The day I became a Lange & Söhne connoisseur
"I feel like we are on an episode of Masterchef", I told an editor next to me as we thread marinated shrimps onto skewers. It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai's Rim Tai Kitchen and members of the Asia Pacific region press were busy at their respective stations. The sight of my fellow media friends cooking up a storm was the last thing on my mind for a timepiece press trip.
Of course, it was not just our (or perhaps just mine) amateurish culinary skills that had been put to the test. In fact, we were there for the A. Lange & Söhne Connoisseur's Akademie, a workshop where timepiece enthusiasts get a first-hand experience of the German brand's art of watchmaking. First introduced in Hong Kong back in 2010, this time around, the Connoisseur's Akademie took place in Chiang Mai.
However, the slicing and dicing at the cooking class did not prepare me for a bigger challenge: watchmaking. Given an opportunity to have a more thorough understanding of the eminent watchmaker's charming timepieces and unmatched craftsmanship, the Connoisseur's Akademie was carried out over the course of two days at the beautiful Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai.
Regional Training Manager of A. Lange & Söhne, Liza Zhu presented an introduction on the manufactory's watchmaking traditions, different finishing and engraving techniques as well as a collection to limited-edition timepieces with the name addition, Handwerkskunst. A German word for "artisanship", Handwerkskunst is an attribute of distinction that A. Lange & Söhne has been using since 2011 to identify exclusive watches whose dials and movements are endowed with rare finissage and engraving techniques.
As I jotted notes anxiously, my nerves were calm when we were introduced to Peter Lippsch, an experienced master engraver who has been with the brand for 15 years. We then started the first workshop, titled "Hand-crafted Accuracy". After watching how Lippsch applied tremblage decoration on German silver discs, I thought to myself, "Well, this shouldn't be that hard, right?" Well, wrong. The traditional engraving technique involves a specifically crafted lining burin across the surface in precise choreographed multi-directional movements, producing a delicate and highly vivid granular texture. The key is to shake the hand slightly while applying a consistent amount of pressure throughout the tremblage process. In other words, it is a demanding technique to master as it requires a tremendous amount of attention and patience, which to be honest, I was running out of after a few attempts.
Only managing to work on a small section on the dial—cos my sore fingers were beginning to give way—I could not imagine the craftmen's decades of practice to perfect the art. Just when I thought it could not get any worse, the A. Lange & Söhne team to encouraged us show off our masterpiece under a microscope—one that is connected to a projector in front of the whole class. Feeling quite defeated, I reluctantly agreed to share my messy work, which, thankfully was exchanged with constructive feedback by Lippsch.
On the second day, Zhu commenced the "Ingenious Innovations" workshop with a presentation on a collection of outstanding timepieces entitled 'Pour le Mérite', which are equipped with a fusée-and-chain transmission system. For this session, we were asked to have a try on the flat polishing for gold chatons, and attaching minuscule (note: 3mm in size!) blue steel screws onto three-quarter plates. Although this process is less complicated than the tremblage technique, it is no easy task; I scratched a bit of the metal and lost a screw. However, Head of Zeitwerk assembly, Robert Hoffman commented that I successfully inserted the chaton in the right position, which made me feel a whole lot better than with my performance from the day before. Hoffman later revealed that every movement is assembled twice to ensure absolute accuracy and flawless coordination between parts. Needless to say, we were in awe of the two-fold assembly, and expressively thankful that we did not have to perform the task twice.
Through the Akademie, I had the opportunity to chance to witness the ultimate precision that A. Lange & Söhne has endowed with each and every timepiece. Not only did I leave Chiang Mai with newly-learned knowledge and (amateurish) skills but I also gained a whole new level of respect for the craftsmen at the German manufactory. Not to mention, I now totally understand and appreciate the value of a Lange & Söhne high-quality and prestige timepiece.