A longstanding tradition of innovation and design puts A. Lange & Söhne in the upper echelons of watchmaking
Exploring the heritage and passion of A. Lange & Söhne
misused in the present world of watchmaking. Far too often, we are led to believe that a watchmaker’s ideals two centuries ago still live in the timepieces we see put out in storefronts of boutiques today. A name may carry weight but heritage is far more than just that; it’s a vision that’s been passed down.
For A. Lange & Söhne, heritage is the driving factor for excellence at every level of the maison. My first brush with the brand was seeing an image of the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 31 some time back. While it is a matter of personal taste, no other timepiece at the time evoked as much watch lust in me. It was neither the ridiculous month-long power reserve that caught my attention nor the technical specifications. With A. Lange & Söhne, it’s always the dial.
No other brand has come as close to perfecting dial layouts as Lange. Be it the symmetry on the Saxonia, or the off centre but subtly centred hands on the Grand Lange 1, the maison has an uncanny ability to amaze you, purely by the looks of its pro ducts. It has been said that the Lange 1 was designed dial-first w ith its movement built around the dial, an uncommon sequence for most watchmakers.
When you finally delve into A. Lange & Söhne’s movementmaking calibre, you will realise that the best of both worlds is possible. Even Stephen Forsey, one half of indie favourites, Greubel Forsey, has declared his adoration for A. Lange & Söhne’s ability to craft timepieces on another level of quality.
The Lange family name might have been around for 171 years but its commitment to excellence has never wavered. You’ll need to put yourself in the shoes of Ferdinand Adolph Lange at the inception of his eponymous brand to understand how two centuries have yet to change this legacy’s path.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange found his calling in watchmaking and apprenticed at the age of 15 under Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes, clockmaker to the royal Saxon court. His drive to better himself took him to Paris as the assistant of renowned watchmaker, Josef Thaddäus Winnerl, who at one time studied under the illustrious Abraham-louis Breguet.
Lange was not a man who stood for the status quo. In the hope of learning more, he travelled to Switzerland and England to seek tutelage under master watchmakers. His adoption of higher standards from pioneers in watchmaking across Europe and his insatiable thirst to build on top of those echoed the earliest sentiments of the brand’s modern day motto – never stand still. Lange returned to his hometown of Glashütte, Saxony, to set up his own manufacture in 1845 and in doing so, set his family’s legacy in stone.
Heritage is a word that can feel
From Knowledge Comes Skill
Functionality and wearability have remained key motivators in Lange’s legacy of watchmaking. This effort in design and attention to detail doesn’t just manifest itself in the complex yet beautiful movements we see beating in the watches but also on the faces of the timepieces.
The placement of every detail on any dial from A. Lange & Söhne is a calculated science. From lengths of the minute and hour hands, to the size and positions of the subdials, the brand absolutely adheres to the golden ratios of design principles. After all, what good is a marvel of a movement if your dial is overcluttered or ambivalent?
Take this year’s Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon for example. Few timepieces in the world can boast such an iconic dial, so much so that the addition of a tourbillon doesn’t even require it to be placed dial-side. Combining the functional needs of a chronograph and a perpetual calendar would usually be an absolute chore when it comes to presenting the information on the dial, but this is where the maison shows off its technical best.
Few perpetual calendars have less than four subdials to fully present various calendar functions. A. Lange & Söhne did away with this when it released the first perpetual calendar version of the Datograph in 2006, retaining the iconic look of the double subdialled original. The brand took that a step further this year with the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, moving the power reserve indicator to the end of the tachymeter scale at 10 o’clock. In addition to providing symmetry (an important brand principle), the red indicator is rather poetically the cherry on top, lending colour to an otherwise dark dial.
The leap year indicator also took a smaller stage as part of the right subdial. Subtle as the changes were, the end result is a dial that lets you appreciate the complete functionality of the chronograph and calendar.
The true beauty of good design, however, comes from what you don’t see. Charles Eames once said, “The details are not the details. They make the design.” When A. Lange & Söhne added the tourbillon, it wasn’t just a matter of mo dular addition. To craft the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon while staying true to the size of last year’s Datograph Perpetual, the brand chose to rebuild the entire movement, using the integrated chronograph base of the Datograph Up/down.
The Datograph Up/down is already a mark of the brand’s design philosophy – a manual wound in-house chronograph movement that has arguably proven itself as one of the best modern chronographs, thanks to the vertical coupling that solves improper meshing of the wheels. The Datograph also boasts the flyback function as well as the unique jumping minute counter display.
The seamless integration of an instantaneously jumping perpetual calendar and a stop-seconds tourbillon into the Datograph is perhaps the best proof of A. Lange & Söhne’s finesse when creating movements.
Balance in All Things
While the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon stands out as the brand’s flagship this year, with a movement that is unapologetically complicated, the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds showcases the subtler side of A. Lange & Söhne’s technical innovations that connoisseurs have come to love.
The Richard Lange collection from the brand was produced as a tribute to Ferdinand A. Lange’s son who, like his father, cemented his place in the annals of the horological history by developing several timekeeping mechanisms that are ahead of their time.
The Richard Lange Jumping Seconds, the third in the collection, takes the heritage of absolute precision further than we thought possible. Instead of the regular sweeping second hand we see in a mechanical watch, the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds does precisely what its name suggests – the second hand ticks across the dial, one jump per second, just like a quartz watch. In truth, no second hand truly sweeps; the motion is created out of several imperceptible jumps per second, based on the movement’s frequency.
In most deadbeat second timepieces, additional gearing is required to power the second hand via a spring that is held under tension. A star pinion sits on the same axis and as the escape wheel turns, a whip on the pinion slips free to let the second hand skip forward once per second. This slows down the rate of the second hand’s movement on the display.
For the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds, however, the watchmaker chose to fit a remontoire d’egalite constant force mechanism on the fourth wheel. Instead of releasing its power every 10 seconds as most constant force mechanisms do, this releases its power every second instead, providing a steady escapement rate as well.
Usually, this would be a novelty in itself but the brand wanted to achieve even more precise accuracy. It accomplished this by a building a zero-reset mechanism for the seconds hand, which stops the balance wheel when the crown is out and forces the seconds hand to return to zero. This allows users to set the time right down to the second.
A. Lange & Söhne’s mastery in the world of chronographs was a precious advantage when it was developing the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds. The resetto-zero device uses a clutch disc secured to the fourthwheel arbor and a spring that firmly presses the top and bottom discs together. Pulling the crown opens the clutch and separates the fourth-wheel arbor from the wheel train, allowing virtually frictionless zeroing.
Anthony de Haas, director of product development at the brand, put it simply: “Lange wouldn’t be Lange if we left it like that.” The need to continually integrate complications into its timepieces is a masterful showing of A. Lange & Söhne’s insistence at never standing still.
The Road is Endless
While one can wax poetic about A. Lange & Söhne’s mastery in making classic timepieces with movements to match, the brand’s Lumen direction of timepieces has been a divisive and intriguing introduction. The Lumen watches feature a tinted sapphire dial that allow movement lovers to look beyond.
The only word that comes to mind for this year’s Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase Lumen, which has benefited from the tinted sapphire dial treatment, is “contemporary”. It has everything to do with the Super-luminova treatment given to the date discs, numerals, hands, and the large moonphase disc that contrasts against the tinted sapphire and blackened silver dial.
The moonphase disc is the most natural point to rest your eyes owing to its sheer size. For the first time, A. Lange & Söhne has used a glass disc for the moonphase indication. The surface of the disc is treated with a patented coating process then lasercut to achieve the 1,164 stars and the moon. Behind the disc lies a luminous compound that gives the night sky its radiant effect.
While the brand has proven year on year that it ranks up there with the best watchmakers in building and integrating greater complications, its most basic timepieces are often ignored by the public. Watch connoisseurs know and understand that even the simplest A. Lange & Söhne timepiece boasts the same level of attention to detail and adherence to quality as its priciest peers. But that message (and a finishing that can’t be seen) is often l ost on a newcomer.
A. Lange & Söhne is slowly rectifying this. Its two-handed approach to expanding collections has seen the brand emphasise the Saxonia range and this year, the brand reinvigorated its thinnest watch, the Saxonia Thin. Removing the dots from the ends of the indices, it tweaked the dial, making it cleaner and more elegant. While the SIHH 2016 version of the Saxonia Thin came in at 40mm, A. Lange & Söhne has introduced a 37mm version priced almost $10,000 less. What’s more important to note is that the 37mm and 40mm Saxonia Thins share the same L093.1 calibre that is unapologetically A. Lange & Söhne – highend finishing on the German silver three-quarter plate, a handengraved balance cock and Glashütte rubbing, with the bonus of a 72-hour power reserve.
The other new offering is the Saxonia Moon Phase, which also displays A. Lange & Söhne’s unique characteristics, from the outsized date to the spotless dial layout. The watch is als o the 16th piece in the brand’s collection to boast its iconic moonphase display, first seen in 1994 on the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase. Once set, the display only has to be corrected by one day every 122.6 years with an accuracy of 99.998 per cent.
While both new Saxonia watches are fitting additions to the brand’s heritage, they also serve as a reminder that A. Lange & Söhne does evolve and adapt to the times. In building a more accessible range of timepieces, the brand is looking at the future and not just the present.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange understood that German watchmaking had a role to play in the big leagues of horolog y and his initial efforts have paid off handsomely. This year, the legacy that he left behind as master watchmaker has been realised in a collection that marries the highest of complications with the elegance of simplicity. That’s not an easy task.