Gerd-R. Lang, the master watchmaker and founder of Chronoswiss Watch Co., had no idea that the letter he received had been typed by a 16-year-old.
A School Project Idea Turned into Business
The letter contained a curious inquiry. Would he, one of the watch industry's most talented and revered captains, be interested in working together with one of his fans in the capacity of a mentor. At the time, in 1995, the world was witnessing a renaissance of mechanical watches and Gerd-R. Lang was widely credited with ringing in this phenomenon. People routinely sought out Lang's advice on all aspects relating to watchmaking, but this request was out of the ordinary.
A meeting was arranged between Lang and his prospective protege to assess the situation. Michael Kobold recalls writing the letter to lang: "I sat down and made a list of every watch company I wanted to work with and then sent the same letter to each one, asking for an unpaid internship. Most never answered. But when I sat down to write Mr. Lang, I spent a little more time on it than with the others, because my goal was really to learn from him. Chronoswiss was my first choice."
At their first meeting, Lang remarked on how young Kobold looked. A 16-year-old protege was certainly out of the norm. But at their meeting in Munich, Lang agreed to work together with Kobold and so their relationship began. Over the next two years, Kobold spent many days of his free time and school vacation in Munich or Switzerland, shadowing Lang. To Kobold, learning about the art of mechanical watches from his watchmaking idol was more than a privilege. "To me, every day I spent with Mr. Lang was like what an aspiring musician must feel like if he spends a day following John Lennon or Bob Dylan."
After Kobold finished high school and went on to study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the two men spent less time together, but Kobold made a point of always visiting Lang in Munich during his semester breaks. One day, while sitting in Lang's office, the two discussed ideas for a new watch. "I made a few suggestions and it looked like Mr. Lang actually liked them. Then he said to me 'one day, maybe there will be Kobold watches.' I hadn't even thought of the possibility, but he gave me a big boost of confidence. When I returned to Pittsburgh, I brought the idea up with my university."
Not one to waste time, Kobold used Lang's idea as the base for a class project and registered the company in his name. Over the next few semesters, in successive entrepreneurship and business classes, Kobold continued to build on this new vehicle and earned the respect of his professors and peers. As the project grew and Kobold's time as a student drew to an end, it became evident that Kobold had a to make a decision: close his tiny watch company down or turn it into a real business. After electing to stay in Pittsburgh and advance his watchmaking interests there, Kobold continued to work together with Lang, seeking his advice on new watch designs.
Today, almost 20 years after the two met, Kobold and Lang are old friends and their mentor-protege relationship is still intact.