Tracing A. Lange & Söhne's Fascinating History As A Watchmaker
In an era of mass production, it’s a pleasure to lay your hands on a superbly designed item handcrafted by talented artisans. German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne has been providing just such delight since its founding by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in 1845. Like drinking a 1961 Bordeaux or slipping on a Chanel suit designed by Coco herself, attaching a Datograph or Zeitwerk to your wrist or stepping into an A. Lange & Söhne boutique is a deliciously sensual experience.
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To understand the exclusive nature of the brand, which makes fewer than 5,000 watches a year while many other luxury brands make 10 times that, you have to go back to its foundation in the Saxon town of Glashütte, where Lange’s passion for horology led him to launch the manufactory Lange & Cie. A perfectionist and a visionary, he meticulously trained his sons, Richard and Emil, who worked with him throughout his life.
In 1848, Lange was elected mayor of Glashütte, and he transformed the little-known agricultural town into a modern industrial hub during his 18-year tenure. The grateful town erected a monument to him that still stands in the central square today.
As Lange's company grew, so did its following. By the late 19th century, A. Lange & Söhne was a firm favourite of those with discerning taste. So much so that on a state visit to Constantinople in 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm II presented his host, the head of the Ottoman Empire, with a lavishly decorated pocket watch created by the brand.
“There’s something one should expect not only of a watch but also of oneself: to never stand still.” With these words, the late Walter Lange, great-grandson of Ferdinand, enunciated a principle that still characterises the work of A. Lange & Söhne today. As the company pursues perfection with each watch right down to the last detail of every part, it is constantly evolving to ensure it remains at the pinnacle of international watchmaking.
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Despite pressure to move the manufactory to the home of luxury horology in Switzerland, Walter Lange stayed true to Glashütte and eschewed automation, maintaining the family’s artisanal tradition. Being separate from Switzerland, the brand has developed a unique aesthetic, which I witnessed on a visit to its modernist, light-filled factory in Glashütte on the outskirts of Dresden.
Decades ago, I learnt, A. Lange & Söhne introduced four completely new in-house calibres, including a tourbillon incorporating a fusée and chain mechanism, and the legendary Lange 1 with a three-quarter plate and out-sized date. The turn of the millennium brought its first new chronograph movement in a quarter of a century, the Datograph, which garnered serious critical acclaim. The brand has continued to be a disruptive force in watchmaking for nearly two centuries.
Today, unlike many luxury watchmakers, A. Lange & Söhne continues to make its mechanical movements and balance springs in-house. The processes involved are so elaborate and complex that very few manufactories master them. The artisans of A. Lange & Söhne have created what is arguably the most complicated wristwatch of this era, the Grand Complication.
It features a grand strike, a small strike, a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar and a rattrapante chronograph with flying seconds. The brand also continues to use three-quarter plates, screwed gold chains, and handmade balance cocks, and all its movements are made from German silver, unlike those of Swiss manufacturers, which typically use plated brass.
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Above all, it was the artisans’ dedication to the pursuit of excellence that impressed me during my visit. Watching a young man in deep concentration carving tiny rococo patterns onto a thin piece of metal, I realised that these workers are artists in every sense of the word—and that to wear an A. Lange & Söhne watch is to carry an exquisite piece of art on your wrist.
This article first appeared on hk.asiatatler.com.