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From pencils to Porsches, Germany has a passion for perfection
World’s well-to-do help fuel nation’s economic engine
The name “Glashutte” on a watch denotes its high level of craftsmanship. At least 50 percent of the timekeeping movement must be made here by hand. That allows companies like Nomos Glashutte to charge from $1,315 to $5,000 for each watch they make.
“Glashutte is a protected place of origin, comparable to Champagne,” the French region that produces the exclusive bubbly wine, said Nomos spokeswoman Ute Fischer-Graf.
To earn that appellation, much of the work is by hand, but the company has added high-tech equipment over the years to accomplish tasks that humans cannot do as well as machines, such as fabricating some of the minuscule components. Perfecting the watch is the goal.
“Precision wouldn’t allow all the work to be done by hand. We use the right combination of modern technology and hand work,” said Ms. Fischer-Graf.
Although the watches produced here are high-priced, none of them is automatic. Most must be wound by hand, although Nomos produces a few that are self-winding. The company finds that its customers get as much pleasure as the watchmakers in handling the precious timepieces through the daily routine of winding.
The perfect pencil
Southwest of Glashutte near Nuremberg is a company that started out making ordinary lead pencils used in school and today is the leading manufacturer of pencils of all colors and kinds worldwide. Like the Glashutte firms, its story is one of attention to detail and years of refining a humble instrument.
Most Americans have used a Faber No. 2 pencil to take college-entrance exams or other tests — one of the early products of the Faber-Castell company founded by the family of the same name in the 1700s. An American offshoot of the firm produced the widely used pencil.
Today, Faber-Castell is a multinational company with revenue of $535 million a year and key operations in Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru and other far-flung locations. But it is still family-owned and follows the German tradition of seeking excellence and being the best in its class.
“We are not the low end of pencil manufacturing. We are making artist’s pencils” that are treasured by artisans and hobbyists for their long-lasting qualities, said Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell, the company’s owner.
Faber-Castell has had to be nimble to stay ahead of the competition and to adapt to worldwide technological and social changes. For example, the firm had to cast aside its slide-rule business when the advent of the pocket calculator wiped out that market in the 1970s.
Today, Count Faber-Castell worries that in the digital age, with emails and texting quickly displacing handwritten forms of communication, the market for pencils will wither away and destroy the company’s principal business.
It is for that reason that company officials now concentrate on more lasting niches, providing instruments for schools, artists, craftsmen and hobbyists — areas where use of the pencil is expected to continue and grow, he said.
“We are in a confrontation with the digital. I’m not sure what will happen, but the pencil is still important in education,” he said. “If you look at digital, you have to face the fact that there will be less writing. Children will write less, but they have to learn to write.”
The company also looks overseas for growth. It has found that in the developing world, pencils remain a necessity in schools and provide a cheap form of home education and entertainment. Faber-Castell’s biggest pencil factory in Brazil produces 2 billion pencils a year. The company claims 90 percent of the pencil market in Latin America.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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