Photos — David Willen Date — 2011-08-24T14:30:58
It is an open secret that following the fall of the Berlin Wall IWC Schaffhausen played a significant role in reviving a passion for watchmaking in Saxony. And the success of A. Lange & Söhne is living proof. As indeed is Hansjörg Kittlas, 36, a first-class watchmaker who is in charge today of the incredibly intricate and highly complex Portuguese Minute Repeater and other special timepieces from IWC.
It all happened like this. After leaving school in Glashütte, the traditional centre of watchmaking in Germany, he was drawn to the idea of mechanical timepieces and decided to do an apprenticeship.
He completed his training with flying colours and on the day of the final exam ination was discovered by Hartmut Knothe, back then the CEO of A. Lange & Söhne. “The initial idea was that I should start with him but then go to Schaffhausen for a year,” recalls Kittlas. “At the time it felt like it was out of my league. Expensive watches like those weren’t really my thing.”
So he first moved to Dresden, where he found work in a watch retail outlet with its own workshop. But Knothe refused to let go. A year later Kittlas agreed to go back. “I’d needed that period to mature.” Straightaway, the young man was sent 600 kilo metres to Schaffhausen.
And that is where he has stayed. Initially, he had a bad conscience, as he recalls. But the economic uncertainty in his home country and then, of course, the fact that he was joined by the woman who was to become his wife – likewise a watchmaker from Glashütte – made it easier for him to put down new roots in Switzerland.
Kittlas has long been a family man with two children and lives happily above the Rhine Falls. Appointed head of the department for special watches at IWC three years ago, he devotes all his time to the minute repeater. He calls it “the love of my life”. He assembles the mech anism from 350 minuscule parts: the finest axles are just 0.40 millimetres thick, 0.75 millimetres high and have a recess of exactly 0.28 millimetres. The job of making the adjustments, assembling the complications, ensuring that the dozens of tiny cogs and wheels at various levels engage correctly and that the two tiny hammers produce the beautiful deep tone for the hours and the mellifluous higher tone for the minutes is a demanding one. And it takes him all of three weeks. Once everything is functioning correctly, the movement is once again dismantled into its individual parts.
These are then repolished, cleaned and reassembled in a single day, lubricated and tested. It is a procedure about which the watchmaker says, laconically, “After the cleaning comes the cleaning.” Translated into practical terms for the lucky owners of a minute repeater it means they should send it in for servicing every five years.
Kittlas is the soul of equanimity, as one would expect all watchmakers to be. It is difficult to imagine, then, that in his spare time he plays the drums and shoots off his motorcycle to the hilly, winding roads to the north of Schaffhausen.
Or perhaps this contrast is precisely the all-important element in the work-life balance of an outstanding watchmaker.