Tour of Lange Uhren Factory
By Peter Chong, May 1999
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The Dresden skyline.
Dresden. A magnificient city. After Basel, and a week in Italy, I was really looking forward to this last leg of my trip…and undoubtedly, the highlight: The Lange Manufactory.
I arrived on May 9th, a Sunday…and Richard Habring of Lange Uhren had volunteered to take me and my family to see the sights. I am really impressed with the hospitality of the Lange employees. We spent the day sight seeing, and taking in the wonderful sights of the Florence of the Elbe…the city of Dresden. Much of the city was destroyed during the war, and furious reconstruction activity is obvious everywhere.
We had dinner with Hans Zbinden, who arrived from Berlin also to tour the factory, and made plans to meet the next morning to journey to Glashutte…some 30km away.
The next morning, Arnd Einhorn of Lange Uhren appeared at my hotel door in his BMW, and we took a pleasant drive along the countryside to Glashutte. Along the way, we stopped to look at the old Lange Factory, which after the German reunification, was not returned to Walter Lange, and now stands delapidated. The old manufactory also used to housed the Lange family then, and we could see the living quarters. Everywhere in the town of Glashutte, evidence of Aldoph Lange as a father of the town was evident.
When we arrived at the manufactory, we were whisked into our tour. We began at the design department.
They designed your watch!
Lange Uhren had 2 designers who were involved in the design of all the 5 basic calibers, and all iterations. One of them, Helmut Geyer was present on his computer. And he showed us drawings of the Langematic. Most of the drawings were incredibly complex. We discussed a little on the design of the double date, the new Datograph, as well as the prototyping process. He explained that, although the design process was done on the CAD machine, the thought process for design was completely the same as it was 50 years ago, using just pen, pencil, and slide rule.
He also explained that they are currently in the process of migrating to a 3D CAD system, and that the files, once produced, are sent over to the CNC machines for the manufacturing.
Together with Annegret Fleischer (see picture), they have completed 5 basic calibers and all the variations to the base calibers. He mentioned that they have recently increased the number of designers to one more, making three.
He explained that the design process usually start with Gunter Blumlein, or Reinhard Meis coming up with some ideas of a new caliber. Then the design team swings into action, translating the functional goals to engineering designs on the CAD machine. They work closely with the prototyping department, who will then make the prototypes and test them. This is an iterative process, for e.g. the Datograph had 6 prototypes made before the Basel-approved version was released.
Of course, throughout the process, Blumlein, Meis, and Walter Lange give their input.
Prototyping and Special Assembly
Next, we moved to the Prototyping Dept. One of the 6 watchmakers was busy assembling one of the new Datographs. All the Pour La Merite Tourbillons and the initial runs of the new calibers are completely assembled by one person from start to end, here. For the new Datograph, fifty pieces will be produced by the prototyping department this year. Production of the Datograph will move to the production departments (see below) next year for regular production.
We then moved on to the production floor. The production is divided into several groups. Each group specialising in a part of the manufacture. For e.g. our next stop was the Large Date assembly department. A group of 6 watchmakers concentrate on their task to assemble the large date plate which goes into the watch. A common design is used in all the double dates, except for the Lange 1, due to the assymetrical design of the dial, necessitates a different design.
It was interesting to note that many of the watchmakers and goldsmiths who work at the factory were ladies, and that many of them quite young.
Apparently, during the German Democratic Republic reign, most of them worked at the VEB factory, producing low cost, military watches for the regime. It is understood that more than 2500 qualified watchmakers and goldsmiths were under the employment of the state. This was due to the full employment policy of the state, which, of course was not translated to the output of the factory.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, Walter Lange returned to Glashutte…and started A. Lange Uhren. The manufactory was flooded with thousands of applications from qualified people. It was a pleasant, though extremely difficult task to select only 40 of the best watchmakers and goldsmiths to begin work at Lange Uhren. These were sent to Schafhausen for training on the latest tools, but I was told by one of their trainers that their basic watchmaking skills are equal or better than the Swiss.
Next up, the engraving department. This is a three man department. Every Lange has a balance cock which is hand engraved…a process which takes place by free-hand by artisans like Herr Wagner, shown left with me. Work is done high magnification under microscope.
I handed him my watch, and upon looking at it with his loupe, he exclaimed that it was he who did the engraving. Apparently, although they follow the same design, each piece of the hand engraving carries his characteristic handwriting signature, recognisable by those in the know.
Not all parts of the balance cock is hand engraved. The Fast and Slow scale as well as the letters “V” and “N” are done by the CNC engraving machine.
This department also undertakes work to engrave your family crest, or other engraving work on your new Lange or vintage Lange watches.
Base Train Assembly – Twice!
We then progressed to the base train assembly room. Every watch is assembled twice. Lange is the only one brand today using cross laminated, untreated German silver for the plates and bridges (as in the old days for the best quality of the Lange pocket watches).This is done for tradition sake, as well as for the visual impact it imparts to the watch…if you look at the movement in your watch, it has a very nice colour and the combination with gold chatons, red rubies, blued screws and gold engraving is just beautiful.
However, the German silver is not particularly strong, though it is very stable. It is easily scratched while fixing the the rubies (in the chaton),a process done by pressure fit…while regulating.
Therefore the first assembly is with the unribbed three-quarter plate, using “trainer” screws, which are not blued…after everything is fixed, the movement is regulated, timed. And the complete movement is completely disassembled.
At this stage, the 3/4 plate, the chatons and all the individual parts have to be polished, cleaned again and the second assembly starts. Only now the watchmakers use the original screws, because the risk of damaging them is also very high…
Of course, the watch is then regulated in 5 positions in the case. Once with the plates, and wheels in unfinished…for e.g. the 3/4 plate was not finished with the Glashutte ribbing yet, but had engraving and been coated with gold paint, so that when some of the material is removed in the Faus cotes machine, the engraved letters stand out in gold.
The movement is fully assembled by the team, timed, and checked for accuracy. Then the entire movement is completely disassembled. The finishing applied to the parts, and completely re-assembled by this team.
Seen on the right, is one of the 12 or so watchmakers involved in assembly. The same team does both first assembly, and reassembly. As this process is very time consuming, it is not common practice.
The German Silver used is also prone to staining from oils on our fingers are left on the plate, which is why latex gloves (or finger tips) are used by all watchmakers when handling the plates.
In the next, some of the watchmakers were finishing the pieces which will finally make up the movement. As can be expected, this process is extremely time consuming. From the Glashutte ribbing to the perlage to the anglage…every part is painstakingly polished to give it the glow.
End of Part One
Continued in Part 2
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