Many call Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemar Piguet the holy trinity of watchmakers. However, I would argue that A. Lange & Söhne deserve Audemar Piguet’s spot on that list of legends.
Not to discount Audemar Piguet, but I believe the quality and lineage of A. Lange & Söhne shines brighter and is more storied than that of the other great watchmaker. A. Lange & Söhne, all things considered, is one of my favorite watchmakers of all time and one that I believe is worthy of your attention and your praise.
In 1845, a man by the name of Ferdinand Adolph Lange founded a new watch manufacturer he named Lange in the small town of Glashütte, Germany, in the eastern state of Saxony.
A man known for being a perfectionist, trained his sons Richard and Emil, who took over the company following his death. Known for producing superlative handcrafted pocket watches, Emil and Richard Lange began to give their most prized productions a designation we now call “1A”. As the company grew so did their following and by the beginning of 1939, the German military requested they make oversized wrist watches for its airmen the way American companies like Waltham and Elgin had produced watches for the US Forces.
Now outfitting their largest client, pocket watches took a backseat as the Lange family worked feverishly to arm the Germans with time keepers. In 1948, the post-war administration of the Soviet Union expropriated the land that housed the Lange workshops and as a direct result, the Lange manufacturer was out of business.
Fast forward to 1990 and the collapse of the East German government, and a great-grandson of Ferdinand who enjoyed the rich history of his ancestors company decided it was time to bring back the family name into the world of haute horology. Walter Lange, partnered with industry veteran Günter Blümlein, reinvented the company with the assistance of IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre from Switzerland.
Despite the prominent watch makers all being in Switzerland, Walter Lange wanted to commemorate his ancestors by keeping the manufacturer in its home of Glashütte. He named the new company A. Lange & Söhne (meaning “sons”) and, together, with a group of fine watchmakers, began to produce fine timepieces introducing their first range just four years later.
Many experts agree that the way you can tell if you’ve made a mark on the watch industry is if companies like the Richemont Group offer to acquire you. Of course, like many before it, that’s exactly what happened and A. Lange & Söhne became a member of the Richemont group.
Despite only reappearing in the 1990s, A. Lange & Söhne has taken the watch world by storm and produces some of the finest timepieces available on the market today. Unlike many other luxury watchmakers, A. Lange & Söhne makes their own in-house mechanical movements and, so far, has refused to produce a watch with an inferior quartz movement. Almost all of the company’s watch cases are made of gold or platinum with the only exception being certain special editions released in limited quantities. They offer a range of gold colors including yellow, rose and white and produce all of its parts in-house. In an ongoing effort to separate their collection from the Swiss manufacturers, A. Lange & Söhne forgoes typical features such as multiple bridges and cocks in favor of three-quarter plates, screwed gold chains and handmade balance cocks. All of the movements produced by them are made from German silver which is a copper and nickel alloy. This further separates them from the well known Swiss manufacturers that typically use plated brass. The nice thing about this difference is that it’s visually evident to the average consumer and gives the watch a very distinct sheen.
A. Lange & Söhne also strives to give its watches a very distinctive German appearance focused on clean lines and asymmetric stylings. A perfect example of this is the Lange 1 as it has no overlapping indicators which makes the timepiece far more teutonic in comparison to the luxury Swiss watchmakers.
Since A. Lange & Söhne has had to work so hard to compete with the historic brands of Switzerland in such a small time frame, they’ve focused a great deal of their efforts on producing complicated timepieces that cater to the new-money market by producing chronographs and perpetual calendars.
They have enjoyed critical acclaim the world over and have taken home significant awards from the major shows such as SIHH and BaselWorld.
The Lange 1
Without question, the Lange 1 is preeminent timepiece produced by A. Lange & Söhne and easily the most recognizable.
It was one of the first watches introduced in the newly formed A. Lange & Söhne company under the helm of Walter Lange. It went on sale in 1994 and has since been known as the brand’s iconic masterpiece.
Despite its extraordinary movement, it was actually the face of the watch that won over critics. It was so different than other luxury timepieces. The dial was asymmetrical and clean. There were no overlaps of key functions and indicators and its now-patented outsize date was vastly different from the watches produced in Geneva.
The design was sublime, some might even say perfect. It was made for those with a key eye for details and it still managed to hold the charm that old curmudgeons of the watch industry prized. It wasn’t distasteful, it wasn’t grotesque; it was new, sure, but it wasn’t over the top. It was understand and it was elegant with just the right amount of sprezzatura.
The watch became an overnight sensation and has remained that way ever since. Starting at $32,400 according to 2014’s price list, the Lange 1 hasn’t changed much since it was first introduced in 1994.
Many people attribute the creation of this iconic timepiece to Walter Lange and his business partner from IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, but the fact is that the Lange 1 may have been centuries in the making. One of the biggest assets Lange had was that he had inherited his great-grandfather’s notebook which contained the drawings for a number of his inventions and his never-produced ideas. A virtual roadmap if you will to haute horology from the brilliant mind of the man who once brought us one of the most complicated pocket watches ever produced.
Granted Günter Blümlein certainly brought a wealth of knowledge to the brand, the secret journey book once owned by Ferdinand Lange is believed by many to be the brain child of much of A. Lange & Söhne’s rapid success. Perhaps a partnership between the book’s traditional craftsmanship combined with a modern advancement in technology and design is what really caused the sensation, but regardless of what’s behind the watch’s success, it’s clear that the team behind it knows what customers and critics are looking for.
One of the biggest attributes of the Lange 1 has arguably been its outsize date indicator which was inspired by a clock made by Ferdinand Lange’s mentor Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes. The clock was a commissioned piece order by the King of Saxony and called the Five-Minute Clock which was hung in the Dresden Opera House in 1841. The purpose of the clock was so everyone in the audience could view the time without their minute repeaters disturbing the performance. Gutkaes, with his apprentice Ferdinand Lange, together produced the clock in such a way that it would be legible to all. Rather than a round dial, they created two counter-rotating drums that showed the hours and minutes in five minute intervals. It was this clock that inspired Ferdinand Lange to open his own company.
It’s this story that helps to prove the theory that the journal once owned by Ferdinand Lange and handed down to his great-grandson may have contained the blueprints for such a timepiece. Either way, Ferdinand’s clock has certainly played an integral role in the inspiration behind the Lange 1 wrist watch.
A prudent businessman, Walter Lange had the good sense to patent the outsize date feature two years before the watch was unveiled, thereby preventing other manufacturers from pirating the idea.
Proud of their german heritage, A. Lange & Söhne did something unusual and in an arc formation, signed their watches “Glashütte i/SA” meaning “in Saxony”. This was a bold move for a previously unknown watchmaker as really the only watchmakers who indicated where a watch was produced was the ones in Switzerland that famously mark their timepieces with the “Swiss Made” hallmark. This again furthered the interest of the luxury market and was partially a result of the A. Lange & Söhne name being taken seriously so quickly.
The watch uses a technique in its design called golden sectioning which is an ancient model for a balance in design. It’s using proportions to properly position markers and indicators in such a way that they appear harmonious. The watch uses isosceles triangles in the positioning of the main size, the outsize date display and the subsidiary seconds dial with can be drawn from the center of each indicator.
Every part of the watch is strategically designed to be asymmetrical from the perfectly sword shaped hands to the lugs that hold the leather strap in place.
Of course, the design is only a small part of a watch and if we relied solely on design to determine a quality watch from a poorly made one, we would be throwing some of the worst excuses for watch manufacturers in the same category as the legendary ones. It’s easy to make a watch that looks good, what’s difficult is what you put inside it.
That’s where the movement came in and it was exceptional. They utilized the German silver alloy as best as they could and created what is now considered one of the most superlative movements ever produced. Unfortunately, the original Lange 1’s had a solid case back, but that has since been remedied with A. Lange & Söhne creating a sapphire crystal case back which allows the owner to view it’s spectacular movement in action.
With the public sale of the Lange 1, A. Lange & Söhne also introduced the Saxonia, the rectangular Arkade and the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite. Despite casing its watches exclusively in precious metals such as gold and platinum, A. Lange & Söhne has continued, over time, to occasionally release special editions in other metals, even including stainless steel for special clients upon request.
Today there are many varieties of each of their flagship watches with various color schemes and complications attached to them.
Despite the Lange 1 being the iconic timepiece, A. Lange & Söhne has grown to introduce a fairly respectable lineup of other timepieces that cater to the interests of a wide demographic. However, despite its growth and manufacture of a range of timepieces, A. Lange & Söhne has never treaded into the market of sports watches leaving that for its Swiss competition.
Catering to a discerning clientele interested in refined and elegant dress watches, A. Lange & Söhne has also produced many special editions and new variations in an effort to attract a younger and more adventurous customer base. 2010 marked the introduction of an automatic Lange 1 called the Daymatic and 2012 gave birth to the Lange Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar.
This year at SIHH, A. Lange & Söhne introduced a new version of the Lange 1 with a new calibre L121.1 which is the direct result of more than 25 years of planning and experience.
Despite the changes it’s undergone over many years, the Lange 1 is virtually the same design as it was when it was first introduced.
200 Years in the Making
Despite a new generation rebuilding the once historic watchmaker, A. Lange & Söhne’s history dates back 200 years.
Originally known for its exceptional pocket watches, it’s due to Ferdinand Lange’s incredible talent that Walter was able to revive the company. Of course it didn’t hurt that he documented all of his ideas and left the journal to his great-grandson.
The Lange Zeitwerk
Starting at $68,100, the Zeitwerk line from A. Lange & Söhne is mechanical ingenuity at its finest. This range of timepieces has resulted in one of the most progressive and dynamic dress watches the industry has ever seen. Mechanically driven, its precise digital-display is the first wristwatch to ever display hours and minutes with jumping numerals. Crisply legible, the watch is decidedly German inspired and is an engineering feat utilizing three discs and tremendous force that’s delivered by a highly advanced mainspring barrel and controlled using a constant-force escapement. It is arguably one of the most advanced and yet simplistically beautiful timepieces ever produced.
The Saxonia lineup is personally my favorite timepiece produced by A. Lange & Söhne. It’s comparable to Patek Philippe’s Calatrava or Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony. It’s an iconically elegant and reserved timepiece that is so understated it takes a keen eye to understand its value. The name, derived from its home in Saxony, gave the watchmakers inspiration to focus on creating this timepiece in honor of the state’s impressive landscape. With the focus on subtlety and heritage, the watch is a perfect blend of harmony and elegance that pairs perfectly with business attire and formalwear. The range starts at $18,600 for the base model in pink gold. The price increases based on the model in the lineup, the materials of the watch and the movement and complications inside.
The 1815 Range
Another sublime range of refined dress watches, this is a more vast lineup of timepieces that was created in honor of the birth year of Ferdinand Lange. Ranging from just over $18,000 to more than $223,000, the 1815 is one of the largest lineups of watches produced by A. Lange & Söhne. Some of the watches are bold and complicated with some understated and simplistic. The 1815 range of timepieces is well regarded for its peripheral minute scale that resembles a railroad track. It evokes the memory of Lange’s once cherished pocket watches and is commemorative of that in almost every detail.
The Richard Lange
Richard Lange was quite possibly one of the most inventive members of the Lange dynasty. He was a prominent scientist and this range of timepieces has been expressly designed with science and exploration in mind. A more rugged workhorse, it still encapsulates everything one looks for in a dress watch, but offers a more unique and pioneering design. A festive watch, this range is focused on precision and legibility making it one of the most attractive timepieces produced by A. Lange & Söhne. Starting at just $30,000 this family of watches moves upwards as high as $223,000 for its most expensive model. It’s a superior timepiece that is coveted by all of the men who call it their own.
A. Lange & Sohne – Great Timepieces from Saxony (Volumes 1 & 2) by Reinhard Meis
One of the most definitive works on the brand, this book is an encyclopedia of knowledge for any true watch aficionado. Click here for your own copy.
A. Lange & Sohne Highlights Hardcover by Henning Mutzlitz
Well regarded as a photo book, this wonderful coffee table book is a shining example of some of the brands most historic and revered timepieces. Click here to obtain a copy.
A. Lange & Sohne: History, Design, Technology by Peter Braun
One thing I really appreciate about this book is that it delves into the design and technology behind the timepieces. Rather than focusing solely on aesthetics, it’s a truly inspirational guide for those interested in the actual mechanics of watchmaking. Click here for a copy.
Thanks to A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte is now considered as important as Geneva is when we discuss haute horology. Following in the footsteps of the Lange family, many other companies have started up including NOMOS who you may remember we reviewed a few months ago. Regardless of location or other brands, A. Lange & Söhne remains one of my favorite brands in the world and it’s one I would strongly encourage you to consider when it comes time to acquire your next fine timepiece. If you’re looking to acquire one at a reasonable price, click here or visit your nearest boutique or authorized reseller.
What’s your favorite watch maker?