there are approximately 300 certified “Lange Ambassadors” who have passed at least the first stage of this continuous training programme, and 62 “Lange Experts” who have successfully completed the entire training cycle.

The Lange Akademie, getting to know the tree and its roots

First phase: immersion
The first phase—which we experienced ourselves last June (Lange has recently opened the Akademie to watch trade journalists and collectors)—is conducted over three days. The full and concentrated program begins with a very detailed and well-presented visit to the manufacture. Here, the “intern” witnesses all the successive steps in the creation of a watch, starting with the fabrication of the component parts (most are produced by an impressive bank of wire-electroerosion machines since there is no stamping at Lange). Following this is the rare privilege of viewing the production of springs that Lange has mastered since 2003. Next is the assembly section (each movement is assembled and adjusted two times by hand, the first time before the final decoration) followed by placing the movement into the case.
During the entire procedure, the accent is placed on the uncompromising quality control tests during the various phases of production (for example, you have to see for yourself the terrible “hammer” that violently hits the watches, knocking them into a wall). The grand finale of this first immersion is the excellent finishing department, where 70 out of the 470 employees deal only with the final finishing of the Lange timepieces.
Without exception, every watch undergoes this step, whether it is flat polishing (from 20 minutes to several hours depending on the parts) or bevelling or chamfering. The technicians who carry out these operations have been specifically trained in these techniques for a minimum of two years (and this includes a few secret methods such as the brand’s special abrasive compound or the hardwoods found in the area).
Three years of training are required to achieve the status of engraver. At Lange, six engravers systematically hand-engrave all the balance-cocks that equip Lange watches, as well as the bridges (the materials mainly used are “honey gold”, a special alloy created for Lange, which is harder than platinum, and nickel silver).

The Lange Akademie, getting to know the tree and its roots Production of springs

From the workbench to the roots
Yet, the practical exercises are the ones that really add spice to the experience. This means participating in the actual assembly of the timepiece as well as in its polishing and engraving—which drives home the point that these tasks are indeed difficult. You only need to attempt to polish a “simple” gold setting and then screw it into position to understand that the road to perfection is long, in fact, very long. Particularly proud of my own polishing of the famous setting, of which I carefully observed the quality using a loupe, it was made quite clear to me that much remained to be done when the instructor returned it, noting that five or six grooves and scratches still remained. Although these scratches were totally invisible to me, the instructor pointed them out under a specific angle of the light.
This practical immersion into the minuscule universe of the watchmaker really opens the eyes of anyone involved in it. I know that, from now on, I will never look at a watch in the same way.
The third aspect of this first phase—not less important since it explains the historical roots of this very special Saxon timekeeping art—consists of visiting the places, notably in Dresden, which evoke the scientific works and artisanal masterpieces that have been the glory of Saxony and that are the basis of the current watchmaking renewal. It is a trip back to the roots, so to speak.

The Lange Akademie, getting to know the tree and its roots

Coach and then finally expert
In the second phase of the Akademie’s training course, the new “Lange Ambassadors” must practice transmitting their new-found knowledge during three sessions spread out over a year. Assisted by the person responsible for their market, with specific educational material, the duties of the “Ambassadors” are to teach their own colleagues about the Lange universe, thus entitling them to ultimately become “Lange Coaches”.
The third phase, upon return to the Glashütte manufacture, is to finally achieve the status of “Lange Expert”. Three days are devoted to deepening the already acquired knowledge, and include discussions of precise points with the designers, developers, and master watchmakers. Moreover, the basic watch training, focusing notably on functions and complications, is taken to a new level. Finally, the Akademie offers personalised coaching dealing with sales strategies.
At the end of this course, the candidates finally become members of the exclusive club of “Lange Experts”. As full members, they will then participate in specific courses and demonstrations, and will become recognised spokespeople for the brand. The brand’s objective of all this is two-fold: train “Lange Flag Bearers” who are capable of transmitting the “flame” of the brand; and, in return, have, as spokespeople, trained men and women who are in the field every day, and who can transmit back important information to the brand. It is an Akademie for everyone, in a manner of speaking.

Focus on Germany

Source: Europa Star October - November 2011 Magazine Issue