Over the years I have had the opportunity and pleasure to visit Leitz Park, Wetzlar, on several occasions since its grand opening celebration, the SL Launch, the M10 Launch, plus a few other noteworthy events. To date I must say that the new facilities are in a word, stunning! It has been both exciting and mesmerizing watching Leitz park mature from concept, to industrial park, to the beautiful factory and finally to a gorgeous campus that it today. The current facilities include a four-star hotel, restaurant, café, museum with a gallery, gallery shop and factory archive, Leica Akademie teaching facility, Ernst Leitz Werkstatten and a new and improved location for Sonder Optic, now Ernst Leitz, cine lenses.
This opening of Leitz Park III, in my opinion, has been the greatest and most thorough event that Leica has ever coordinated and held. Leica had organized a host of programs for visitors, including tours, lectures, hands-on events, book presentations, and signings. Even with an organized schedule and limited sleep, it was challenging to be able to take it all in.
Upon arrival at Frankfurt airport, I was met by my friends Jim Wagner, from Leica USA and Jeffrey Hirsch, from Fotocare in NYC. We arrived a half day early and drove directly from the airport, right to Leitz Park. I wanted to stop by customer care, to meet my USA dealer liaison and drop off an urgent repair for a client. Much to my surprise, I was introduced to Sven, the director of Customer Care in Wetzlar. Sven is an affable fellow with the ultimate can-do attitude. He commutes from Switzerland to Leitz Park and is responsible for the recent transformation and upgrade to the Customer Care department. He offered us a private tour of the factory and the customer care department, to which we immediately accepted.
I have been on the factory tour several times, but each visit offers new information and insights to the manufacturing processes on how these incredible products are constructed. For lens construction, It is interesting to note that while spherical lenses can be ground and polished, in batches, aspherical lenses are ground and polished one at a time, taking about two hours, on average, per each one of the four stages. As you might imagine, the level of detail in these processes is extreme. This is something to keep in mind if you find yourself on a waiting list for your next lens.
This was my first tour through customer care and as a one-to-one tour I learned an immense amount of interesting information on this visit. About 72 people are employed in Customer Care, from receiving and processing, to the actual service work and testing, to shipping and final packaging and return to the customer. On average, 25,000 cases are completed annually here in Wetzlar. The customer care department looks more like a factory floor than a repair center and it is much larger than I would have expected. Filtered air is pumped into the work area and each individual workspace has its own, dust free environment. As you might guess, these workspaces are highly organized.
One of the most interesting areas of customer care is a small room, where some of the original machine tools are maintained for use in repairing vintage cameras.
This is an original engraving machine, with plates to engrave special top covers and various parts of your classic Leica. During my visit, the machine was set up to engrave the “open/close” text on an M2 or M3 base plate.
Customer care is also able to customize your existing camera. During the event, Leica was recovering guest’s cameras while they waited. On another happy note, I learned that the backlog of M9 sensor updates is caught up in Germany and is nearly caught up in NJ, so repair times will start getting back to normal and even improving.
Just for fun, customer care created these two cameras, with unfinished metal parts, which looks quite nice!
Over the next two days, we were able to enjoy several talks and book presentations. We visited the new Museum Shop, Leica Gallery, Leica Watch Atelier, Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Cine Lenses, the Leica Akademie and the Factory Archives. The experience was really too much for a quick blog post, so I hope that you enjoy the photos!