WAL­TER LANGE A Per­sonal Trib­ute

Our edi­to­rial di­rec­tor pays trib­ute to the im­pact the late Wal­ter Lange had on the watch­mak­ing in­dus­try, and on his per­sonal jour­ney as a col­lec­tor and edi­tor

Revolution (Hong Kong) - - CONTENTS - TEXT BY SEAN LI

As I con­tin­ued my rounds on the sec­ond day at this year’s Salon In­ter­na­tional de la Haute Hor­logerie, I came across a friend who asked whether I had heard the news about Wal­ter Lange; sadly, he had passed away that morn­ing. Although the il­lus­tri­ous man was at an ad­vanced age, the shock­waves of his pass­ing could be felt through­out the Pal­expo that week, and par­tic­u­larly that evening, when Lange hosted a din­ner for col­lec­tors and me­dia alike.

There was cer­tainly a sense of sad­ness that night, but those in at­ten­dance all had a close link to the brand, and it turned into a cel­e­bra­tion of Wal­ter Lange’s life, and the im­pact that he ul­ti­mately had on all of us. To­day’s A. Lange & Söhne is, inar­guably, one of the most pres­ti­gious brands in the en­tire watch in­dus­try. Its hand fin­ish­ing is truly leg­endary, and it con­tin­ues to im­press with its tech­ni­cal achieve­ments year on year. What we tend to for­get though is that Lange is, in ef­fect, fairly young for the watch in­dus­try, hav­ing re­turned to the watch­mak­ing scene just un­der 23 years ago. The house that Wal­ter Lange’s great grand­fa­ther, Fer­di­nand Adolph Lange built may have its roots in 1845, but world events saw that it lived on only in spirit af­ter the sec­ond World War, and the es­tab­lish­ment of an East Ger­many. In 1948, just 24 years old, Wal­ter Lange fled to the west. Three years later, the orig­i­nal man­u­fac­ture was ab­sorbed into what would be­come the VEB Glashüt­ter Uhren­be­triebe, or GUB, the con­glom­er­ate of all the watch­mak­ing brands that were based in Glashütte. The work that Lange’s fore­fa­thers had done to build up not only the Lange man­u­fac­ture, but also their in­flu­ence on the watch­mak­ing tra­di­tion that had been estab­lished in the town, all but van­ished. He con­tin­ued through var­i­ous com­pa­nies to work in watch­mak­ing, but the in­dus­try across the world would even­tu­ally get swept up in ad­vent of quartz watches. Given that the Swiss in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­enced a cri­sis it had never seen be­fore, and saw a dras­tic down­turn, Wal­ter Lange de­cided to re­tire in 1986.

Three years later, the Ber­lin Wall fell, and sud­denly, East and West Ger­many were re­united. To­day, it’s easy to for­get how dif­fer­ent those two worlds were, one hav­ing ben­e­fited from decades of trade and de­vel­op­ment with its neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, and around the world, the other be­ing al­most kept in a time cap­sule, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lit­tle of that progress. Nev­er­the­less, this is when the seeds of the new A. Lange & Söhne would be planted. They started with the leg­endary Gunter Blüm­lein, who was al­ready lead­ing Les Man­u­fac­tures Hor­logères (LMH), a sub­sidiary of a Ger­man com­pany called VDO, which spe­cial­izes in au­to­mo­tive elec­tron­ics and in­stru­ments. The LMH sub­sidiary owned IWC Schaffhausen and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Blüm­lein saw an op­por­tu­nity as soon as the Wall fell to seek out the GUB and see how they could work to­gether to bring back the fine watch­mak­ing cul­ture to Glashütte. How­ever, in those early days, the cul­tures were still much too dif­fer­ent. Blüm­lein and his as­so­ciates didn’t give up though, their Ger­man her­itage making them well aware of A. Lange & Söhne’s his­tor­i­cal place; they also knew of Wal­ter Lange’s in­volve­ment in the watch in­dus­try, and sought him out in 1990. The rest, as the say­ing goes, is his­tory. With the help of the watch­mak­ing knowledge that LMH could bring from its two ex­ist­ing brands, the first new col­lec­tion for A. Lange & Söhne was proudly pre­sented on Oc­to­ber 24th, 1994.

I be­came aware of the brand just un­der 10 years later. I re­mem­ber clearly see­ing an ad­ver­tise­ment for a Dato­graph in a lo­cal news­pa­per, and re­mem­ber­ing how beau­ti­ful I found the piece. By chance, I met the brand’s man­age­ment at the time, at one of my first col­lec­tors’ din­ners, and he sug­gested I come visit the man­u­fac­ture in Glashütte. As I had a trip planned to France, I de­cided to take him up on his of­fer, and ex­tended my trip to in­clude a stop in Ger­many. What was my first visit to a watch man­u­fac­ture, even be­fore Rev­o­lu­tion it­self was launched, has ul­ti­mately led me to where I am to­day, per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.

Land­ing in Dres­den in 2004 was quite dif­fer­ent than to­day. Quite a few Tra­bants still roamed the

streets, and the land­mark Dres­den Frauenkirche still lay in the same ru­ins it was left in since the war. It was a grey day in Novem­ber, and cold, not helped by the fact that the house­keeper at my ho­tel had left a win­dow open in my room. I did briefly ques­tion why I had even made the trip, and I can only imag­ine what it would’ve been like in the early 1990s, when Blüm­lein and Lange went to Glashütte to give the brand its new life.

In sharp con­trast was the warmth and pride I could im­me­di­ately sense as I made the short trip by car to Glashütte, and into the Lange man­u­fac­ture, which oc­cu­pied part of the orig­i­nal build­ings. Since then, I’ve made the trip a few more times, see­ing the build­ings evolve over the years, but with the same sense of pride and sat­is­fac­tion that I sensed back in 2004.

I was for­tu­nate to meet Wal­ter Lange on a few oc­ca­sions as well. Although I couldn’t sur­mount the lan­guage bar­rier – I wouldn’t want to use the few se­lect Ger­man words I know in front of such a gen­tle­man – that same pride was im­me­di­ately pal­pa­ble. I have to ad­mit be­ing par­tic­u­larly moved when, as a mem­ber of the jury for the Grand Prix d’Hor­logerie de Genève, we were able to award Mr. Lange the spe­cial prize, for his life’s achieve­ments. Here he was, just over 20 years af­ter un­veil­ing the first mod­ern Lange col­lec­tion, ever so humbly go­ing on stage in front of the who’s who of the watch in­dus­try to ac­cept the prize, hav­ing seized the op­por­tu­nity with Blüm­lein to re­build the shin­ing star of the Ger­man watch in­dus­try, and in less than two decades, plac­ing it firmly in the very high­est ech­e­lons of watch­mak­ing, not only in Ger­many, but in the world.

I truly don’t know whether I would be writ­ing these words if it hadn’t been for that first visit I made to Glashütte in 2004. It opened my eyes to a world that I find ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing, and that has in­spired me over the past eight years in my pro­fes­sional life at Rev­o­lu­tion. For that, I can only thank the late Wal­ter Lange, for the vi­sion and courage that he and Gün­ter Blüm­lein had in build­ing to­day’s man­u­fac­ture, and the spec­tac­u­lar time­pieces it con­tin­ues to amaze us with.

Re­ceiv­ing the Or­der of Merit of the Fed­eral Re­pub­lic of Ger­many from Ger­man pres­i­dent Joachim Gauck Gunter Blüm­lein & Wal­ter Lange in Glashütte in 1991 With Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Dr. An­gela Merkel at the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the new man­u­fac­ture

Gunter Blüm­lein, Wal­ter Lange and Hart­mut Knothe at the 1994 pre­sen­ta­tion of the new col­lec­tion

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